By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
When Joey Logano wrecked Matt Kenseth for the win at Kansas Speedway in 2015, he was asked if he had changed the rules of engagement when he comes to what drivers are willing to do in the new playoff system, in which wins clinch a spot in the playoffs.
“I didn’t change no rules today,” Logano said at the time. “NASCAR does the rules. I just drive the race car. NASCAR makes the rules, and we play by them.
“There is no rules when it comes to the way we race each other and the way we’re going to race hard, and I’m going to race the way people race me, and I expect the same back.”
That was Logano’s feeling then, and it doesn’t appear that anything has changed.
Was Joey Logano’s move on William Byron justified?
Bob Pockrass offers his thoughts on whether Joey Logano’s move on William Byron at Darlington was justified or dirty racing.
In 2015, he received payback from the Kenseth incident, with a several-laps-down Kenseth (out of the playoffs in part because he didn’t win at Kansas) wrecking Logano, the leader, at Martinsville. Kenseth was suspended for two races, but that was because he wasn’t racing for position and, though eliminated from contention, impacted the championship.
When a driver is racing for the lead, however, it seems like anything goes at NASCAR’s top level, and the playoff system has embraced a win-at-all-costs mentality, even when a driver believes they’ve been wronged in the process .
That was never more obvious than Sunday at Darlington, where Logano drove hard into the back of William Byron with just more than a lap remaining. Logano said Byron had gotten the lead about 22 laps earlier by pinching him into the wall — a move, even if unintentional, that gave Byron the track position needed to win the race.
Logano determined at that point that if he got to Byron, then Byron was going to pay for that move. The price turned out to be a huge shove — few would characterize it as a true bump-and-run, as it sent Byron up the track and into the wall, instead of just getting him loose and collecting it back up — and a 13th -place finish for Byron while Logano celebrated the victory.
Reacting to Logano finish: It was an “aggressive, bold” move
Was Joey Logano’s move on William Byron too much? Clint Bowyer and Mike Joy react to the finish at Darlington.
Logano had led just 35 lapses all season. He was awful at Dover the week prior to Darlington. But at Darlington, he won the pole and won his first stage of the season. It might’ve been one of his few opportunities to win, and with him being the 10th winner in 12 races so far this year, few if any of the 16 playoff spots will be available to winless drivers.
So even without the contact between Logano and Byron while they battled for the lead earlier in the race, some would view Logano’s move as acceptable desperation to make the playoffs.
“You’ve got to capitalize when you have a car that can do it right now, for sure,” Logano said. “That opportunity was there to get a win, and you have to grab it any chance you can because you just don’t know with this new car.”
The Next Gen car, introduced this season, tends to be more twitchy and, for the most part, more durable (except for the toe link that connects the axle to the tire). Logano’s car was not damaged much when Byron pinched him into the wall, but given the way Byron’s car hit the wall, it was significantly damaged.
Logano probably didn’t mean to wreck Byron that hard, but he certainly didn’t try to pass him clean. Byron might have felt better afterward if Logano had at least tried to get around him side-by-side.
“He was faster,” Byron said afterwards. “He could have easily just gotten to my left rear and loosen me up.”
“He’s just a moron” — William Byron on Joey Logano after Darlington
William Byron was upset with Joey Logano after the race at Darlington, in which Logano sent Byron into the wall to win.
But Logano thought he didn’t have enough time for that, and Byron had set the rules of play with the earlier incident.
“If that’s not how he took the lead, I’m not making that move,” Logano said. “I’m going to try to race cleaner and make the pass a different way, but at that point, I knew there was one way to guarantee a victory, so I was taking that maneuver at that point.”
Both Byron and Logano seemed incredulous about how the other viewed the initial contact. Byron said they “barely” touched, and Logano laughed at that characterization.
“We had a pretty clean restart,” Byron said. “Everybody on the bottom all day couldn’t get through that bump very good. It’s tight. No reason for him to say ‘retaliation.’ That’s stupid.”
Logano said several times that he did “what I had to do.” With track position so important, Logano knew when Byron took the lead that he might never have a chance to get to his bumper. And Logano knew that if Byron hadn’t made that initial move, he probably would’ve had a comfortable lead on the way to the win.
“If you’re willing to make the move to get the lead by doing that, by running a car into the wall, you have opened up the door for retaliation and to get a victory,” Logano said. “When it was only 20-something laps before that, you’ve got to expect it coming. That’s why he went into the corner low and slow — because he knew it was coming.
“Is it what you have to do? Yeah, you have to do that in that situation. You know you’re not going to get pushed around. I’m not going to get bullied … I’ll tell you that much. That’s how the sport works. Our sport has worked like this for years.”
Breaking down the Bryon-Logano incident
NASCAR RaceHub discusses the incident involving Joey Logano and William Byron with two laps to go at Darlington.
But has it? The sport has employed this win-and-in system for only about a decade. And rarely are moves like this seen at tracks such as Darlington and Kansas, where NASCAR will race this weekend.
Logano has made some of the most aggressive moves, and while that could anger his competitors and come back to haunt him, he is focused on winning races and putting himself in position to win a title.
“Ultimately, there are a lot of guys with wins and … we aren’t leading the points, so I think Joey knows where he’s at and is going to do what he needs to do,” Logano crew chief Paul Wolfe said.
Whether this situation will change NASCAR’s unwritten rules remains to be seen. Most drivers at this level already have an idea of where the line is that they won’t cross.
“You have your mindset about how you race kind of made up,” Cup rookie Harrison Burton said. “It’s a personal thing.
“For me, it is definitely predicated on how I’ve been raced by that person or how I’ve been raced by people around me. … Every incident is pretty personal, I would say, but I don’t think I let other people’s racing influence how I would race.”
Harrison Burton on Joey Logano’s move at Darlington
Some of the post-Darlington chatter has focused on whether Joey Logano’s move will change how others race. Rookie driver Harrison Burton says most drivers already know how far they are willing to go for a win.
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What to watch for
Kansas is the first race at a 1.5-mile track that isn’t a drafting track since Las Vegas. Expect the drivers who were strong at Vegas to be strong at Kansas. The right-side tire is the same one used at Fontana, Vegas and Darlington. The left-side tire is the one used at Dover.
The drivers who were good at Vegas: Alex Bowman (Kyle Busch certainly remembers how Bowman won it), Busch, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain. Christopher Bell was on the pole.
Expect the winner to come from that group of six.
thinking out loud
With a history of antics, Kyle Busch will have a hard time getting the benefit of the doubt that he couldn’t safely drive into the Darlington Raceway garage on Sunday.
Busch, with one of his suspension pieces broken, parked his car on pit road at the entrance to the garage, got out and walked to his hauler.
Last year, he was fined $50,000 for aggressively driving into the garage. He avoided any such penalty this year by … not driving into the garage at all.
He said afterward that his car wouldn’t turn. Could that be true? Safe. But it also would be on-brand for Busch to stop in a fit of frustration and walk into the garage, thereby avoiding the controversy he dealt with last year.
In some ways, that could be looked at as a smart thing. If there was any chance that he might not make the turn or might have trouble steering, he knows how that would’ve looked, too. He probably wanted to drive as fast as he could to his hauler, and park the car avoided any more trouble.
But some want Busch penalized, as it took a few lapses to remove his parked car. To do so, NASCAR would have to be certain that Busch knew his car was drivable and certain that Busch was just being dramatic.
In this case, there’s enough uncertainty to clear Busch of any “wrongdoing” in the eyes of NASCAR but not enough benefit of the doubt for the court of public opinion.
They said it
“I’ve been called a lot of things — a lot worse than moron, too. I just witnessed a lot of it when I got out of the car.” — Joey Logano reacting to being called a moron by William Byron
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!
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