NASCAR made its way into the mainstream news this week, and this time, it’s because of someMMA-style antics rather than the on-track action. No, we aren’t talking about the 1979 Daytona 500.
No, this time around, it was a brawl that set the main stage for NASCAR making headlines on ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC on Monday morning during each networks’ respective morning show. And, yes, that is a pretty big deal for a sport looking for a popularity boost.
When a Long Island college student asks the one person on campus who knows about NASCAR what happened, it’s clear that this is something that is making people think about the sport — and in a positive way. As the sport attempts to reignite the younger demographic’s interest in NASCAR, it is important to showcase the true world of emotions after a NASCAR race.
Q: Why did Kyle Busch try to punch Joey Logano? – Matt M., Binghamton, New York
A: Joey Logano has been expressing his angst with Joe Gibbs Racing since he departed the organization for Team Penske in 2013.
During his time with JGR, he was always seen as the young driver who was not meeting the unrealistic expectations set for him. Nicknamed “Sliced Bread” for his unreal and methodical way of dominating the K&N Pro Series and the Late Model rankings, he advanced rapidly to NASCAR’s premier division.
Logano moved up the ladder at an unbelievable pace, a lesson still not learned to this day with several young drivers making the move to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with limited experience in the lower tiers of the sport. However, he did so with one of the premier organizations in the sport under pressure from a major corporate sponsor in The Home Depot.
When he left for Team Penske, things were different.
First, Logano and Denny Hamlin made contact at Auto Club Speedway on the final lap while battling for the win in the 2013 Auto Club 400. Kyle Busch ended up winning the race, and Hamlin missed four races due to a back injury caused by making contact with the wall during the incident.
But that move was seen as a racing incident.
Then, nearly two and a half years later, contact ensued again between Logano and another JGR driver. Instead of Busch or Hamlin, it was his replacement in the No. 20 car, 2003 Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth.
Logano got into Kenseth during the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway in 2015, tapping the rear end of Kenseth’s car in the tri-oval with five laps to go while battling for the win. Kenseth was sent spinning and finished 14th. Logano drove his No. 22 Ford into Victory Lane.
Come Martinsville Speedway two weeks after the Kansas incident, Kenseth was still not over it. Logano and teammate Brad Keselowski had the two most dominant cars on the day, leading a combined 350 of 500 laps. Kenseth slammed into Logano, intentionally wrecking him while leading. That day ended up being Jeff Gordon’s last win. For Logano, it was the beginning of the end for his 2015 title hopes.
It is 2017 now, a solid year and a half after Logano’s last duel with a JGR driver that turned him into one of NASCAR’s most unpopular drivers. However, this latest one has brought him to the other side of the popularity spectrum.
This past weekend’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway saw the unexpected happen.
Yes, Busch tried to punch Logano. Did he make contact? See for yourself. Logano denies that he was punched in the face, even though Busch had what appeared to be a pretty solid (and full) swing as if he were an amateur in a MMA video game just getting started in career mode.
Logano and Busch made contact in Turn 3 on the final lap at Las Vegas when Keselowski fell off the pace, maintaining his line on the backstretch. The Nos. 18 and 22 cars raced inside Keselowski, and Logano got loose underneath Busch coming to the checkered flag.
Logano finished in the top five. Busch was the last car on the lead lap in 22nd.
The animosity between the two had been growing for quite some time. They were never extremely close and Busch was just starting to become a force for the win on a weekly basis when Logano was called to the Cup Series.
Moving forward, this rivalry could be what NASCAR has been missing. Logano is representing the American manufacturer and the sports’ grassroots, while Busch works for a foreign OEM that showcases NASCAR’s willingness to become more diverse.
The two have eerily similar statistics on the racetrack as well, with Logano earning 19 wins after 294 races and Busch having won 24 by that mark in his career. Logano has 17 career poles, while Busch has 19 after 429 starts since his 2004 Cup Series debut.
Q: Should NASCAR fine or suspend either or both drivers from Sunday’s incident? – Stacy R., Miami
A: When NASCAR and its television partners use a fight in the highlight reel, it should automatically mean no suspension will be handed down.
Very few times are drivers suspended for physical altercations between one another, and in this case, with pit crews getting involved. Time and time again, crews and drivers fight. It is part of any sport.
In NASCAR, where drama is encouraged, the sanctioning body needs to let these things play out.
Kenseth, however, was suspended for a pair of races after intentionally wrecking Logano. That mentality is still where NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France draws the line.
“There will be no retaliation,” France said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “That will not be happening. That’s not going to happen anyway. The drivers understand what we did a couple of years at Martinsville is unacceptable. So what happens on the track, good or for bad for one driver or another, that’s where it stays and we move on to the next event.”
A small fine for either of the drivers would be an incredibly discouraging sight from NASCAR. It would mean that they do not want drivers to show raw emotions after races, and it also would entail future expectations for any post-race altercations.
As NASCAR moves forward with this scenario, Busch and Logano will each be watched quite closely.
An alternative for NASCAR would be to place both drivers on probation for the rest of the year. However, even then, they will not be able to fully express themselves like they should.
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