What happened at Auto Club Speedway Sunday was one of the greatest finishes I have ever seen. A track that is notorious for its lackluster races produced a finish that launched NASCAR into the national spotlight…again. The sport has seen unprecedented coverage this year because of Danica, the Gen6 and now because of the incredible finish at Fontana. Overnight TV ratings for the race were up 32% from 2012, it was the first three stories on SportsCenter last night even before NCAA and CNN among other news networks were all over the story. This is exactly what NASCAR needed…
What we saw Sunday reminded my dad of the NASCAR races he would watch in the 1970’s or 80’s. The kind of on and off track action that gave the sport so much popularity throughout the 80’s 90’s. It was a knock-down drag-out fight to the finish followed by a brawl on pit road. Unfortunately, Denny Hamlin suffered a compression fracture in his lower back that may sideline him for a couple races pending what Dr. Petty says later this week when Denny goes to see him. His car went sliding head on into a concrete wall that was not protected by a safer barrier. The car went airborne before coming to rest at the entrance of pit road. Tony Stewart confronted Joey Logano for blocking him on the final restart of the race and punches were thrown. In my opinion, Stewart was wrong here but you have to love that raw emotion. He then went and gave a very colorful interview to FOX Sports regarding what he thinks of Joey.
There is no doubt that this drama is great for the sport. 24 hours later and Twitter is still blowing up with people talking about the race. Is it over though? Was the altercation at Cali the final installment of Logano vs. Hamlin? I think this rivalry has just begun…there was time to patch things up and cool down after Bristol but we are way past putting this behind us now. I mean, Denny Hamlin is sitting in a hospital right now with a broken back just seething about that finish. Joey hasn’t said a word on Twitter since Saturday which is probably a good idea. I do want to urge the fans to stop tearing Joey apart saying things like he put Hamlin in the hospital and should be suspended because that’s not the case at all. He never wrecked Denny Hamlin; they traded paint off of turn 4 and Denny lost control, possibly from a cut tire but I’m not entirely sure. He was never turned into the wall by Logano.
The other part of this incident is of course Tony Stewart. I was shocked to see him so angry but this is not the first time he has lost his temper over someone blocking him. Sonoma 2011 with Brian Vickers, Daytona 2009 with Kyle Busch, Michigan 2007 with David Gilliland, Indy 2012 with Matt Kenseth, Bristol 2012 with Kenseth again are some of the many times Smoke has lost his cool over blocking. Last year at Talladega, I think we all remember Tony blocking Michael Waltrip causing a 30 car crash that ultimately forced Dale Earnhardt Jr. to sit out two races with a concussion. You can call Stewart a hypocrite but to be fair, this is pretty much the mentality of all racers. They don’t like it when someone does it to them but they all do it at some point to one another during their career. Blocking is a part of NASCAR and all forms of Motorsports. When it’s 10 laps to go and I’m trying to win the race, you can bet I’ll block you to the grass; Stewart would have done the same thing.
No matter what your opinion is about any of the drama that unfolded yesterday, no one can say they that we had another boring Auto Club 400. That finish may have actually put NASCAR back on the map after struggling for ratings in recent years. The Gen6 has proved that it is a great car and only needs tweaks on the plate tracks. Phoenix was better than Daytona, Vegas was better than Phoenix, Bristol was better than Vegas and Cali was better than Bristol. With that being said, I can’t wait to see how Martinsville plans to top this race!