Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – MARTINSVILLE, VA – Joey Logano had hoped to settle his differences with Denny Hamlin with a conversation.
Instead, the discussion turned physical, as Hamlin and Logano—and their respective crews—battled briefly on pit road after Sunday’s First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
On Lap 458 of 500, Hamlin and Logano were racing side-by-side off Turn 4. Their cars made contact, and Logano’s Ford bounced into the outside wall. With a cut tire, Logano spun in Turn 1, bringing out the 10th caution on Lap 459.
Hamlin finished fourth, and Logano recovered to run seventh, but Logano approached Hamlin to talk about the incident on pit road. A conversation that started civilly degenerated when Logano pushed Hamlin lightly on the shoulder and then stepped away.
Hamlin took offense and started after Logano. Todd Gordon, Logano’s crew chief, stepped between the drivers, shouting “Stop, stop, stop!” Another of Logano’s crewmen pulled Hamlin down to the pavement from behind, and a Hamlin crew member jumped into the fray.
After a NASCAR official prevented the drivers from renewing the conflict, the sides separated.
“We were having a discussion, everything was civil, and then, like Joey does, he does a little push and then runs away,” Hamlin said. “I got close off Turn 4. It looks like we got together, and it looks like collateral damage.
“He blew a tire. I mean, he would probably say, ‘Oh, short-track racing.’”
Though Logano salvaged a top-10 finish, he was still unhappy after the race.
“Yeah, I just wanted to talk to him about it and was pretty frustrated,” Logano said. “He just came off the corner like there wasn’t another car on the outside of him and ruined our day… We probably weren’t going to beat the 19 (race winner Martin Truex Jr.), but we had a top five for sure coming our way.
“…Maybe I shouldn’t have shoved him at the end. It may have escalated it a little bit more. It’s frustrating—there’s a lot of passion out there.”
ALTERCATION WITH NO. 10 CAR SPINS KYLE BUSCH, STARTS MAJOR WRECK
Aric Almirola and Kyle Busch were battling for the seventh position in Sunday’s First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway, and they weren’t doing each other any favors.
On Lap 361, Busch tapped Almirola’s No. 10 Ford in Turn 3. Almirola returned the favor in the next corner, and Busch turned his No. 18 Toyota down on Almirola as the cars sped off Turn 4.
Busch and Almirola spun and cars collided behind them as they tried to avoid the wreck. The accident knocked Almirola and Jimmie Johnson out of the race and damaged the cars of Busch, Ryan Preece, Matt DiBenedetto and Kyle Larson.
“We just got together,” Almirola said. “I got inside of him (Kyle Busch) getting down in Turn 3, and he chopped me, and I got in his left-rear and moved him up a little bit and got inside of him, and then we hooked and got tangled up off of turn four.
“It’s disappointing. I had a really good Smithfield Ford Mustang and felt like we were maybe one adjustment away from being maybe a second or third-place car, so I’m proud of my guys, proud of the effort. We’ve got three more weeks, and I’m going to make it hell for him.”
Busch finished 14th but remains third in the Playoff standings, 17 points above the cut line for the Championship 4 finale.
“He ran over me, so I chopped him, and we got hooked together,” Busch said tersely after the race.
Informed of Almirola’s threat, Busch replied, “Sounds good.”
KYLE LARSON HAPPY TO HOLD SERVE WITH NINTH-PLACE FINISH
With a car that wasn’t handling particularly well at a track that isn’t one of his best, Kyle Larson nevertheless engineered a ninth-place finish in Sunday’s First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway and left the track in seventh place in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff standings.
Yes, Larson is still 24 points behind fourth-place Joey Logano with two races left in the Round of 8, but with an astute pit call by crew chief Chad Johnston, he accumulated 37 points for the event and now heads to Texas, where his prospects should be considerably brighter.
Larson failed to score in Stage 1 of Sunday’s race, but when Clint Bowyer’s flat tire caused the fourth caution of the afternoon with nine laps left in Stage 2, Johnston kept Larson on the track while all other lead-lap cars came to pit road.
The result was a second-place finish in the stage—with only race winner Martin Truex Jr. passing Larson before the green / checkered flag—worth nine important points.
“This is my second-best finish at Martinsville, so I’m really happy with that,” said Larson, who ran third in the 2016 spring race at the .526-mile short track. “We were able to steal some stage points as well, so we probably overachieved for how we usually run at Martinsville.
“I haven’t seen the points spread yet, but I would say we maintained from where we came in, so I’m happy about that.”