DARLINGTON, S.C. – Boos rained down on race winner Joey Logano after a hard-fought Sunday at Darlington Raceway. William Byron waved his arm at the crowd to egg them on. “It’s obvious,” he told his No. 24 crew, agreeing with the court of ticket-buying public opinion verdict on Logano’s late-race move.
While Logano celebrated his first NASCAR Cup Series victory of the year in Sunday’s Goodyear 400, Byron came home an unlucky 13th, nursing his dented No. 24 Chevrolet to the finish. The bump came courtesy of Logano, who grabbed the lead with a lap and a half to go and put a crimp in Byron’s usually cheery demeanor.
As racing incidents typically go, the two drivers had differing viewpoints. For Logano, the bumper punch was seen as retribution for an earlier wrong, when Byron pushed Logano’s No. 22 Ford to the Turn 2 wall on the previous restart. For Byron, the final contact was over the line and a characteristic part of Logano’s aggressive portfolio.
“I mean he runs everybody over, so I don’t see what’s different,” Byron said as he made an irate, hasty exit out of the Cup Series garage. “… I mean, he was faster. He could have easily just gotten to the left rear and loosened me up, but he runs in there 10 miles an hour faster. He didn’t even barely make the corner, so I don’t know why he goes in so hard and knocks the (expletive) out of you. Makes no sense.”
Byron led 24 laps, all after his close squeeze with Logano on the final return to green. He was in position to snatch a series-best third victory this season until Logano tracked him down during the final stretch.
No. 24 crew chief Rudy Fugle, who repeated his familiar “let it live” motto as Byron tried to keep his late-race edge, said he was hoping for a cleaner pass attempt from Logano
“You’re coming to the white (flag), so would’ve loved a shot at him throwing it in on the bottom (lane),” Fugle said. “We were obviously struggling there for the last couple laps, so I think it looked like we got really loose and just trying to get to the finish. … I don’t think we tried to block. I think we were trying to do our thing and get a run off the top and go racing for a final lap. But yeah, I think everybody wants to be raced at least first, and then things happen. But, oh well. We’ll move forward.”
Logano’s reasoning held that the earlier contact with Byron made his reprisal fair game.
“He came off of Turn 2 and drove me right into the wall. At that point, I’m lucky my car isn’t broken,” said Logano, who led a race-best 107 laps. “I’m a very angry driver, and I think anyone in the field would probably agree, if someone is going to be willing to do that to you, well, the gloves are off at that point. I knew if I got back there what I was going to do and what I had to do.
“That was the way he wanted to race, so I said, let’s go. If he passed me clean, it wouldn’t have looked like that. But that was the situation that was there in front of me, and fortunately I was able to get back there, and he obviously knew it was coming. He checked up into the corner pretty early, so he obviously knew it was coming.”
Logano added that his previously empty win column weighed heavily in his choice of maneuvers. “I did what I had to do. Had to win the race,” he said. “It was very important to win and get into the playoffs, obviously, and what everything means to winning here. Like I said, all those things go into the equation of making the decision.”
Byron wasn’t buying that the punishment matched the crime.
“I mean, we barely touched off of (turn) two on that restart,” Byron said. “… It was tight and no reason for him to say retaliation. That’s stupid. He does this stuff all the time.”