FONTANA, Calif. — Did Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race remind you of something? Something that happened 34 years ago perhaps?
Two cars battling each other down the backstretch, racing side by side, banging doors over and over again and ultimately wrecking each other in Turn 3.
A third-place car flying past the wreck to steal the victory… A fight after the race…
That’s what happened in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway. Chafing from a bumping incident a week earlier at Bristol, Joey Logano was determined not to let Denny Hamlin win. Hamlin was equally determined to take the checkered flag.
They wrecked, making an unlikely winner of Kyle Busch. After the race, Tony Stewart tried to jump Logano for blocking on the final restart. Crew members separated the drivers.
Overnight TV ratings showed a 32-percent increase over last year’s rain-shortened race.
Sound familiar? Though Sunday’s race at Fontana wasn’t comparable in magnitude to the 1979 Daytona 500, the parallels are unmistakable.
In the first NASCAR 500-mile race televised live flag-to-flag, Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough battled side by side down the backstretch at Daytona, ultimately knocking each off the race track. Richard Petty, running a distant third as Yarborough and Allison went at it, celebrated a gift victory.
After the race, Bobby Allison came to the aid of his brother and brawled with Yarborough on the infield grass. The coverage brought NASCAR to a national audience and put the sport on the map.
Again, Sunday’s race at Fontana won’t have the same degree of impact that the 1979 Daytona 500 generated, but it does increase the likelihood of strong viewership two weeks hence, when the Cup series visits Martinsville, one of NASCAR racing’s top action tracks.
GIVE LOGANO A BREAK
Last week, I was part of a loud chorus of voices taking Joey Logano to task for not backing up his words and his barbs on Twitter with action on the race track.
After Sunday’s race, I heard many of those same voices criticize Logano for wrecking Hamlin on the final lap of the Auto Club 400.
Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways.
The Law of Inevitability in Sports put Hamlin and Logano side by side for the final lap, a week after Hamlin’s bump of Logano’s Ford sent the Penske Racing driver spinning into the wall at Bristol. That, as well as the criticism he received after Bristol, was all Logano needed to make sure Hamlin didn’t win at Fontana — even if it meant wrecking himself in the process.
“He probably shouldn’t have done what he did last week, so that’s what he gets,” Logano said after the race — an unfortunate choice of words, given Hamlin’s trip to the hospital.
But if you bashed Logano for being all talk and no action last week, don’t knock him for standing up for himself this week. Fair is fair.
POT OR KETTLE?
Tony Stewart was fighting mad because Joey Logano, trying to hold his position at the front of the field, blocked Stewart on the final restart at Fontana. The move broke Stewart’s momentum and cost him a decent finish.
On Oct. 7, 2012, at Talladega, Stewart tried to block Michael Waltrip off the final corner at Talladega. The move wrecked Stewart, Waltrip and half the field behind them.
“I was trying to win the race, and I was trying to stay ahead of Matt (Kenseth) there,” Stewart said at the time. “Michael got a great run on the bottom, had a big head of steam. When I turned down, I turned down across the right front of his car. A mistake on my part. It cost a lot of people a bad day because of it.”
Sound familiar? That’s pretty much the same thing Logano said on Sunday, after wrecking no one with the blocking move.
“I had to throw the block there,” Logano said. “That was a race for the lead. I felt if the 14 (Stewart) got underneath me, that was going to be the end of my opportunity to win the race, so I was just trying to protect the spot I had.”
Rodney Childers, crew chief for Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 55 Toyota, a car shared by Mark Martin, Brian Vickers and Waltrip, posted the following on his Twitter account after watching a replay of the final 20 laps: “Tony is one of the best, but I have to say he tried to block us at Talladega in the fall and wrecked the entire field… That’s racin… I will just end it with this. If my driver didn’t try to hold his position on the restart for the chance to win, I would be really pissed.”