Dissecting the Stewart/Logano Feud Heading into Sunday's Race at Martinsville Will he or won’t he?
That probably is the most-pondered question heading into Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway (LIVE on FOX at 12:30 p.m. ET). The last time most people saw Joey Logano and Tony Stewart, the latter was delivering one of the most memorable post-race interviews in quite some time, one heavily reliant on the “bleep,” and fueled by his anger at Logano following a series of on-track incidents at Auto Club Speedway.
So, will Stewart carry through on his promise to pay Logano back or does time heal all wounds?
“Stewart doesn’t make idle threats,” said Steve Byrnes, NASCAR on FOX pit reporter who interviewed Stewart following the Fontana race. “I think his comments about Joey Logano were an accumulation of things on-track and off. It's obvious he doesn't have a lot of respect for Joey right now. Personally, I don't see him going out of his way in terms of ‘payback,’ but I also wouldn't be surprised if it happened this week.”
“I love Tony, but he has a tendency to have a temper,” said Darrell Waltrip, NASCAR on FOX & SPEED analyst. “He’s a clone of AJ Foyt. Tony will blow up and fight you on Sunday, and then have a beer with you on Monday. That’s how he is. He has to vent. Tony will let you know how he feels and I think he was just taking his frustrations out on the first thing he could think of, and that was Logano. He’ll let you know how he feels, but he might be fine the next day.”
However, Waltrip, a three-time Cup Series champion who in his driving days played a starring role in long-running rivalries with drivers such as Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, suggests Logano would be wise to keep his distance from Stewart at Martinsville.
“People won’t cut him any slack,” Waltrip said of Logano. “Tony has buddies and Denny (Hamlin) has buddies, and those buddies sometimes mess with you because you messed with their buddy. If you cut off Tony at Martinsville, he’ll probably put you in the wall. Tony won’t take any crap. Logano is smart enough to know that and we’re all smart enough to be watching for it.”
Waltrip says while all eyes are on Martinsville as the logical opportunity for payback because its small size lends it to “safer” paybacks, today’s drivers have more leeway in exacting revenge than did competitors in his era due to safety innovations over the years.
“Drivers always say, ‘I’ll get him back on a short track or when we get to Martinsville’ because that’s the old school mentality,” Waltrip pointed out. “Martinsville and Bristol used to be the only places we could get a rival back and not hurt him. On superspeedways, we didn’t have a HANS device, SAFER barriers or much protection, so we didn’t dare take the chance of doing something intentional to someone on a bigger track. We’d wait until we got to one of the smaller tracks and then park the guy if we could. These guys today have a few more liberties than we did back then because of the way the cars are and the safety features we didn’t have.”
While most eyes this weekend will be trained on Stewart and Logano, Waltrip says observers tend to put more emphasis on retaliation than drivers do, and the mental aspect of setting foot in the garage for the first time after a big run-in isn’t all that daunting to a driver.
“Drivers have pretty short term-memories,” Waltrip said. “You don’t really linger on what happened in the last race. For Fontana in particular, one of the reasons is we’re not going back there for a year, so what happened the week before is sort of wiped from your memory. You’re focused on the race at hand. You always relive accidents and think, ‘If I’d only done this or I’d only done that.’ You always consider what you could have done differently that would have prevented that situation, but it doesn’t eat you up all week long.”
When Hamlin finally does return to the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after his recovery, Waltrip expects a ceasefire to be in play between him and Logano.
“You always have remorse, even with your worst enemy, if it’s something you were involved in,” Waltrip stated. “You may not verbally express that, but deep down inside, you don’t want to see somebody get hurt. You just want to beat them. You don’t want to wreck them to win.”
Neither Logano nor Hamlin took home the trophy at Fontana, but Waltrip thinks Logano gained some confidence and respect he had been lacking the past couple of seasons.
“That was the best race I’ve seen Joey drive,” Waltrip asserted. “He was aggressive and drove like he really wanted to win. I’ve seen him drive many races in which it seemed he left something on the table, but he didn’t at Fontana. Drivers in the past have taken advantage of him and he didn’t do much about it. But he’s with a new team and has a pretty fast car this year, so it seems like he has found a new confidence he didn’t have at Joe Gibbs Racing. I think he realizes now is his time and he needs to take advantage of it, and we’ve seen that in his driving.”
Waltrip cautions, though, that rivalries can go too far.
“You don’t want to spend all your time worrying about one guy,” Waltrip explained. “It becomes a problem when you only want to know ‘Where is Denny? Where is Tony? What is he doing?’ When you let one guy dictate your race and consume all your time and energy, that becomes a problem.
“You want to deal with your rival on an as-needed basis,” he added. “Your best bet is to stay away from him and not have to worry about where he is or will he retaliate. If you’re up front and he’s in the back, that’s as good as it can get in a rivalry. You can mouth off at him or about him – that’s fun – but you can’t let that one guy distract you from doing your job.”
But the sight of a mad and motivated Stewart in the rearview mirror could be enough to drive any driver to distraction.