Aggressive driving puts Joey Logano in NASCAR crosshairs


ORLANDO, Fla. — Joey Logano is guilty of a few things, especially if you count aggressive driving as a sin.

But please don’t make him out to be the Darth Vader of NASCAR.

Denny Hamlin has a hairline back fracture because both drivers were jockeying for the win on the last lap at Fontana on Sunday. It was nothing more than hard, aggressive racing.

Same deal involving Logano’s dustup with Tony Stewart, who took exception to Logano’s block with 11 laps remaining.

Stewart chased down Logano and threw a punch along pit road after the race. Logano countered by throwing a water bottle.

“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,” said Stewart, who conveniently forgot he caused a 24-car smash-up at Talladega last year. “If I didn’t hit the chip (on my rev limiter), he wouldn’t have made it through Turn 1 to begin with. I’m tired of these guys doing that stuff, especially out of a kid that has been griping about everybody else and then he does that the next week.”

Oh, my.

In just two weeks, Logano’s reputation has gone from a guy who didn’t make much trouble to the main instigator on the circuit. But once again, Logano shouldn’t be vilified for injuring Hamlin, who was released from a hospital on Monday and remains uncertain on a timetable for a return.

That was byproduct of good hard racing — and the absence of a SAFER barrier along that stretch on the track. Nothing more, nothing less.

“They had their Bristol run-in the week before and had been going at it before that,” SPEED TV analyst Kyle Petty said. “Kyle Busch said it best last night on NASCAR Victory Lane — that was two guys focused solely on each other going for the win and they just got together. They were so focused on each other that they never thought about him catching them and going by them. Davey Allison and I did it at Charlotte in 1992. We’ve seen it 1,000,000 times with two guys going for the win.

“Drivers drop their window nets and get out. Everybody claps and we don’t think anything about it, but this time, Denny didn’t climb out uninjured. But his injury doesn’t make the incident any different than it would have been. I don’t think they were running at each other to wreck each other. It was all about those two. It’s not Joey’s fault. I know it’s a stupid saying, but that was a racing incident. The injury doesn’t change anything.”

Unfortunately, it does for Hamlin. NASCAR is off this week for Easter in a rare break, but Hamlin is likely to miss significant time behind the wheel, crushing his shot at a Cup championship.

Hamlin expects to meet with Dr. Jerry Petty in the Charlotte area on Wednesday or Thursday to determine what’s best moving forward.

“The position I was in, I couldn’t breathe at all,” Hamlin told USA TODAY. “I’m still having a hard time breathing. Literally, when I felt a pop, I couldn’t move at all and I knew I had to get flat to my back to be able to breathe again. That’s why I rushed out and just laid flat on the ground to start breathing again.”

Bad deal. Just don’t blame Logano.

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Nationwide dilemma

The most dominant driver in the Nationwide Series won’t win the championship this season.

That would be you, Kyle Busch.

Busch has won three of five races this season but won’t be eligible for the title because NASCAR doesn’t allow full-time Cup drivers to be compete for the championship (unless they forfeit their eligibility for a Cup title, which would make no sense).

The prevailing theory is that having Cup guys drive on Saturdays is a good thing because it spikes attendance in the Nationwide circuit. But based on anecdotal evidence — lots of empty seats — that isn’t true.

So NASCAR has itself a quandary moving forward. Is it wise to continue to open up the Nationwide circuit to all comers, or would it be best to level the playing field and showcase rising drivers such as Kyle Larson?

As ESPN’s Terry Blount so eloquently put it: “Busch winning another Nationwide race in the best equipment is like Andrea Bocelli winning a singing contest over William Hung.”

Spanish style

NASCAR continues its Hispanic outreach next month as it partners with Univision in a sports-themed original project titled “Arranque de Pasion, La Historia de Ela.”

Premiering on April 1, the project — featuring a novela, a Spanish-style soap opera — will include three five-to-seven-minute episodes airing on consecutive weeks. The NASCAR-themed drama will be featured in a special prime-time network television debut on Univision on Sunday, May 5.

“Novelas are a popular genre for Univision and Hispanic audiences, and we think NASCAR is a very exciting universe for storytelling and unique original projects like ‘Arranque de Pasion, La Historia de Ela,’ ” said Zane Stoddard, NASCAR vice president of entertainment marketing and business development. “We have developed a great relationship with Univision over the last several years, and this project is a wonderful opportunity to introduce Univision’s millions of online and television viewers to the excitement and passion of NASCAR.”

Indiana it is

And so President Obama isn’t the only guy picking Indiana to win the national title in college hoops.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., too.

“I think Indiana will beat Duke,” Earnhardt said. “I’m not a Duke fan.”

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