Three principals in Auto Club dust-up haven't spoken to each other, try to move on
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- The waters may have calmed somewhat after the slam-bang finish that produced sparks and stoked tempers nearly two weeks ago at Auto Club Speedway. Yet Friday at Martinsville Speedway, 12 days and some 2,500 miles removed, that race's protagonists -- Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Tony Stewart -- are still the prime topic of conversation.
The only ones not talking about it? Hamlin, Logano and Stewart … not amongst themselves, anyway.
All three drivers insisted Friday that their focus was not on the makings of a budding rivalry, but on trying to make their cars navigate the .526-mile paper-clip layout of one of NASCAR's charter tracks that much better ahead of Sunday's STP Gas Booster 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX).
"I’ve got a lot of stuff to do other than worry about something that happened two weeks ago."
-- Tony Stewart
"I’ve got three race cars and we are in Martinsville, Virginia, this week," said Stewart, referring to his driver-owner title with Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick at Stewart-Haas Racing. "I’ve got a lot of stuff to do other than worry about something that happened two weeks ago. I can’t change it. I can’t do anything about what happened two weeks ago."
What happened two weeks ago was one of the more compelling final dozen laps of the season. Logano led on the final restart and twice blocked Stewart as he drove away; Stewart shoved Logano on pit road after the 400-miler to express his displeasure, then berated the 22-year-old driver in a post-race interview.
In the matter of Hamlin v. Logano, the two rivals carried over the bad blood from their altercation the week before at Bristol Motor Speedway. The two collided multiple times battling for the win on the final lap at Fontana, but only Logano saw the checkered flag. Hamlin's car planted nose-first into the inside wall, and Logano scraped the outside wall, losing the race to former teammate Kyle Busch. Hamlin lost even more, winding up with a broken vertebra that will leave him sidelined for up to six weeks.
For all the fireworks, scrutiny and name-calling that emerged from Auto Club, last weekend's layoff for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series may have helped the heated emotions simmer. Another stronger contributing factor might be the necessary distraction of getting back to work.
"I feel like with Tony and I, I think it’s pretty much over," Logano said. "We have not talked to each other, but we had an off weekend and time to relax a little bit and cool off, so I feel like that’s over. I feel like we’re moving on. I think we’re both out there trying to improve on what we’ve got already."
If Logano hasn't talked to the ever-busy Stewart, the avenue for talking to Hamlin would seem to be much easier this weekend. As luck would have it, Hamlin’s No. 11 and Logano’s No. 22 are 10th and 11th respectively in Sprint Cup car owner points, meaning their garage stalls and team transporters are located beside each other in the pecking order.
"We are obviously parked next to each other, but when you’re in your car and we’re focused in on making our car go fast and trying to get our car to qualify well right now," Logano said. "We were focusing on that hour-and-a-half (of practice) trying to make sure our car gets running the way we want it."
Hamlin, trying to help his Joe Gibbs Racing team even with his back in a brace, echoed the sentiment.
"I've been, especially during practice, so focused on trying to help Mark and trying to make Mark better and answer the questions that he has, I haven't had time to get my mind on anything but that," he said.
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