It’s no secret that fans have long been craving for a rivalry in NASCAR.
Not one of these ones that pops up for a few, random weeks and fizzles out as though nothing ever happened. But rather one that can sustain over the course of many months, a season, and maybe even longer than that.
Some of the recent ones include the infamous tangle in the desert last November between Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer. However, that was resolved—we think—rather quickly over the off season and neither driver really has anything to say about it now.
The latest in the chain of these “new” rivalries is the one we’ve seen transpire over the past couple races between Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano.
Last weekend’s race at Bristol was the first run-in between the former teammates when Hamlin turned Logano with over 100-laps remaining in the 500-lap race.
Logano spent the remainder of the race trying to run down and pay back Hamlin and followed to confront him post-race, voicing his displeasure with him.
The two took their emotions to Twitter, were the two had a verbal-sparring of sorts which rilled up talks among fans on both sides of the fence.
Many didn’t think anything would carry over to Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway, with people saying the track was too wide and too fast to warrant any sort of payback. It was more expected at Martinsville than Fontana.
Throughout the race, both Hamlin and Logano showed that they had two of the strongest cars, both taking turns at the front and running inside the top-10 throughout most of the race.
When the laps wound down the the two found themselves at the front, it was game on.
Obviously, Logano didn’t want to lose a race, especially to Hamlin. And he made that very obvious when Hamlin drove up alongside Logano’s Ford taking the white flag while Logano arched up the track, nearing closer to the outside wall entering turn one.
Coming back to the checkered flag, the two made contact in turn three, causing both cars to wreck and lose the race, sending Hamlin to the hospital where he was kept overnight for observations.
As expected, opinions were mixed after the race. The most vocal, none other than Tony Stewart after he was blocked by Logano on the final restart of the race.
“He’s nothing but a little rich kid that’s never had to work in his life,” said Stewart.
And, as always, debate raged among fans as to who was “right and who was “wrong” in the situation.
But, why should it matter?
This is the type of thing that many fans have been wanting since the passing of Dale Earnhardt Sr. With complaints of drivers being “too soft”,”too vanilla” and just a public relations robot reciting sponsor lines not to upset anyone, this type of thing should excite fans that they’re seeing that long-craved emotion back into the sport.
While, yes, there is a driver (Hamlin) in the hospital due to the crash, that’s all part of the sport. Injuries are inevitable and are bound to happen no matter how safe the cars a designed.
But that’s not the point. The point is that finally the sport that was thrusted into the mainstream after a brawl in the first national televised race is starting to see a glimpse of the emotion and style of the past.
Take a second to look at the positives. Finally, these drivers are racing cars that actually look like something you could find out on the street rather than one, equal, somewhat-bland looking, boxy race car. And through five races, many would say that its put on a good showing in four of those races, two of which came on tracks where frankly the only excitement comes on the starts and restarts.
The car is playing into the hands of the drivers with the increased downforce allowing them to drive harder, and ultimately creating closer and more-exciting racing.
And that’s exactly what we saw on Sunday.
There wasn’t a need for a caution to close the field back up with under five laps to go to make the race seem exciting and you could physically see how hard both Logano and Hamlin were driving in the closing stages to get the win.
If there’s anything that warrants a complaint, it’s the lack of SAFER barrier on the inside wall where Hamlin’s car hit, causing him to be airlifted to a local area hospital. And, I assure you that it will be resolved before NASCAR heads back to Auto Club Speedway next year, and has a very good chance of being done before the IndyCar race at the track in October.
So, when you look back at Sunday’s race, feel thankful that we have cars that look like cars, drivers being drivers again and hope for a safe and speedy recovery for Hamlin.
Things are on the up, don’t put it down.