NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Wanting It All: Why the Last Lap Was the Best Lap

The sun is shining, engines roar as the machines fly out of the final corner. Side-by-side and nose to nose the competitors aim for the finish line. But, there just isn’t enough room for them. The track isn’t wide enough and the air forces their cars to dance all over. It’s going to be bad! It’s going to be good.

Then one pulls over and lets the other guy drive away, settling for second place. During post-race PR appearances, driver number two answers the obvious burning question, “Why did you do it?”

“I just didn’t want anything to go wrong. I thought it would be better just to take the points and let us all finish with our fenders intact.”

I don’t know about you, I’m always hoping for such an outcome to any given Sunday’s race…NOT!

At the risk of sounding insensitive, can somebody please explain what got into everybody post-race on Sunday? Yes, Hamlin was injured when his car piled into the non-SAFER barrier. And that is never what I want during a race. However, do I blame Logano for the whole thing? No. Never. Nada. And what was Twitterverse thinking in doing so?

There were two drivers on that track. Both had machines capable of winning. Both wanted it more than breath itself and refused to give the win away.

For just one moment, take away the shenanigans—on-track and otherwise—between the No. 11 and No. 22 over the previous weeks and what we saw during the closing laps of the Auto Club 400 was nothing more than hard racing to the finish; which is exactly what gets me to tune into NASCAR week after week.

For years now, racing fans have been complaining about a lack of out and out competition during the regular season as teams try to solidify their positions for the Chase. “We hate points racing!” has been the cry. And no matter how the sanctioning body tries to tweak the points given for a win or leading laps, the very existence of the Chase encourages teams to drive conservative during the first 26 races of the year.

Shouldn’t we be celebrating the take no prisoners approach Denny and Joey took as they ran door-to-door down the backstretch and into Turn 3? I don’t know about you, but my couch was suffering while I bounced on it as the boys truly did “have at it.” That was glorious hard-assed driving. If you wanted to put down money on who would win at the last restart, it wasn’t going to be a smart bet no matter who was your pick. That’s the parity NASCAR loves to tout. It’s Toyota, Chevrolet and Ford. It’s Penke, Gibbs and Hendrick. It’s a season where we don’t have a best pick five races in. And all of this equality which encourages the top 15 to race hard and give no quarter.

But lest we forget, it’s not team orders that added up to a fantastic finish at a track previously known as the second home to the Rose Bowl Parade. When all the pit strategy had been played out, gas tanks no longer remained a concern for who would make it to the checkers and those with terminally damaged machines retired to the garage, only one thing remained that would make all the difference at the last second: the drivers.

Drivers who wanted to win and damn the consequences. We were left with two young guns, one who always seems to be just missing that coveted Cup and the other greatly desiring to live up to his nickname. Their passion burned bright. We could feel their need to win and not settle for second—even over the airwaves.

We got what NASCAR Nation has been demanding for years: one for the books. A race that may save the reputation of Auto Club Speedway and didn’t do bad at shoring up NASCAR’s faltering image of tame days at the track.

Yes, there were also punches thrown, well-bleeped swearing and promises of further retribution to come. But that’s all to the good. We’re guaranteed more excitement when the Sprint Cup Series returns to Martinsville. I’m already anticipating all that may or may not occur in two weeks.

All of the above combined are the good reasons that what we saw on Sunday was great racing. Awesome racing. The kind we hope to duplicate again and again as the season wears on.

Did I hope Logano or Hamlin would settle for second best? No. And I never will. I’m much happier wanting it all.

Kyle Larson Stat

Series: World of Outlaws
Track: Stockton, CA
Car No: 57
Started: 3rd
Finished 1st

Series: Nationwide
Track: Auto Club Speedway
Car No: 32
Qualified: 9th
Finished: 6th
Points Position: 7th

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