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Debate: Are Aric Almirola’s hard feelings toward Joey Logano warranted?

There’s plenty of pressure mounting as the NASCAR Playoffs head into the penultimate race of the season at the newly configured ISM Raceway in Phoenix. With one more chance left to punch an automatic ticket to the championship race in Miami, it’s understandable if drivers’ nerves are becoming a bit frayed.

Aric Almirola, who is 57 points below the playoff cutline after Sunday’s race at Texas, made no bones about his displeasure toward Joey Logano for a late-race move that left the driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford feeling miffed. With Almirola running in the top five, Logano appeared to bring the No. 22 Team Penske Ford down toward Almirola’s vehicle, taking some air off it and resulting in a bobble that shuffled Almirola back in the pack.

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Almirola finished in eighth place while Logano came home third, and in his post-race interview with NBCSN, Almirola said, “When Homestead comes around, if I’m not in, he’ll know it.” When asked to elaborate, Almirola said, “I will just make it real difficult on him.” Almirola ended by saying about Phoenix, “I’m fired up, let’s go!”

Alrighty then! Were Almirola’s hard feelings toward Logano warranted? NASCAR.com’s Pat DeCola, Jonathan Merryman and George Winkler debate.

PD: Aric Almirola is a nice guy. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt here and I’ve been wracking my brain trying to see this from his viewpoint, but I just can’t get behind it.

Sure, he can be displeased that Logano perhaps came down on him a little too close for comfort, but, for starters, there was no contact made and, secondly, what else does he expect a race car driver to do in a race, but to … race?

This playoff format is exciting for tons of reasons, one of which is exactly this situation. Logano is already locked into Miami so *conceivably* he could lay off the gas (pun intended) and coast into the title race. But that’s not how race car drivers are born and bred, and that’s certainly not how Logano — arguably the sport’s most-aggressive driver — would ever act on a race track.

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Video games are way less fun when you change them to the easiest difficulty, and that’s essentially what Almirola is expecting out of his opponent. Unwarranted.

GW: I’m also having a hard time getting behind Almirola, but Logano’s aggressive driving gets under people’s skin. Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and now Almirola are some of the drivers who’ve come away either miffed — or in some cases swinging their fists — at Logano after he races them hard to the finish.

Whether or not Almirola’s hard feelings are warranted, it’s legitimate to wonder whether racing hard for third place at Texas will cost Logano in the end at Homestead-Miami. Because unless Almirola pulls off a clutch win at ISM Raceway this weekend, he likely will be out of it. And that will free him up to make life difficult for Logano, who will be racing for a championship.

So maybe next time in the interest of the bigger goal, Logano should leave the little battles alone and settle for a fifth-place finish or whatever. Hey, I’m all for competing hard for the win, but sometimes you have to be smart and make sure you don’t add another enemy to your list. And right now, that list of enemies is pretty long for Mr. Logano.

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JM: Joey Logano’s job is to put Roger Penske in a position to race for a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. I suspect Aric Almirola’s job requirements are to make sure he’s got a chance at a Cup title for his owner Tony Stewart.

That being said, just because Joey Logano is locked into the playoff finale set for later this month in South Florida doesn’t mean he needs to pull over to give another drive a shot at a win.

Logano is paid to win, something he has done 20 times in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. He’s done this by being a hard-nosed, never-give-an-inch racer, so don’t be surprised when he doesn’t let you by.

In the closing laps of the AAA Texas 500, Almirola said over his radio “That (expletive) won’t get a break at all from me when we get to Homestead, I  guarantee you that.”

Good. He shouldn’t. But that should be due to the fact he’s paid to drive a race car to the best finish possible every week, and not because he’s mad at Joey for doing just that.

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