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Five Points to Ponder: Learning Curves, Hamlin’s Back and Missed Walls

ONE: Logano Needs to Focus on Driving not Dueling

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If Joey Logano wants to make better use of his time on track, he might want to start with paying attention to the road, not his rivals.

Another week and yet another driver infuriated with Joey Logano. This is becoming something of a theme, isn’t it folks? No one would argue that Logano should stick up for himself — and it’s certainly better than his Dad doing it for him — but the fact is he’s going about this all the wrong way. If you need any evidence of that, just look at his graceless post-race rant on Hamlin including the comment, “…that’s what he gets.” And then his throwing a water bottle at three-time champion Tony Stewart from behind the safety of his pit crew – hardly the move of a big boy now is it?

It is, in a way, reminiscent of the sort of battles his new teammate Brad Keselowski had with Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards (among others) a few years back.

Looking at Logano’s stats you can understand why he’s in such a hurry to kick on and make a name for himself. Now in his sixth full season at the Cup level, Logano has a solitary pair of wins, a meager 17 top 5s, an average finish of 18.6 and a paltry 381 laps led in 152 races. For a driver that was such a “can’t miss” prospect coming up through the ranks those stats scream the exact opposite. Perhaps it’s best there’s an off weekend ahead of us, because it gives Logano some time to reflect and realize that he needs to concentrate on driving not dueling. Once he does that, the results may very well come — as they did for Keselowski in the form of a championship. But for now, Logano’s a much-hyped unproven commodity with a lot to learn and even more to prove.

TWO: Kyle Busch, Also Known As An Afterthought

What a weekend it was for Kyle Busch, sweeping both the Nationwide and Cup races. In total, he led 217 of the 350 total laps run this past weekend: 92/150 in the Nationwide Series race and 125/200 in the Cup race. At the Cup level, this was Busch’s 25th win, level now with Matt Kenseth and one more than his older brother Kurt. On the Nationwide side, it was a record 54th total win. But perhaps more impressively, it was his 42nd win in 108 second series races with over 8200 laps led driving for Joe Gibbs Racing: a ludicrously impressive 38.8% win percentage.

Has there ever been another driver-team combination with a better rate of wins per races run? I have to feel not. On any other weekend, Busch would likely have taken top billing but given the Logano-Hamlin-Stewart shenanigans, his west coast sweep took a back seat.

As he pointed out in his trademark sarcastic style in the winner’s post-race press conference, “I did win the race today. I’m sure that might be a story…. I’m sure it’s not.”

Well for once, Busch should be glad he’s not the story. In fact, he should hope that he continues to win and isn’t the story because when he’s not the lightning rod for controversy and gets his head down and gets on with it, his talent level is almost off the charts. For too long now fans, media and other drivers have been touting Busch as a future champion and while he’s won races in bunches he’s never once looked like a threat in the Chase. I’ve got a funny old feeling that will change this year if he can continue to do what he does in this new “quiet” style.

THREE: SAFER Barriers Need to be Everywhere. And I Mean Everywhere

What is it going to take for track owners to realize that racecars almost never conform to what you expect they’ll do? If there is a hole or a dangerous angle on a track a racecar will find it, you can bet your last dollar on that. Just look back at Elliott Sadler’s huge wreck into the grass berm at Pocono a couple years back – something the track corrected right away.

It is understood that the process for SAFER barriers is done in conjunction with NASCAR, but this is a situation we have to review before someone gets even more seriously injured than Denny Hamlin was last Sunday. All the walls (except the pit road dividing wall) should be equipped with SAFER barriers. NASCAR, as a sport, has made unbelievable strides in protecting the drivers – both in car design, driver safety features (like the HANS device) and the aforementioned barriers. They are right to be praised for all their efforts, countless lives saved and serious injuries avoided. But, the missing SAFER barriers is something that has to be fixed sooner rather than later.

Hamlin’s vicious wreck resulted in a lower back compression fracture. What this means for his season remains to be seen, but the likelihood is he will miss races and that has a knock-on effect for his team, his teammates his sponsors and his crew. Now I can’t prove that Hamlin would be fine had he hit a SAFER barrier, but given all we’ve seen in terms of hard wrecks it doesn’t seem a stretch to say he may very well have walked away unhurt.

Something needs to change here and fast before something we can’t change happens and that doesn’t bear thinking about.

FOUR: The Mayor of Hinchtown

Massive congratulations to Canada’s own James Hinchcliffe on his first IZOD IndyCar Series victory this past Sunday on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. Hinchcliffe, who replaced Danica Patrick in the Andretti Autosport Go Daddy sponsored car, had a solid sophomore campaign in 2012, finishing eighth in points with a pair of third-place podium finishes at Long Beach and Milwaukee. This, then, was the year he was meant to push on and Hinch has done just that and more with a morale boosting victory in the first race of the 2013 season.

I worked on a commercial with Hinch last year and chatted him recently at the final IndyCar pre-season test at beautiful Barber Motorsports Park. I can genuinely say this couldn’t have happened to a better guy. The maiden win was the springboard he needed. Where he goes from here will certainly be interesting to watch.

FIVE: Get Well Soon Denny

And finally, a quick point on Denny Hamlin who at the time of writing is still to be released from hospital. The diagnosis is a L1 compression fracture in his back and there’s every chance he might be forced to sit out a number of races. Exactly how this all pans out remains to be seen and we’ll learn more this week following consultations with the doctors, but time away from the car seems a strong possibility.

Early on in the 2010 season, Hamlin tore his ACL playing pick up basketball, had surgery and then despite what many thought and predicted (myself included) didn’t miss a race or a beat on the way to nearly picking up a maiden title. What he did gritting it out in the early post-op races out was remarkable. That’s not to say this will happen again this season – a back injury is a very different animal – but don’t be surprised if it does. Hamlin came into the sport the hard way, working his way up, relying not on a trust fund but talent, character and opportunity grabbed tight with both hands. He’s a much tougher driver than some give him credit for. If anyone can bounce back quick, Hamlin can.

Editor’s Note: Following the submission on this article, Denny Hamlin was released from the Loma Linda University Medical Center and was on his way to fly home to Charlotte, NC. From there, he will meet with Dr. Jerry Punch, who will perform a more thorough evaluation to determine the extent of Hamlin’s injuries and outline a recovery process. At this time, his status for Martinsville remains unknown.

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