It’s time for me to get back to covering NASCAR as I have for the past 10 years. As an editor at www.speedwaymedia.com I spend a lot of time behind the scene trying to bring everyone quality coverage on all sorts of motorsports. I must note that coverage of the sport has changed significantly since I started in what was the last century. Many print publications have gone away and with those changes we have lost some incredible talent. I can recall when internet racing sites were frowned upon by the sanctioning body, not supported by the tracks or sponsors. So much has changed in how the fans interact with teams, sponsors and drivers. Who would have thought that you could actually get a message to a driver in just a few seconds by “tweeting” them? So I decided that I would start up a weekly column, “On the Edge.” I will not always cover the obvious. I may just recap, as I am this week because so much happened during 2015 Speedweeks in Daytona.
DAYTONA RECAP: The 2015 NASCAR season roared to life just a couple of weekends ago with the Sprint Unlimited. The non-points paying event is usually chaotic and this year’s edition was no exception. The field saw at least three significant wrecks that saw only 12 survive all 75 laps of the race. Matt Kenseth won the race but there were some disgruntled drivers after the race including Kevin Harvick who felt he was run over by Joey Logano. “He just drove us straight in the fence,” Harvick said post race. Everybody is trying to be aggressive, but you still have to know when and where you can do things. You can’t just drive somebody in the fence. Whether it is an all-star race or not, it doesn’t really matter, you can’t just take your head off and throw it on the floorboard and not use your brain. Like I told him last year that kind of stuff catches up with you. It caught up with him last year and you can only do things like that so long before it catches up with you.”
The drama just continued on the following day when it came time for the Sprint Cup cars to qualify, shoot-out style. There were multiple wrecks during the sessions and eventually team Hendrick made up the front row with Jeff Gordon taking the pole award and Jimmie Johnson taking second. Gordon had announced previously that this would be his final Daytona 500. With all the wrecked race cars many teams were unhappy with the format, including Martin Truex Jr. who said, “My thoughts are they need to do something different. I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem like it’s a good show. It’s not fun. It’s kind of chaos. I don’t know, seeing cars get tore up and other stuff. I’m not a fan of it, but hey, it is what it is. It’s fun at every other race track, it’s just plate tracks we need to figure something else out.”
On the Monday after qualifying things began to get bizarre as NASCAR announced that they were aware of the ruling in a civil matter regarding some domestic violence allegations against beleaguered Stewart-Haas driver Kurt Busch. The announcement was they were “waiting on the full findings from the commissioner and any actions by the Attorney General.” We fast forward to Friday afternoon, when the commissioners’ findings were released, and Kurt Busch is indefinitely suspended from NASCAR participation. By Saturday he has lost all appeals and he is erased from existence in souvenir haulers and on the team cars and gear. For the record, no actions were taken by the attorney general and I am old enough to know and understand, that the reality of what happened in the privacy of that motor coach lot, lies somewhere in between the testimonies of Busch and his ex-girlfriend.
We had on-track festivities that got out of hand, when Danica Patrick and Denny Hamlin had issues during a practice session and more importantly the qualifying race on Thursday that had Patrick nearly missing NASCAR’s big event. Patrick was clearly upset and got in Hamlin’s face after the race but as one would expect, nothing more came of it. More significantly both the Camping World Truck Series and newly named Xfinity Series races were wreck fests that saw Sprint Cup driver Kyle Busch sent to the hospital with a compound fracture to his right leg and a left broken foot. Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood took responsibility for the track not having all track walls covered with the SAFER barrier and vowed to have it fixed immediately. No timetable for Busch’s return to his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team was discussed as this went to press.
JOEY LOGANO – In 2007 I had the pleasure of meeting a young up and coming star named Joey Logano at a local track on the outskirts of the Adirondack Mountains. He was just 17 years old and had already won three races in the NASCAR Busch North Series. He was an extremely personable young man and I recall that the customary pre-race autograph session was extended due to the large crowd that was present not only to watch him race, but to meet him. During the race Logano, who started on the pole due to him being the points leader, faded back to third or fourth place as he struggled to figure out the D shaped track. He had fought his way to third when the white flag was flying and as the leaders battled side by side coming off turn four they touched and began to spin out and Logano pounced, diving low in a remarkable fashion, keeping it on the track and taking the checkered flag. I recall looking at my friend who was with me in the pits and say, like others before me, ‘that kid is the real deal!’
In 2009 when Logano was a rookie with Joe Gibbs Racing I had an opportunity to speak with him about that race at the Adirondack Speedway. At the time Logano had a lot to say about Adirondack. “Adirondack was nowhere!” he said a bit loudly when I asked. “It’s one of a kind.” But he also recalled it took some time to learn how to get around the place. “That was one of the most frustrating places I have been to,” he said. “I remember we started practice there and I was off a little bit and I was mad. I mean you never stop turning. You turn the wheel here (motions to the left) and that’s it. You never get full throttle or anything. I was trying to get full throttle, I was over driving it. I came in and they’re like, ‘What’s the deal, Joey?’ and I said, ‘I don’t freaking know!’ I got out of the car and I was like, ‘I just don’t know. I don’t know what to tell you.’ I went and watched the other cars to see what the heck they were doing; I got back in the car and tried again. Qualifying rained out and I got the pole so I’m like, ‘I’m cool with that.’” Logano mentioned that Matt Kobyluck, a Busch Series East veteran, had the place figured out. “So did I by the end,” he explained. Logano’s last lap pass as the two leaders got tangled up with a lapped car coming to the checkered flag was one of the most exciting finishes of the NASCAR races held there. Logano said he looked fondly upon his days in the series and his interactions with the fans. “Of course it was all worthwhile with the fans, he said smiling. “They’re fans, real good fans. We had autograph sessions before every race. That was kind of cool, to meet the fans.”
Things looked bleak for Logano after a few disappointing years in the No. 20 car and he needed a new home. He found it at Penske where he is teamed up with 2013 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski. Logano was one of the final four cars that were in the hunt for the Sprint Cup at Homestead last November after a breakout season for him. He had five wins and led almost 1,000 laps in 2014 and he began living up to the nick-name veteran Mark Martin had given him when he was a teenager, “sliced bread.”
One weekend into the 2015 season and Logano has secured himself in the final 16 cars that will go for the 2015 edition of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the new playoff system that started last season and eliminates participants from contention based on performance. He did that by winning the Daytona 500, the second youngest driver ever to win it. Something that is hard to believe since he’s been driving in the Sprint Cup Series for so long.