Opinion: Joey Logano's Martinsville bump-and-run was fair and totally justifiable
It was a move that would be considered typical at any legitimate short track event across the country on a given weekend.
And yet, there was a significant amount of backlash directed at Joey Logano over how he won the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday night.
First, the facts:
Martin Truex Jr. caught Logano for the lead with seven laps to go, taking several looks under the Team Penske youngster without completing the pass and without forcing the issue. Truex then completed a clean pass in turns 1 and 2 on the final lap and jumped in front of Logano down the backstretch.
Logano hit Truex in the back bumper on corner entry in turn 3, just enough to push him up the track, allowing them to get side by side. Truex lost a little bit of grip on the outside and turned left into Logano. It was a beatin’ and bangin’ drag race to the finish line and Logano won the duel by half of a car length.
In true short track fashion, every fan in attendance took sides, most of them showering Logano with boos -- the vitriol spreading like a wildfire onto the various social media channels deep into the midnight hours.
And for the life of me, I just don’t see anything wrong with how Sunday’s finish played out.
Unlike last year’s finish in the Martinsville fall race, Logano’s move was not particularly dirty, and par for the course at Martinsville -- especially given the stakes. In that race last fall, Denny Hamlin was on Chase Elliott’s rear bumper halfway down the backstretch into corner entry.
That was a dump job and a move that Hamlin almost immediately apologized for as soon as he left the track. No such apologies were needed here as Logano waited for the apex, where the asphalt transitions to concrete, to apply the bumper. Logano’s move was successfully intended to move Truex off the bottom so it would become a drag race down the front stretch.
In that regard, this was closer to Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch at the 2003 Southern 500 than what happened at Martinsville last fall.
Again, this is the same thing that nearly every short-tracker in America would consider acceptable, including two-time Martinsville 300 Late Model Stock race winner Lee Pulliam.
"You're not a race car driver if you don't move Truex in turns 3 and 4," Pulliam said on his Facebook page on Sunday night. "He didn't wreck him. He moved him. That's racing. Yes, Truex should be upset because any good racer doesn't like to lose. That's hard short track racing. That was a heck of a finish, if you ask me."
And oh, by the way, they were racing for an automatic berth into NASCAR’s championship race next month at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Logano entered Sunday night’s race outside of the elimination cutline. Even if he finishes second to Truex, he is still just 15 points above Kurt Busch for that final spot. In other words, if any driver below the cutline would have won after Logano failed to close, he would then fall below the cutline.
We’ve seen drivers fail to win at Martinsville and pay for it later in the round.
Jeff Gordon missed the championship race in 2014 by a single point after losing to teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Martinsville in a race in which he led the most laps. It rained at Phoenix of all places in 2015, the timing of a race-ending storm eliminating Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch from the winner-take-all race.
In 2017, Elliott and Denny Hamlin both likely advance into the Championship Race if they didn’t get involved in an on-track altercation and simply run 1-2.
It’s somewhat overstated and cliché, but winning matters in this round more than any. Contenders can rely on points to advance into the Round of 8, but the margin of error is nonexistent at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix.
Most of the criticism directed at Logano is due to the fact that Truex legitimately raced him clean and respectfully during the final 10-lap dash and he got the bumper in return. But honestly, Truex may have raced Logano too clean.
The reigning and defending champion clearly had the faster car by the end of the race. Truex had several chances to apply the same move, completing the pass and getting the hell out of Dodge. Instead, he waited until the final lap, didn’t overtake in a way that created separation between the two and underestimated just how badly Logano needed that win.
A victory meant a mathematical shot at the championship. Settling for second meant resigning yourself to a fate that had bitten too many contenders before him.
And at the end of the day, Logano didn’t dump Truex. He nudged him. He moved him up the track. It was a bump-and-run.
It was peak Martinsville, with a championship on the line, and completely justifiable.