Not since Geoff Bodine and Dale Earnhardt battled against each other have drivers genuinely disliked each other. Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards found a way to make amends after several run-ins. So did Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip; Jimmy Spencer and Kurt Busch; Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer; Kevin Harvick and Ricky Rudd; Harvick and Edwards; Harvick and Greg Biffle; Harvick and Joe Nemechek; Harvick and Logano; Harvick and Kyle Busch.
Logano’s troubles actually started a week earlier at the Bristol Motor Speedway when Hamlin knocked him into the outside wall. The two had to be separated by their crews after the race.
When NASCAR arrived at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., last Friday Hamlin admitted he didn’t mean to bump Logano’s car that hard. He also said he regretted making disparaging remarks about Logano after the race.
Logano got deeper in trouble Sunday during a restart with 10 laps remaining. He moved left to block Stewart’s attempted pass. Stewart was shuffled back to a 22nd-place finish while Logano went on to race Hamlin for a possible race victory on the final lap.
Hamlin and Logano were side-by-side in the third turn, less than one mile from the finish line, when Logano’s car slid up the track and bumped Hamlin. Both hit the outside wall, allowing Kyle Busch to win the race.
Hamlin’s car then caromed into the inside wall, where it hit head-on at a stretch of the wall that wasn’t protected with the SAFER barrier.
While safety crews were working to airlift Hamlin to a local hospital, Stewart was charging at Logano. The two were separated, only after Stewart missed on a wild punch and Logano threw a water bottle in defense.
That kind of post-race hostility isn’t new in NASCAR. In fact it happens several times a year.
But Stewart took it further by making it personal.
“It’s time he learns a lesson,” Stewart said. “He’s run his mouth long enough. He has sat there and done this double standard and he’s nothing but a little rich kid that has never had to work in his life. He’s going to learn with us working guys that had to work our way up how it works.”
Hamlin suffered a compression fracture of the L1 vertebra. The series has the next weekend off, so he has extra time to see if he can get back in the car for the short-track race April 7 at the Martinsville Speedway.
Logano insisted his accident with Hamlin wasn’t on purpose, although Hamlin said he believes if Logano couldn’t win the race he wanted to make sure Hamlin didn’t win either.
And then there’s the problem with Stewart.
“I had to throw the block there,” Logano said. “That was a race for the lead. Then I had to just do what I had to do to get to the front and try to win the race.”
That didn’t sit well with Stewart.
“He’s in control of his car,” Stewart said. “But if he ever turns down across in front of me again, I don’t care what lap it is, he won’t make it through the other end of it.
“I’m tired of these guys doing that stuff; especially out of a kid that’s been griping about everybody else, and then he does that the next week.”
Car owner Roger Penske weighed in Monday, saying criticism of Logano was “petty.” Penske also said Stewart has a reputation for blocking, too.
Just last October, Stewart veered left to block Michael Waltrip’s pass on the final lap of the race at Talladega, Ala. That triggered a 25-car crash.
He also crashed Kyle Busch 150 yards short of the finish line to win the 2009 Coke Zero 400 at the Daytona International Speedway. After that, Stewart said, “He can’t just sit there and let us make a move like that and not try to defend it.”
But on Sunday he was angry at Logano for defending his position.
NASCAR didn’t issue any penalties involving the Logano-Hamlin crash, or the scuffle between Logano and Stewart on pit road.
Stewart, however, still plans to dole out his own form of justice.
“If he wants to talk about it, we’ll talk about it,” he said. “After he threw the water bottle at me like a little girl, we’ll go at it now.”
That’s because it’s more than a customary stock car feud. It’s personal.
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