Logano escalates feud with Hamlin, Stewart takes umbrage with Logano
A thrilling finish filled with controversy and a late comeback, no it wasn't the NCAA tournament it was NASCAR's own version of March Madness.
One week after locking horns at Bristol, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin did so again at Auto Club Speedway and this time there is no doubt that a feud has been accelerated between the former teammates.
But unlike last week, it was Logano who initiated things as he admittedly wrecked Hamlin on the final lap while at the same time drawing the ire of Tony Stewart, who took exception with Logano blocking him on a late-race restart.
For Logano this is somewhat uncharted territory for the 22-year-old, who with the exception of a brief skirmish with Kevin Harvick a couple of years ago, has mostly kept his nose clean in his four-plus years competing in Cup.
And it's a pair of battles that Logano doesn't need at this point in his career.
With a new team in Penske Racing, Logano has the opportunity to forge his own identity away from Joe Gibbs Racing. That identity shouldn't be one of a driver who isn't respected by his peers and intentionally wrecks another while racing for the lead.
It's a lesson Logano's current teammate Brad Keselowski knows all too well.
When Keselowski started making a name for himself in the Nationwide Series the defending Cup champion engaged in high-profile feuds with Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards. Those on-track tangles came to define Keselowski, who gained a reputation as an aggressive driver which in turn made life difficult every time he turned a wheel in a Cup or Nationwide event.
But with time Keselowski learned to pick his spots and matured into a driver who is now respected within the garage.
It's a lesson Logano would be wise to replicate.
It is one thing to stand up for yourself; it's another when you're the instigator. Sunday, Logano was the aggressor.
Although no one will begrudge him for racing Hamlin hard and not wanting to cut him any slack after what transpired at Bristol, Logano's actions will be seen as crossing the line -- especially in lieu of Hamlin suffering an injury that required him to be hospitalized overnight.
As for the incident with Stewart, Logano isn't the first nor will he be the last driver to enrage the temperamental owner/driver. Regardless, it is a fight Logano would be wise not to pick, not with what he has to lose.
Stewart almost seems to relish playing the role of judge, jury and executioner just as he did two years ago at Sonoma when he intentionally wrecked Brian Vickers after Vickers had blocked him repeatedly.
It was then Stewart famously declared that from that moment forth he would mete out his own form of frontier justice to anyone who dared cut in front of his Chevrolet.
"If they block, they are going to get dumped," he said. "It is real simple."
Disregard the fact that Stewart himself set off a 25-car pileup at Talladega in October when he cut across the nose of Michael Waltrip's car as Waltrip was about to surge into the lead on the final lap.
Stewart isn't one to let the facts get in the way of how he's going to police things.
Retribution for Logano will likely come in two weeks at Martinsville where he will have not one but a pair of bull's-eyes on his back. And instead of being focused solely on his performance, Logano will now have to be concerned whether a justice-seeking Stewart and a bent on revenge Hamlin are lurking in his rearview mirror.
Kyle Busch: The quiet winner
When Kyle Busch wins a Cup race he usually finds himself in the center of the spotlight for one reason or another.
However, in race that featured a little of everything it was fitting that NASCAR's resident bad boy was quietly celebrating his first victory in nearly a year.
The irony wasn't lost on Busch.
"I did win the race today, by the way, so that might be a story," Busch said laughing during the winner's press conference. "But I'm sure it's not."
While it may not gather the same amount of attention as some of his other victories, it was a win that resonated with Busch on a couple of fronts.
First, it squarely puts what had been a frustrating start to 2013 behind him.
An engine failure in the Daytona 500 was a bitter pill for Busch to swallow following a season where motor problems haunted him and led to him missing the Chase. A week later at Phoenix this was compounded when again the No. 18 team experienced an issue with its Toyota power plant necessitating a pre-race engine change just hours before the green flag was to wave.
Then there were back-to-back speeding penalties at Las Vegas and Bristol, where in both races Busch had one of the fastest cars on track but could never recoup the lost track position.
But a win on the one track where his team had never been victorious accompanied with three consecutive top five finishes has Busch feeling like his luck has changed for the better.
"We finally had a little bit of luck on our side that we didn't have all last year and it seemed like we weren't quite having this year," Busch said. But we've had some good runs and some strong runs, it's just you've got to keep working, you've got to keep digging in."
Fontana finally comes through
Throughout its 15 year history Fontana has often been decried as a track devoid of character and viewed by many as the epitome of the kind of racing that has beset NASCAR as of late.
Yet at the same time the two-mile oval located in the outskirts of Los Angeles has always been a favorite among drivers, who liked the multiple grooves and wideness that the track provided.
But for the first time since opening its doors in 1997, Fontana produced a race that both fans and drivers considered a good show.
Obviously, having an ending where the leaders wreck one another in the final corner along with a fight on pit road will slant perception, there is more to it than that.
Busch, Hamlin and Logano frequently diced for the lead in the early stages, while Brad Keselowski showed on two different occasions that a driver with a fast car underneath him can race his way to front. The same can be said for Hamlin, who charged to the lead in the closing stages after restarting in the middle of the pack.
These haven't always been common occurrences at Fontana, where single-file racing is typically the norm and not the exception.
Another positive was the increased attendance.
Saturday, speedway officials predicted that 10,000 more tickets would be sold compared to the year before. Although the exact attendance numbers weren't released, the grandstands did appear far fuller than they had in years past.
Whether this was a mirage or a trend is still to be determined. What we do know, is that after 15 years Fontana finally shed its reputation as being just another cookie-cutter track.