By Craig Murto
NASCAR needed a good controversy, and that's just what it got following the Sprint Cup race in Fontana, Calif.
There is little doubt that following the continuation of the Denny Hamlin/Joey Logano feud -- as well as the Tony Stewart meltdown -- ticket sales have gone up for the upcoming race at Martinsville.
In California, Logano and Hamlin were battling for the lead on the last lap and crashed, giving Kyle Busch the win. It appeared that Logano overdrove the final corner, got loose and slid into Hamlin. Both cars crashed, Hamlin getting the worst of it and a free ride to the hospital for observation, where they discovered an L1 Compression Fracture that may keep him out of the car for six weeks. Logano -- probably unaware that Hamlin was being loaded onto an ambulance at the time -- told a national TV audience that "that's what he gets" after all the feuding that went on between the two during the prior week.
Logano's issues weren't confined to Hamlin, however, as Tony Stewart got out of his car and began pushing Logano around, irate that Logano blocked to protect his position on the final restart of the race.
That was pretty rich coming from the guy who threw a block at Talladega last year and wrecked 30 cars. Stewart talks tough about Logano, but if the truth be told, Logano is simply an easy target. Stewart always goes for people he perceives to be easy targets. He thought Brian Vickers was going to be an easy target and learned otherwise. He talks about the way Logano "threw a water bottle at me like a girl," but we must not forget when Stewart pushed Robby Gordon "like a girl" while Gordon's back was turned. The look on Stewart's face when Gordon came right back at him was priceless -- and Stewart never picked on Robby Gordon again.
After last year's Talladega race, Stewart needs never talk about other drivers blocking. He accuses Logano of a having double standard? I guarantee you'll see Stewart block before the year's out. And you'll see him get blocked by drivers he doesn't have the guts to confront.
But since Logano is already embroiled in controversy, Stewart felt that he was an easy target. And honestly, he is. Some of the things Stewart said about Logano being a rich kid who didn't have to work his way up are true, though they're true for about three-quarters of the drivers in the field. But Logano still looks like a "scared kid," as Stewart called him. And many recall Logano's father on pit road at Pocono, egging on his son to go after Kevin Harvick. That didn't do Logano's image any good.
And sure, Logano whines -- all race drivers whine. Logano just has a pitch to his voice that makes it less tolerable. If Logano said about Hamlin what Stewart said about Logano, you'd think Logano was whining.
But Logano really didn't do anything wrong at California, not by protecting his position on the track against Stewart on the last restart, and certainly not against Denny Hamlin, with whom he was battling for the win.
The accident between Hamlin and Logano was just racing. It was two drivers determined not to let the other win. As Darrell Waltrip said after the race, "I'd have fired them if they did anything different."
And after all the public messages Hamlin posted on social media all the prior week -- inviting Logano to his home to settle the feud, stating that Logano's uncompetitive so he'll never see him on the track, telling Logano to "hush, little child," etc. -- Logano had every right to be angry. After all, it was Hamlin who dumped Logano at Bristol and started the feud to begin with.
It's admirable that Logano sticks up for himself. Now, if only Tony Stewart would relax and stop with the, "Do as I say, not as I do" routine, Logano will only have Hamlin to worry about, when Hamlin returns. But what's a NASCAR season without Tony Stewart falling off the anger-management wagon?
But that's just more for Joey Logano to handle. And NASCAR loves it, as it loves every good controversy. More tickets are being sold for Martinsville and more people will pay attention to see if Logano handles it, or gets handed more to handle.
Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.