Monday, October 28, 2019


For the second time in as many weeks, NASCAR has seen its on-track action overshadowed by post-race fisticuffs.
As Martin Truex, Jr., completed his celebratory burnout on the front stretch at Martinsville Speedway, drivers Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano convened on pit road to discuss a Lap 458 incident that saw the two swap sheet metal in Turn Four, before Logano’s car hit the outside wall and spun. The Team Penske driver eventually recovered to finish seventh, but confronted Hamlin after the race, looking for an explanation.
The conversation began civilly, until Logano shoved Hamlin in the shoulder before turning to walk away. Hamlin attempted to pursue Logano, triggering a melee that involved crewmembers from both teams and ended with Hamlin being thrown bodily to the ground by Logano crewman David "Mule" Nichols.
Just one week ago, an Xfinity Series imbroglio between Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer and their teams at Kansas Speedway saw Reddick put into a head lock/choke hold by a rival crewman who approached him from behind.

Those aren’t fights, those are sucker punches. And there is no place for them in our sport.

It started calmly...(Photo: Tyler Strong | NASCAR Digital Media)
With two post-race melees in as many weeks, NASCAR now has all the ammunition it needs to put a stop to these multi-combatant brawls, once and for all. It is time for the sanctioning body to institute an NHL-style “Third Man In” rule, severely punishing anyone who escalates a simple, man-on-man confrontation between drivers into a dangerous, post-race dog pile.

Sunday’s incident involved two men who – at least verbally – expressed a willingness to square off and settle their differences, face to face.

 “He said, ‘Do you want to go?’” recalled Hamlin afterward. “I said, ‘Yes, I’m here.’”
Unfortunately, the two were prevented from doing so by a group of overzealous crewmen who over the years have been allowed to confuse “I’ve got your back” with “I’ll punch you in the back of the head.”

It's virtually impossible to recall an instance where drivers were actually hurting each other, until crew members intervened to de-escalate the situation? It's always the other way around. Third parties escalate the situation, increasing the possibility of injury.

Mob scenes get people hurt. In stark contrast to the NHL’s now-outlawed 1970s line brawls – where the benches emptied to trigger dangerous, 40-man melees -- mano-a-mano hockey fistfights rarely produce anything more serious than a bloody nose or a busted lip. It’ll work the same way in our sport, once we take the crewmembers out of the mix.

...Until the third parties got involved.(Photo: Tyler Strong | NASCAR Digital Media)
Two weeks ago at Talladega, NASCAR missed a golden opportunity to send a message. Mugging a rival driver from behind is unacceptable, as is grabbing him from behind and hurling him to the asphalt the way Hamlin was thrown Sunday. Perhaps the sanctioning body felt bound by past precedent, after allowing decades of such conduct to go unpunished. But that does not prevent them from adding verbiage to the rulebook that outlaws “Third Men In,” effective immediately.

NASCAR should police these situations like the NHL does. If two men insist on squaring off (and most often, they won't), everyone else backs away. Only NASCAR officials are allowed to approach, and in the unlikely event that the fight results in someone actually hitting the deck, the referees step in, separate the combatants and call a halt to the proceedings. 

Neither Hamlin nor Logano are built for brawling. Neither 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 crew members ensures the kind of one-sided beat down we saw in Martinsville Sunday.

The last two weeks notwithstanding, fisticuffs are fairly uncommon in NASCAR. Like bench-clearing brawls in baseball, they are the exception, rather than the rule. Unfortunately, video footage of the latest NASCAR skirmish ran on all the network morning shows Monday; shows that had no problem omitting any mention of race winner Martin Truex, Jr.

Dust-ups like we saw in the last two weeks encourage casual fans to ignore the circus and focus on the side show, and that cannot be good for our sport. It may sell a few dozen tickets for Eddie Gossage at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, but the gain is not worth the loss in public perception.

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 confrontation. 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.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Hamlin Unhappy – But Not Distracted – By Logano’s Aggressiveness

In the aftermath of a chaotic Drydene 400 at Dover International Speedway, Denny Hamlin appears determined to remain focused on championships, rather than controversy.

Late in the middle stage of Sunday’s race, defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano found himself in danger of being lapped by leader Hamlin. He raced hard – perhaps too hard – impeding the progress of both Hamlin and second-place driver Martin Truex, Jr., despite the fact that his No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford was 24 laps down at the time.

Logano failed to take the green flag Sunday, after pulling to the garage with a broken rear axle during the pre-race pace laps. A lengthy repair ended any hopes of a Top-10 finish before they even began, leaving the Connecticut native to play a backmarker’s role for the remainder of the afternoon, salvaging whatever points he could, while hopefully staying out of the way of the lead-lap contenders.

He did a masterful job of collecting every available point, gaining a handful of spots in the second half of the event. He made no friends along the way, however, angering some of the same playoff contenders that he will have to deal with in the next few weeks as he attempts to defend his 2018 title.

“Here’s the situation,” explained Logano after Sunday’s 34th-place finish. “There are four or five cars that I could possibly catch. That’s five points. I’m in (the playoffs) by zero points right now, so we’d better get them all. When you think of that, I’ve got to try to get every car I possibly can. I ran as hard as I could this whole race. I don’t have anything to show for it, but I ran it as if we were on the lead lap and did everything we possibly did to be better.”

Hamlin was critical of Logano after the race, saying the Team Penske driver raced the leaders far too aggressively for a driver 23 laps down.

“I’ve got to race,” said Logano afterward. “There’s four or five cars that I could possibly catch. That’s five points. I’m in (the playoffs) by zero points right now, so we’ve better get ’em all. I ran as hard as I could this whole race. I don’t have anything to show for it, but I ran it as if we were on the lead lap and did everything we possibly did to be better.”

Perhaps predictably, Hamlin was hearing none of it.

He called that explanation, “The most idiotic statement I’ve ever heard. It’s not your day, you had bad luck. I don’t understand that at all. That was a bad choice to say that he’s fighting for something. He’s not fighting for anything, he’s just running around the race track. Stay in one lane… get the laps over with. Get the race over with and go home and get ready for Talladega. All he did was piss some people off and what did he really gain? He didn’t gain anything.”

“Make up position? He’s 24 laps down,” said Hamlin, who started on the pole and led a race-high 218 laps. “We’re battling for the end of the stage. It’s not your day, you had bad luck. I get it. But why? I don’t understand that at all. That’s just a stupid statement by an idiot.

“I probably shouldn’t call Joey an idiot,” said Hamlin, measuring his words carefully. “He’s not an idiot. But that was just a bad choice to say that he’s fighting for something. He’s not fighting for anything, he’s just running around the race track. Stay in one lane. Maybe the high lane, because nobody’s up there. Get the laps over with. Get the race over with and go home and get ready for Talladega to try to win that race.”

“I get it. Everyone races hard,” added Hamlin, who enjoyed a sometimes-rocky relationship with Logano as Joe Gibbs Racing teammates early in their careers. “If you’re one lap down, I get it. Even two. Just not 24.

“All he did was piss some people off. And what did he really gain? He didn’t gain anything. He just pissed off some guys that he’s racing with now (for the championship). So now, we’re just going to race him extra hard, and for what? Because he didn’t want to go 26 laps down.”

Logano has never been known as a shrinking violet on the race track. He has never hesitated to employ the “bump and run” in pursuit of Victory Lane, and if Sunday’s incident with Hamlin balloons into a legitimate, late-season controversy, it will not be his first.

Hamlin, however, seems reluctant to dwell on Sunday’s situation, displaying a degree of big-picture focus that has sometimes evaded him in the past.

“Nobody’s going out there maliciously trying to screw over Joey,” he said. “I’m just saying that through these playoffs, you can’t make enemies. You’ve got to give and take. It’s those deposits and withdrawals that I talked about with (Kevin) Harvick earlier this year. You gotta be able to say thank you. Thanks for that spot. … I don’t want to hear, `It’s just racing.’

“That’s not smart. Being smart is a part of racing, too. Not just skill.”

Logano races hard. Every week, every lap, in every situation. It remains to be seen whether that “damn the torpedoes” philosophy will negatively impact his bid for a second consecutive MENCS championship.