DOVER, Del. — As laps wound down in Stage 2 of Sunday’s NASCAR Playoffs Round of 12 opener at Dover International Speedway, Joey Logano raced leaders Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson hard — as to be expected.
Except that the No. 22 Team Penske Ford was … checks notes … 24 laps down at the time.
Moments before cars took the green flag for Dover’s 100th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, Logano went behind the wall and to the garage with a busted rear axle. The defending series champion’s day was essentially over before it began, but the 22 group decided to put the car back on the track to scrape together any points available.
“We’re out there racing. I’ve got to race. Here’s the situation … there’s four or five cars that I could possibly catch. That’s five points. I’m in by zero points right now, so we’ve better get ’em all,” Logano said on pit road following a 34th-place finish, 25 laps down. “So, when you think of that, I’ve got to try to get every car I possibly can. I’m still racing. I ran as hard as I could this whole race. 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, who led a race-high 218 laps from the pole en route to a fifth-place finish, felt Logano racing him as hard as he did impeded his shot at the win. Naturally, the viewpoint of Logano — Hamlin’s former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate that he’s had issues with in the past — differs from how he saw things.
“Make up position? He’s 24 laps down. That’s the most idiotic statement I’ve ever heard,” Hamlin said. “We’re battling for the end of the stage. It’s not your day, you had bad luck. We get it. But why? I don’t understand that at all. That’s just a stupid statement by an idiot. …
“ … Probably shouldn’t call Joey an idiot. 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.”
Man, that seems reasonable, too.
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Perhaps it just comes down personal ideology, then. Drive hard no matter what, or drive hard no matter what … as long as it doesn’t screw anybody else over.
Especially if it might come back to haunt you.
“I get it. Everyone races hard,” Hamlin said. “If you’re one lap down I get it. Even two, just not 24. It frustrates me because it’s just a lack of philosophy. All he did was piss some people off and what did he really gain? He didn’t gain anything. But he just pissed off some guys that he’s racing with now. So now we’re just going to race him extra hard, and for what? Because he didn’t want to go 26 laps down?”
“It remains to be seen (if Logano shot himself in the foot). Nobody’s going out there maliciously trying to screw over Joey. I don’t think anyone’s going to do that but I’m just saying that through these playoffs, you can’t make enemies. You’ve got to have 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 about racing. That’s not smart. Being smart is a part of racing, too. Not just skill.”
Expect cooler heads to prevail over the next two weeks — and Logano to still be in contention despite being on the bubble. Five combined wins at Talladega and Kansas point to him moving on to the Round of 8.
But remember this moment.
Martinsville looms — and something about Joey Logano, Joe Gibbs Racing and the fall playoff race at “The Paperclip” rings a certain bell.