The final lap of Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway showcased the best and the worst that NASCAR has to offer.
A dramatic last-lap pass sent Martin Truex, Jr. to Victory Lane, making him the first driver ever to sweep all three stages of a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. A final-lap skirmish between perennial title contenders Kyle Busch and Joey Logano sent Busch spinning down pit road, triggering a post-race melee that left Busch with a bloodied face and bruised feelings, promising payback somewhere down the road.
Busch and Logano banged fenders as they approached the limping car of , who had surrendered the lead to Truex just moments before when something went amiss in the suspension of his Team Penske Ford. Busch forced Logano low to avoid Keselowski, and as the pair entered the final turn, Logano appeared to lose control and skate up the track into Busch.
Busch’s No. 18 Toyota spun down pit road, eventually crossing the line in 22nd place. Busch extricated himself from his wrecked machine and stalked angrily toward Logano, throwing at least one punch before being swarmed by Team Penske crewmembers. A brief pig pile ensued, before NASCAR officials were able to separate the combatants. Busch emerged with a bloody cut over his right eye, and was treated and released at the track’s Infield Care Center.
Asked if any punches were landed, Logano quipped, "Not on me. There wasn’t much talking, (but) there was a lot of swinging. (Usually) you just talk about it, but he wasn’t in a talking mood. He was in a fighting mood and I don’t back away from conflict.”
He also offered his take on the final-lap tangle, saying, “I was racing hard there at the end. He tried to take me down into the corner underneath Brad (and) about crashed on entry. I was still trying to gather it up by the center, and I was going to spin out. I'm trying to chase it up (the race track) and he was there.
"It was nothing intentional, but obviously, he thinks that,” said Logano. “I understand his frustration. He crashed. The same thing could have happened into (Turn 3) with what he did to me. Kyle and I usually race well together and don't have any issues. We'll move on.”
Not surprisingly, Busch had a polar-opposite view, saying simply, "I got dumped. (Logano) flat-out just drove straight in the corner and wrecked me. That's how Joey races.”
Busch also promised revenge, saying, “He's going to get it."
Neither Busch nor Logano are built for brawling. Neither man tips the scales at more than 140 pounds, and while the bantamweight tandem might be equally matched in a man-to-man scuffle, the addition of a half-dozen heavyweight crewmembers ensures a one-sided beat down like the one seen in Sin City Sunday.
And that is where NASCAR needs to step in, authoring an NHL-style “third man in” rule to prevent personal animosity from turning into a Jets vs. Sharks rumble, straight out of West Side Story.
While it’s understandable for crewmen to “have their driver’s back” in times of trouble, situations like Sundays often end up pitting a single combatant against a larger number of adversaries. The results are predictable, as Busch’s bloodied forehead will attest.
Fisticuffs aren’t common in NASCAR. Like bench-clearing brawls in baseball, they are the exception, rather than the rule. Unfortunately, video footage of the latest NASCAR imbroglio ran on all the network morning shows Monday; shows that had no problem omitting all mention of race winner Martin Truex, Jr., or the last-lap pass that sent him to Victory Lane.
Perhaps it’s time for NASCAR to take crewmembers out of the mix, levying suspensions and hefty monetary fines on anyone who wades into a driver-on-driver dustup.
In most instances, the lack of backup may prompt angry drivers to talk it out, rather than slug it out. And if fisticuffs do ensue, at least it’ll be a fair fight, allowing the wheelmen to settle their own scores.
Will Busch follow through on his promise to exact revenge? Only time will tell. Any comment made by an angry driver -- mere moments after climbing from the seat of a demolished race car – should be taken with at least a grain of salt.
Perhaps Busch will cool his jets in the next few days, arriving at Phoenix International Raceway with a calmer, “let it go” point of view.
If he doesn’t, however, it’s only a matter of time before another donnybrook breaks out. And NASCAR needs to be prepared.