– Joey Logano has Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s most popular driver and the Sprint Cup points leader, on his side — at least when it comes to whether his block of Tony Stewart on the final restart at Auto Club Speedway was acceptable.
“In my opinion, it was just hard racing,” Earnhardt said during Tuesday’s national conference call. “The guy is leading the race, he’s trying to do what he can to win.”
Stewart didn’t agree.
The three-time Cup champion cut off Logano’s car on pit road after the race and went after him physically before being separated by crew members and officials. He then went on a verbal tirade against the 22-year-old Penske Racing driver.
“He has that right, he has the choice to do that,” Stewart said of blocking. “If he ever turns down across in front of me again, I don’t care what lap it is, he won’t make it through the other end of it.
“I’m tired of these guys doing that stuff. Especially out of a kid that’s been griping about everybody else and then he does that the next week. He sent Denny [Hamlin] to the hospital and screwed our day up.”
Stewart, who finished 22nd, was referring to a last-lap crash involving Logano and Hamlin racing for the lead. Hamlin, who wrecked Logano a week earlier at Bristol, suffered a compression fracture in his lower back when his car hit a concrete inside retaining wall and will miss up to five races.
Earnhardt understands there are some who get more upset about blocking than others. He’s just not one of them.
“Every driver is going to have a different opinion,” said Earnhardt, who took advantage of the last-lap crash to finish second and move into the points lead. “I might block in certain situations. I would expect and accept to be blocked in certain situations.
“But you’ve got to give me racetrack. You’ve got to give me somewhere to run. You can’t just run me up into the fence. You’ve got to give me a lane. If you give me a reasonable amount of racetrack to race on, then I really can’t complain in regards to what you’re trying to do to maintain the position.”
Earnhardt said the time of the race also is a factor when it comes to blocking.
“Is it time to be blocking?” he said. “Is the position that important at that moment in time? Again, everybody will have a different opinion. But when somebody blocks me, I’m not blown away by the notion.
“You know, I’m not going to say that I’ve never blocked anybody because I have, and you do, you will. Being in certain situations, that’s your only alternative. But you’ve got to give people racing room or expect to get turned around or expect to make a few people upset.”
Stewart caused a 25-car pileup in which Earnhardt suffered a concussion that sidelined him for two Chase races defending the lead in the closing lap at Talladega last fall.
Stewart, who has been outspoken about blocking several times the past few years, apologized after the race.
“I just screwed up,” he said. “I turned down and cut across Michael [Waltrip] and crashed the whole field. It was my fault, blocking and trying to stay where I was at.”
Logano never got a chance to discuss what happened with Stewart. He said after the race he had to slow down so as not to jump the race leader on the restart, and that when he did Stewart was able to get a jump on him.
“I had to throw the block there,” Logano said. “That was the race for the lead. I felt if [Stewart] got underneath me, that was going to be the end of my opportunity to win the race.”
Logano said he planned to tell Stewart the same thing when they spoke. Asked if he was willing to talk to Logano, Stewart said, “Hell no.”
“After he threw the water bottle at me like a little girl, we’ll go at it now,” he said.
Stewart also referred to Logano as a spoiled rich kid who never worked a day in his life. That brought up another issue that Earnhardt discussed in relation to how his 12-year-old niece Karsyn has many of the same financial advantages Logano had as she pursues a career in racing.
“Hopefully, she’s talented enough, no matter what your background or what your path is to where you are … if you have talent, you belong, and you earn respect through that talent,” he said. “If you’re really good at your job and really good at what you do, it won’t matter how you got there.”
Opinions will vary on that just as they will on blocking. Stewart’s teammate, Ryan Newman, called blocking a “chicken way to drive.”
“It’s just something I don’t do,” he said. “If you’ve got a run on me, take it. If I can get through the corner better than you, then we’ll race, but blocking is an IndyCar form or F1 form or an open-wheel type move it seems like.
“It’s not to say they don’t do it in NASCAR; obviously they do. But to me, it’s just a chicken way of driving and not very respectful for the guys around you. You’re there to race. You’re not there to block.”
Newman didn’t know if Stewart and Logano had talked or planned to before Sunday’s race at Martinsville, but he said you have to be aware if they’re around each other on the half-mile track where contact is expected.
“You have to know what’s going on and watch out for the dramas, but at the same time I have a race of my own to run, and a part of that is watching out for what’s going on, whether it’s something that’s carried over from the past few weeks or something that has happened that day,” Newman said. “Going to have to keep tabs on who turns who or who’s angry or where’s everybody at on their scorecards as you go through a race like Martinsville sometimes.”