In the aftermath of Sunday’s Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR, race fans can find plenty of reasons to play the blame game.
But they should resist the temptation.
Sure, it would be easy for Mark Martin partisans to blame Joey Logano for the way he won the race. Using what Martin described as a bump-and-run, Logano cleared Martin through Turn 1 on Lap 157 of 160 and pulled away in a slightly superior car.
It was Martin’s own slip, however, that gave Logano his opportunity. Martin’s Toyota got loose in Turn 3, allowing Logano to draw alongside as the cars roared down the sport’s longest straightaway. Unable to protect the inside in Turn 1, Martin lost the spot to a hungry 22-year-old who buried his Camry in the corner and emerged with the lead after slight contact between the cars.
Hungry? Make that ravenous. Logano has been the subject of growing speculation as his performance has failed to match the hype that accompanied his arrival into NASCAR racing as a teenager.
It’s well-known that Carl Edwards was earmarked for the Logano’s No. 20 car last year before negotiations fell apart at the detail stage, and Edwards opted to remain at Roush Fenway Racing. Seemingly, every free agent in the Cup garage has been linked to the 20 car at some point or other.
Logano’s only defense — and the only way he’s likely to keep his job at Joe Gibbs Racing — is by winning races and qualifying for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. So don’t blame the kid for using everything in his arsenal to do just that on Sunday. That’s what racers are supposed to do.
Remember, too, that the bump-and-run is nothing new in NASCAR racing. Twelve years ago, before he ran afoul of NASCAR’s drug-testing program, Jeremy Mayfield bumped Dale Earnhardt Sr. out of the way to win at Pocono and mocked Earnhardt with the same words (“I just wanted to rattle his cage”) the Intimidator had used after spinning Terry Labonte to win at Bristol the year before.
Martin said he wouldn’t have chosen to win that way. Martin also said he would have returned the favor if he could have gotten to Logano’s bumper.
Just don’t blame Logano for the way he won the race. Frankly, it was nice to see a little contact in what is supposed to be a contact sport.
DON’T BLAME STEVE LETARTE, EITHER
For the first time this season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had what was arguably the best car on the track at the end of a Sprint Cup race.
With a decision that was both agonizing and courageous, crew chief Steve Letarte called Earnhardt to pit road under caution on Lap 138, while other drivers opted to stay on the track and gamble on fuel mileage.
Don’t blame Letarte for making that call, even though a victory at Pocono would have ended a drought that has now reached 143 races. The timing just wasn’t right.
Instead, Earnhardt restarted 16th on Lap 144 and quickly worked his way up to eighth in the running order. That’s where he finished. Bear in mind that Earnhardt’s series-best 11th top-10 of the season enabled him to gain one position to second in the standings, 10 points behind Matt Kenseth.
Brad Keselowski is 10th, 87 points behind Earnhardt. Essentially, Earnhardt has a two-race cushion over the bubble drivers fighting for the last spots in the Chase. Sorry, Earnhardt fans, but that’s more important at this stage of the season than winning the race, no matter how much Earnhardt Nation and the sport itself craves victory for its most popular driver.
So don’t blame Letarte for making the conservative call, even though subsequent cautions took fuel issues out of the equation.
As strong as Earnhardt was on Sunday, his day will come — and soon.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.