Opinion: The Blame Game

D.Hamlin

"The Logano-Hamlin incident was another smart non-call by NASCAR. It was simply a racing incident, two determined drivers who happened to be involved in a heated rivalry going for a win on the last lap." (Photo: Getty Images)

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If finger pointing were an Olympic sport, there would be a large contingent of NASCAR fans poised to win several gold medals.

In the aftermath of Sunday’s action-packed and controversial Auto Club 400, the search to assign blame has risen to epic proportions.  Some want to exile Joey Logano for racing Denny Hamlin so hard on the final lap, when the inevitable contact caused both to crash.  Others think Logano should be suspended for causing the accident that, unfortunately, sent Hamlin to the hospital and to the sidelines for some time with an L1 compression fracture in his lower back.

Logano is also "Public Enemy No. 1" for having the nerve to try and hold his position on the race’s final restart, sending Tony Stewart into a fit.  But then there are those who think Stewart was wrong to complain about anyone blocking and he’s the one who should be penalized for starting the post race brouhaha with Logano on pit road or - at the very least - for using salty language on network television.

I’m sorry to disappoint the many accusers, but nobody did anything wrong in Fontana.

Every one of the several issues that arose were the product of nothing more than good old-fashioned, tough racing - the very thing many of NASCAR’s detractors say is missing from the sport.  Emotions ran high – okay, maybe off the charts – and caused some drivers to perhaps not demonstrate the best behavior.  But not one act was worthy of any sort of penalty, fine or reprimand.  Thankfully, NASCAR agrees.

I recognize the irony of the sanctioning body fining Hamlin $25,000 for nothing more than words in an overly-sensitive reaction to his post-Phoenix comments while in some eyes, allowing all heck to break loose in Fontana.  But I truly believe it was the right thing to do.

Logano was perfectly within his rights to do whatever he felt necessary to hold on to his position on the race's final restart.  Stewart, who has become the self-appointed head of the blocking police, was understandably unhappy but has no ground to stand on and cry foul.

Since there’s no NASCAR rule against blocking (thank goodness), Logano’s move was perfectly legal.  If Stewart would like to compete in a series where blocking is outside the guidelines, he can always move to IndyCar or Formula One.  Then there’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room, which was Stewart’s ill-conceived block at Talladega last October that wound up wadding up 25 cars on the final lap.

Conversely, Stewart was within his rights to confront Logano on pit road after Sunday's race.  While their scuffle won’t be confused with the 1979 Daytona 500 fight between Cale Yarborough and the Allison boys any time soon, there’s nothing wrong with raw emotion boiling over in professional sports.

The Logano-Hamlin accident was another smart non-call by NASCAR.  It was simply a racing incident, two determined drivers who happened to be involved in a heated rivalry going for a win on the last lap.  Neither Logano nor Hamlin purposely drove into the other and the contact was nowhere near the bush league moves we’ve seen in recent years like Carl Edwards into Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon turning Clint Bowyer or the worst of all, Kyle Busch punting Ron Hornaday into the wall under caution.

It’s a shame that Hamlin was injured in the crash, but it’s in no way Logano’s fault.  Hopefully, some good will come out of the situation with Auto Club Speedway and more tracks around the circuit installing SAFER Barriers everywhere a car might make impact.

I’m completely against drivers using cars as weapons on the racetrack.  It’s wrong to promote races and make potential driver fights a focal point of advertising and marketing.  I’m not a fan of television networks and even NASCAR itself utilizing crash videos as a means of attracting viewers and fans.

But I am all for emotion and intense competition happening in a natural way, which it did Sunday at Fontana ... all adding up to the best race of the Sprint Cup Series season.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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