AP Auto Racing Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR Chairman Brian France said Tuesday the contact between Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin as they battled for the win at California over the weekend was just the kind of throwback racing he expects out of his drivers and the new Gen-6 car.
“I have said repeatedly, every minute, that contact, especially late in the race when you are going for a win, that’s not only going to happen — that’s expected,” France said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “Both of them did exactly what I think you would do when you really, really want to win. Getting some contact, trying to race extra hard to win the race, that’s what we’re about.”
Hamlin suffered a compressed fracture of the L1 vertebra in his lower back, and Joe Gibbs Racing said Tuesday night he’ll be out a minimum of six weeks.
France, who spoke to AP hours before JGR announced Hamlin would not require surgery but needed time to heal, did not think anything was done intentionally by Logano to harm Hamlin.
“Injuries can happen throughout any race on any lap, and fortunately they are seldom,” France said. “That’s just part of racing.”
NASCAR announced Tuesday no penalties were warranted after California — not against Tony Stewart for scuffling with Logano after the race, and series officials saw nothing to indicate Logano or Hamlin were trying to intentionally wreck each other as they raced for the win. In addition, NASCAR officials have given no thought to policing blocking, which is what Logano did to Stewart on the final restart to trigger the post-race confrontation.
“There are no conversations internally inside of NASCAR to look at blocking as a violation or a penalty as some other forms of motorsports do,” Sprint Cup Series director John Darby said. “As good as the racing has been, as exciting as it’s been, I don’t know that we need to jump in the middle and screw it up.”
Stewart parked his car near Logano’s and angrily approached him after Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. There was some shoving, but crew members intervened before any punches landed. Logano threw a water bottle at Stewart.
Darby said the incident didn’t escalate to a level where NASCAR had to take action.
“A few years ago we backed away from micromanaging drivers’ emotions, you would hope in today’s world that if somebody didn’t win a race, they would be upset about it,” Darby said. “I don’t know that we’ve actually got a rule book that describes every push in the chest or kick in the shin. If two guys get into a hell of a fight, we’re going to have to react. But a couple of guys blowing off some steam and slapping at the air is not going to get anybody in a whole lot of trouble.”
France noted that drivers are encouraged to show their emotion and settle disputes — which is all Stewart was doing on Sunday.
“We have no problem, and frankly encourage drivers to go up to one another to discuss whatever they think they need to that happened in the race,” France said. “And then every once in a while there will be some emotions, and that’s what happened Sunday and crews stepped in between them and we don’t think it rose to some level of anything.”
France said NASCAR will intervene when feuds go too far and when emotions run too high.
“We’re not going to allow a boxing match to take place every time they have a disagreement,” France said. “But on the other hand, we’re not going to prevent the emotional exchanges that occur after a race. Everyone has the right to walk up to someone and say, ‘What the? What happened there? What did you do that for?’ And they explain themselves and usually work it out.”
It remains to be seen where the Logano and Hamlin feud goes from here, although Sunday was viewed as a racing incident.
The two former teammates have feuded since the closing laps of the season-opening Daytona 500 and it escalated after contact from Hamlin sent Logano spinning into the wall two races ago at Bristol. Logano angrily confronted Hamlin after the race before being pulled away by crew members.
The two moved their feud to Twitter for at least the second time this season and then came Sunday’s race.
They were racing side-by-side on the last lap for the win when they banged into each other. Both cars spun and Hamlin’s hit head-on into an inside wall not protected with energy-absorbing SAFER barriers.
He spent Sunday night in a Southern California hospital, where he was diagnosed with an L1 compression fracture in his lower back. He saw Dr. Jerry Petty of Carolina Neurosurgery and Spine Associates on Tuesday, and Petty determined the driver will not need surgery but needed a minimum of six weeks to heal.
NASCAR is off this weekend, so Hamlin could miss only five races if the healing process meets Petty’s estimate. But the next five weeks include stops at Martinsville Speedway and Richmond International Raceway, where the Virginia-raised driver has a combined six Sprint Cup victories.
Hamlin also races in his annual charity event at RIR, and will now have to sit that out, too.
Darby did not think Logano intentionally wrecked Hamlin.
“It was the last lap of the race, and the last time they were both going to see turns three and four. They were side-by-side. If somebody was of the mindset to retaliate, they probably would have been lined up nose-to-tail and somebody would have drove into the other car and spun him around,” Darby said. “In this case, that is so far from the opposite, that it never even crossed anybody’s mind that I’m aware of that paid attention to the race.”
Meanwhile, NASCAR is still going over data from Hamlin’s accident and will need to meet with officials from the University of Nebraska, home to the engineering school’s Midwest Roadside Safety experts, and IndyCar before making any recommendations on whether a SAFER barrier should be installed where Hamlin hit.
When NASCAR first began installing SAFER barriers following the 2001 death of Dale Earnhardt, the priority were locations where cars frequently hit the wall. Officials at Nebraska also make recommendations not to install the barriers at certain points at a facility because of various issues, including the potential for a car to sling-shot back into traffic after impact.
Track officials usually follow the recommendations.
Tom Gideon, senior director of safety research and development at NASCAR, said where Hamlin hit was not an area that cars frequently make impact.
“Each point on the track we look at the application and you don’t want to put (barriers) in places where the angle of impact may not be appropriate for a SAFER barrier,” Gideon said. “We also look at the possibility of impact and the frequency of impact, and when you look at the frequency of impact, especially at oval tracks, it’s reasonable to think they are going to be with outside walls.”
NASCAR doesn’t race at Auto Club Speedway again this season, but IndyCar’s October finale is scheduled at the track. IndyCar officials said the series is working with NASCAR, Nebraska and the Fontana track officials to study the accident and see if “any changes need be addressed prior to our race at Fontana.”
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