MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Tony Stewart still doesn’t like blocking. Joey Logano believes it can be a necessary tool at the end of the race.
Stewart said he won’t change. Neither will Logano.
Little changed between either drivers during Friday’s practice and qualifying for the STP Gas Booster 500 at Martinsville Speedway. More important, neither said they plan to change the way they drive during Sunday’s race.
“It’s our jobs as drivers to go out there and try to pass people,” Stewart said. “That is what racing is about. We didn’t have blocking 10 years ago. I don’t know where all of a sudden it became a common deal or some people think it’s all right to do now and think it’s common practice. I don’t believe in it.
”I am not going to change and I have never wavered in all the years that we have talked about blocking, I have never wavered from it and it has never changed. So I don’t like it and I never have and never will.”
Logano sees things differently.
“I think that’s the part that you need to look into as a driver when you make the decision on what you do inside the car and what point in the race that is,” he said. “Every driver is going to have their own opinion. It’s going to be different for everybody. Late in the race, I think you’re going to see that a lot. You’re going to see it here.
“But early in the race it isn’t acceptable for a lot of people and I don’t blame them. That shouldn’t be acceptable early in the race, but late in the race every spot means so much.”
If Stewart was to settle his differences with Logano, he has a lot of work to do just to catch him. Logano qualified fourth Friday while Stewart was 26th.
Seven-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson will start on the pole after running 93.882 mph.
Marcos Ambrose will start second, followed by Brian Vickers, Logano and Kasey Kahne.
Sunday’s race is the perfect place for drivers to settle their differences.
It’s difficult to block for long at Martinsville since it’s so easy for the second-place car to knock the leader out of the way. While the 65 year-old track is the smallest and slowest on the Sprint Cup Series schedule, it’s that continues to spark controversy and hard feelings.
When drivers bring existing rancor to the track, it only intensifies the expectation for trouble.
“NASCAR’s position has always been let the drivers handle it,” Stewart said. “I don’t think NASCAR should have to be put in that position. It’s like they tell us in the drivers meeting each week we are the best drivers in the world, in the country driving these things. We should be able to handle it on our own.”
Both drivers insisted Friday they won’t carry any grudges into the race. Logano knows he’s under even more scrutiny because he also had a run-in with Denny Hamlin on the final lap at Fontana that sent Hamlin to the hospital with a broken back – and to the sidelines for at least a month.
To compound his pressure, Logano’s car is parked beside Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota in the Martinsville garage area. Although Mark Martin will drive in relief of Hamlin on Sunday, Hamlin was at the track with his team Friday.
Logano and Hamlin were racing for the victory on the final lap when Logano’s car drifted to the right and pushed Hamlin into the wall. The two have exchanged messages in the past two weeks – Hamlin said the conversations weren’t productive – while Logano continues to say the crash was the result of two drivers racing for a win, not retaliation for Hamlin’s bump and run a week earlier at Bristol, Tenn.
“Everyone knows who you’re racing against and what happened before in the past. That’s always in your mind,” Logano said Friday. “It’s not any different this week than it would be any other week.”
Stewart took exception after some compared Logano’s block with 10 laps to go with his final-lap block at Talladega, Ala., last October that set off a 25-car crash.
“Talladega is a little different deal than the rest of it,” he said. “I don’t like it at Daytona and Talladega either, but it’s the position we are put in there. What happened at California is a different deal.”
But like all past problems, the memories linger.