'Smoke' fumes after Logano blocks on restart
FONTANA, Calif. -- Tempers were as hot as the Southern California asphalt Sunday afternoon following the Auto Club 400. Angry over a late race restart, veteran Tony Stewart issued old-school justice to Joey Logano on pit road following the race. At the same time, Denny Hamlin, who feuded with Logano last week, was being transported to a local hospital, where he was held overnight for precautionary measures following a last-lap collision with Logano going for the win.
It was an action-packed race on a postcard kind of day, but likely everyone will be talking about the finish.
Where to start?
Racing for the lead on a restart with 10 laps remaining, Stewart felt that Logano twice blocked him low -- at one point forcing Stewart’s Chevrolet all the way to the inside apron -- and the momentum shift ended up thwarting what looked to be Stewart’s best finish of the season. Instead, compounded with a possible tire issue a few laps later, Stewart took the checkered in 22nd place.
Still, he fared better than Hamlin, who for the second week in a row battled door-to-door, bumper-to-bumper with his former teammate Logano at the front of the field. While racing for the lead on the last lap the two drivers -- who exchanged words last week on pit road and fought a social media battle on Twitter -- collided, sending Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota hard head-on into the Turn 4 inside wall.
"...I had to just do what I had to do to get to the front and try to win the race."
-- Joey Logano
Hamlin climbed out of his car on his own, but immediately lay down on the track and was placed on a stretcher by safety workers for the short ambulance ride to the track infield care center. About 20 minutes after the race, J.D. Gibbs, president of Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing team, came out and told reporters that Hamlin was taken to a local hospital for observation.
Joe Gibbs Racing confirmed Sunday night that Hamlin, who was experiencing lower back pain, would stay in the hospital overnight as a precaution. On Monday, Hamlin tweeted, "I just want to go home."
A calmer Stewart spoke to reporters after changing out of his driver suit and defended his post-race confrontation with Logano on pit road. He shoved Logano with two hands before being separated, Logano threw a water bottle at him and a brief scuffle ensued between crew members. NASCAR was reviewing film of the incident and had not yet issued any penalties.
“Joey spun the tires on the re-start and everyone had trouble with that today, but that’s not my fault he did that,’’ explained the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion Stewart.
“For a guy that’s been complaining about how everyone else is driving and he does that, that’s a double standard. He made that choice, the decision to run us down there and when you run a driver down there you take responsibility for what happens after that.
“He’s a tough guy on pit road as soon as one of his crew guys is in the middle of it,’’ Stewart continued. “Until then he’s a scared little kid and wants to throw a water bottle at me. He’s going to learn a lesson. And he can run his mouth on Twitter all he wants tonight, I’ve got plenty of people that are going to watch for that. It’s time he learns a lesson.
“He’s nothing but a little rich kid that’s never had to work in his life, so he’s going to learn what it’s like for us working guys that had to work our way up. ... He ruined our day and sent Denny (Hamlin) to the hospital."
Logano, 22, who finished third, was much more subdued in the garage area. He suggested that last week’s incident with Hamlin was still on his mind while racing his former teammate Sunday and he freely admitted he blocked Stewart but defended the move in the name of going for a race win.
“I had to throw the block there,’’ Logano said. “That was a race for the lead. I felt if the 14 (Stewart) got underneath me, that was going to be the end of my opportunity to win the race, so I was just trying to protect the spot I had.
“What I was doing actually was I was racing the 18 (race winner Kyle Busch) on the restart and he was spinning his tires. The rule is you can’t beat him to the start-finish line so I’m pedaling it, which gave Tony the run to go underneath me.
“I wanted to block that because I knew if he put me three-wide that would be the end of my race and I wouldn’t win. I was smart enough to realize that. Then I had to just do what I had to do to get to the front and try to win the race.’’
“I'll talk to him (Stewart) and we'll see what happens. I think he finished decent. We'll just talk about it some more.’’
The question is whether Stewart will take the call.
“Hell no,’’ Stewart said, then paused. “If he wants to talk about it, we’ll talk about it. After he threw the water bottle at me like a little girl, we’ll go at it now. I’m not going to listen. I don’t care what he has to say. It’s just words right now. Actions speak louder than words.
And, Stewart suggested, “If NASCAR wants to let the guys have at it, it shouldn’t be any different than hockey and when one guy goes to the ground it’s over. I’m so tired of watching these little guys whine and then act tough when his crew guys get in the middle of it.’’
Logano maintained in a later interview, “I’m just trying to win the race, just do what I had to do.’’
Meanwhile, Hamlin’s teammate Kyle Busch, who was running third at the time, had the catbird seat for the final lap fireworks -- an outcome that didn’t entirely surprise him.
“I was rolling around under caution earlier in the race and I seen some highlights of them two getting together from earlier in the race, so I'm like, ‘Oh, OK, well, they don't get along this week again either,’" Busch said.
“But man, I'm shocked for just everything that was going on there and how hard they were running. I mean, they both were trying to win the race, of course. But you know, all I kept thinking was. … they're forgetting the third place car. They have no clue that I'm coming, they have no clue, they're just racing each other. I'm like, surely the spotter has got to say something. … And saying, you know, ‘hey, block the top, the 18 has got a run or something.’ But they were so focused in on one another that they just left the door open.’’
"I did win the race today," he added with a smirk. "That might be a story too, you know.’’
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