Did You Notice? … Joey Logano has had season-defining moments at Martinsville Speedway in four of the past five Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series fall races? The latest occurred Sunday (Oct. 27) in the First Data 500 with his late-race contact turned shoving match with Denny Hamlin. The incident has resulted in a suspension of a Logano crew member along with a lengthy meeting for the driver at the NASCAR hauler.
But Martinsville mayhem for Logano is nothing new. Consider the last five years of madness for the No. 22 Ford at this track.
2015: Logano gets spun out in retaliation from Matt Kenseth after the duo had an incident at Kansas Speedway. Logano, who spun out Kenseth while racing for the win there, winds up with a trashed race car at Martinsville that ultimately keeps him from that year’s Championship 4.
2017: Logano wins the pole for this race and has his best shot at a “legitimate” victory after missing the playoffs. (His lone victory that year, at Richmond Raceway, was ruled ineligible to be used for the postseason after failing post-race inspection). Logano remained in contention throughout, battling for second with Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch until contact with the No. 18 late in the race. A flat left rear tire from that incident brought out a caution and set up the infamous finish with Hamlin and Elliott. Without that wreck, Brad Keselowski would have cruised to victory instead.
2018: Logano uses a last-lap bump-and-run of Martin Truex Jr. to earn the victory at the fall race at Martinsville. It’s the only way he earns a ticket to the Championship 4, a battle at Homestead-Miami Speedway he ultimately wins to take home the hardware.
2019: Logano and Hamlin make on-track contact where the No. 22 Ford gets forced into the wall. Logano has to spin out to cause a caution when it’s clear the yellow won’t come out for his flat tire. He pits, surges back to eighth on fresh rubber but takes his anger out on Hamlin after the race.
It’s a driver Logano has plenty of history with. It’s easy to forget contact with the No. 11 Toyota in 2013 at Auto Club Speedway resulted in a compression fracture that left him sidelined for several weeks. Regardless of fault, the end result has made it difficult for Hamlin to fully forgive.
Logano started his career as Hamlin’s teammate but the rift has been there ever since he left Joe Gibbs Racing for Team Penske following the 2012 season. Initially after this wreck, without knowing Hamlin’s condition at the time, Logano let loose on Hamlin following the Fontana fracas.
“He probably shouldn’t have done what he did last week,” Logano said, referencing previous contact between the two. “So that’s what he gets.”
This latest incident left Logano as the one squeezed up against the wall. But Hamlin didn’t keep his contempt to Logano confined to the racetrack after the reigning Cup champ laid his hands on him while walking away.
“We were having a discussion, everything was civil, and then like Joey does, he does a little push and then runs away,” Hamlin said. “So that’s Joey. Scared ‑‑ he said, “Do you want to go?” I said, “Yes, I’m here.” But then he runs away.”
Logano, for his part, admitted shoving exacerbated the situation. But he also had no problem doing so. That’s four drivers, three of them former champions, whose rifts came to roost at Martinsville alone.
Sure, you can appreciate the need to stand up for yourself when you’ve been wronged. But does the bitter taste left in everyone’s mouth really solve the problem for Logano?
You wonder how many more incidents before these fights start coming back to bite him. Martinsville alone is making that list mighty long.
Did You Notice? … Austin Dillon has a new crew chief for 2020? Justin Alexander will return to the role after Danny Stockman Jr. took over for the 2019 season.
It’s been a disaster for Dillon this year, currently without a top-five finish for the first time in his Cup career. A career-high three pole positions hasn’t translated into speed in race trim. His 19.9 average finish is the worst since his second season running Cup full-time in 2014.
To pin all of Dillon’s regression on the driver is unfair. Richard Childress Racing as a whole has regressed in 2019, as no driver running their chassis qualified for NASCAR’s 10-race playoff. Dillon’s teammate, Daniel Hemric, is ranked lower in the point standings and worse in every statistical category.
Still, it’s worth noting Dillon’s six-year Cup career has been marked by mediocrity. His two wins came courtesy a fuel mileage play in the 2017 Coca-Cola 600 and last-lap contact with Aric Almirola in the 2018 Daytona 500. Dillon has a total of 171 laps led in 226 career starts, 64 of them coming at Daytona International Speedway.
Also consider drivers who have a similar average finish to Dillon this season. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (20.0) was released from Roush Fenway Racing for 2020 despite two years remaining on his contract. Hemric (23.0) won’t be returning to RCR after just one season. Matt DiBenedetto (18.5) was pushed aside at Leavine Family Racing in favor of Christopher Bell.
By comparison, the fact Dillon is keeping his job while racing for grandpa isn’t exactly the best look for the program. Sponsorship also appears to be drying up somewhat as Dow remains a question mark for 2021 and beyond after management changes. (The team insists they’ll return to the No. 3 in 2020.)
The one upside with Alexander is he was crew chief during Dillon’s two winning seasons: 2017 and 2018. Dillon posted an 11th-place finish in the standings in 2017, a career-best, and showcased more consistency with Alexander at the helm.
But you have to feel like 2020 is make-or-break for Dillon and the RCR brand, no? What if NASCAR Xfinity Series star Tyler Reddick comes out as a rookie and runs circles around Dillon at the No. 3? A three-win, playoff-eligible season from Reddick, say, would look bad for Dillon compared to another winless effort in his camp.
There’s enough experience here for Dillon to start to do better. 2020 will tell us a lot as to whether he’s officially a one (er, two) hit wonder in a car that was gift-wrapped for him all these years. Reddick is prepared to push this driver like no teammate has ever done before.
Did You Notice? … The most points scored by any non-playoff driver during the 2019 Cup postseason is Jimmie Johnson? Even with a last-place finish at Martinsville Speedway, Johnson remains 17th in the point standings, scoring 164 points over the past seven races.
2019 Points Scored: Non-Playoff Drivers
Jimmie Johnson 164
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 153
Matt DiBenedetto 149
Austin Dillon 149
Johnson also has more points during this stretch than four of 2019 playoff drivers: Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Erik Jones. Take away two wrecks at Talladega Superspeedway and Martinsville Speedway, both not of his making, and Johnson hasn’t finished worse than 11th since the start of the postseason.
Who knows what impact this increase in speed will have on Johnson’s decision to retire. (A choice he’s not expected to make for the next three to five months). A decision to race beyond his 2020 contract will mean learning a brand new chassis with the introduction of NASCAR’s Gen-7 race car.
But either way, it’s clear new crew chief Cliff Daniels has injected life into the No. 48 Chevrolet. Keep in mind Logano bounced back from an awful 2017, missing the playoffs altogether to win the championship in 2018. I’d be surprised to see Johnson follow a similar pattern but he’s showing playoff-caliber speed. The question is whether the bad luck that’s surrounded the team this year, a rarity for Johnson, will disappear come 2020.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off….
- Todd Gilliland, interviewed by Frontstretch (out today), clearly knows he’s done with Kyle Busch Motorsports. So who will replace him and Harrison Burton for 2020? Our website is hearing Christian Eckes and that the announcement could come as soon as Friday. (Nov. 1) Gilliland remains noncommittal on 2020 plans but running with his dad at DGR-Crosley makes too much sense. What better place to rebuild your confidence and consistency than by running with the backing of a family-owned team?
- Best wishes to Matt Tifft on a speedy recovery; hopes and prayers that the brain tumor he successfully had removed years ago has not returned in any form or fashion. But the situation leaves Front Row Motorsports a mangled mess for 2020. David Ragan is already leaving, a retirement that sources said had FRM considering a contraction back to two teams for next season. There were no guarantees Michael McDowell, despite running better as of late, was going to be back. And now you’ve got Tifft out for an undetermined amount of time with a medical history that could potentially force early retirement. It’s a tough break for a team that has shown some real improvement throughout the season.
- It’s potentially a great moment for the sport that Floyd Mayweather appears to be interested in starting a NASCAR team. The Money Team Racing operation has a car number (50) and reportedly could debut at Homestead-Miami Speedway with Chevrolets provided by Richard Childress Racing. Mayweather has a lifestyle/fashion brand, The Money Team, that would likely be tapped to provide primary sponsorship.
— Adam Stern (@A_S12) October 25, 2019
Don’t get me wrong; Mayweather would be fantastic for a sport that desperately needs new names in ownership. But I fear everyone may be getting ahead of the story. The team’s Twitter feed hasn’t been used since getting established back in May. Then, instead of confirming the story, no one commented, then the team’s website switched to a simple message that says “more info coming soon.” Scaling back your information instead of leaving it out there isn’t exactly a good sign if your debut is three weeks away.
Too often, these exciting news stories of celebrities pursuing NASCAR ownership end with them dying on the vine or the team never making it to the track. Let’s hope we’re not seeing history repeat itself.