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Hamlin/Logano Spat Bleeds Over Into Texas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 2 2019
Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin got into a brawl after Sunday’s Cup race at Martinsville last week. Cooler heads are not prevailing. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Garry Eller)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – The simmering NASCAR feud between Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano has resumed at Texas Motor Speedway, complete with references to mind games, protecting one’s manhood and the road to  Miami.

The post-race altercation between the two at Martinsville Speedway last Sunday was the fourth incident between the former NASCAR Cup Series teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing since 2013.

On Friday, Hamlin made this much perfectly clear _ Logano, aka “Sliced Bread,” has not gotten into his head.

“No, he’s not that smart,” Hamlin deadpanned during a media session previewing Sunday’s 15th annual AAA Texas 500.

“I’m a little tougher than he thinks,” Logano countered when informed of Hamlin’s remark.

So, should these two be classified as rivals or enemies, or just two guys who won’t be exchanging Christmas cards?

“I don’t know,” Logano said with a smile. “Time will tell.”

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event here is the second of three races in the Round of 8 that will determine the four drivers who will compete for the 2019 championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 17. Martin Truex Jr., Hamlin’s teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, secured one of the spots with his dominating victory in the First Data 500 on Martinsville’s paperclip-shaped, half-mile oval.

But Playoff talk here largely has been overshadowed by the continuing fallout of Hamlin vs. Logano. On Tuesday, NASCAR competition officials suspended Dave Nichols Jr., a tire technician on Logano’s No. 22 AAA Insurance Ford Mustang, for wrestling Hamlin to the ground while attempting to shield him from Logano.

Hamlin, meanwhile, confirmed Friday he plans to undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder during the offseason _ but did not tie the injury to the Martinsville melee. Hamlin said he received a cortisone shot in the shoulder “a few weeks ago” to relieve persistent pain.

“I really don’t know how it happened to be honest with you, but it’s something that has been nagging really for years,” said Hamlin, driver of JGR’s No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry. “It hadn’t really affected me in the car at all. That part has really been fine.”

Hamlin and Logano were battling for a top-10 position late in the First Data 500 when Hamlin exited Turn 4 on the inside of Logano. The two “traded paint” and the impact pinned Logano’s car against the wall. That contact also cut a tire on Logano’s car, resulting in a spin on Lap 459. Logano rallied to finish eighth, while Hamlin placed fourth.

Surrounded by their respective crewmen, Hamlin and Logano met on pit road to discuss the incident. After delivering his last remark, Logano slapped Hamlin on the right shoulder and walked away. Hamlin immediately bolted after Logano, and the scrum was on.

“I’m not going to let him touch me,” Hamlin said before Friday’s opening practice on TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile oval. “First, as a man you can’t just let that stuff happen. That’s the first thing. That doesn’t affect me and we’re talking about it right now, but within 30 minutes when I’m going in there (his car) to work, it stops. That’s my full concentration.”

Hamlin reiterated he did not intend to run Logano, the reigning series champion from Team Penske, into the wall. “But absolutely, I take into account who is beside me at all times,” said Hamlin, second in the point standings.  “I was not going to give one inch. I misjudged. The on-track stuff was definitely my fault. I was just trying to use all the space that I could.”

Logano said that was not the explanation he heard and anticipated from Hamlin during their post-race chat. “That’s fine. For me, as a man, the first thing I do is own-up to my mistakes,” Logano said. “I probably would have walked down to him if I did the same thing and said I was sorry and that I screwed up. That’s what sent me off the edge.

“I’m regretful of the way I handled it. I let someone affect my character and that’s something I’m not proud of. We get stronger from these moments and you live and you learn and you move on. It’s part of our sport and part of the situation, part of the Playoffs.”

Asked if he believed Hamlin was underestimating his resolve, Logano added, “He might. I’m sure he does inside his mind. Anytime something like this happens, the games are played. He’s handling it a different way than I would have but we aren’t the same person and that’s OK. Whatever you’re into. However you want to handle things.

“I’m not proud of the way I handled it but I’m going to be man enough to fess-up to that and own that. Outside of that, I move on and whatever he wants to say, I could really give a crap.”

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 Aric Almirola has ramped up his aggressiveness as the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule winds down.

Almirola exited last Sunday’s event at Martinsville Speedway after issuing a warning to Kyle Busch following their spin-o-rama on the half-mile oval. On Friday, Almirola topped the speed chart during final practice for the 15th annual AAA Texas 500. Almirola toured TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile oval in 28.638-seconds/188.561 mph to top a list of 35 drivers participating in the 50-minute session.

Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing, is not among the Round of 8 drivers eligible for the championship. But Almirola edged Playoff contender Denny Hamlin, who posted a best lap of 188.350 mph in the No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing.

The incident involving Almirola and Busch at Martinsville occurred with 138 laps remaining in the First Data 500. “We’ve got three weeks remaining,” Almirola said outside Martinsville’s medical center, “and I’m going to make it hell for him.”

Busch, third in the Playoff point standings, was 11th on the TMS chart after lapping at 187.415 mph in the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing.

“Apparently I’ve got to worry about an Almirola fracas, so you try to put yourself in the right spots and know who you’re racing,” said Busch, the 2015 Cup champion. “But it’s not always that easy. We’re all racing sometimes for the same real estate and you run into one another and people get their feelings hurt, I guess.

“I’ve got a helluva lot more drivers out there than just Aric Almirola that are probably mad at me that want to take a swipe at me. So it won’t surprise me (if he retaliates).”

Cup qualifying is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. (CDT) Saturday.

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Ross Chastain outran a list of five NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff contenders during Friday’s final practice for the 15th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts 300. Chastain’s best lap of 187.937 mph in the No. 10 Nutrien Ag Solutions Chevrolet Camaro fielded by Kaulig Racing led the Round of 8 Playoff contenders topped by Christopher Bell. A native of Norman, Okla., Bell was second-fast at 187.201 mph in his No. 20 Rheem Toyota Supra fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing

Xfinity Series qualifying is scheduled for 4:35 p.m. (CDT) Saturday, with the race’s green flag set for 7:30 p.m.

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Retired three-time Cup Series champion Tony Stewart hustled a stock car around Circuit of The Americas in Austin Thursday and declared the facility worthy of a points-paying NASCAR race.

Stewart wheeled a No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Mustang from Stewart-Haas Racing around the 3.426-mile/20-turn, natural-terrain road-course that is playing host to the FIA’s Formula One U.S. Grand Prix on Sunday. The exhibition marked the first time Stewart drove a stock car since NASCAR’s season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 20, 2016.

“It’s kind of hard to believe that it’s been three years since I last drove a stock car, but seeing some of these road-course races _ especially the Roval at Charlotte _ have piqued my interest a bit,” Stewart said. “So this is a good way to sort of satisfy that hunger.”

This No. 14 Mustang was outfitted with a passenger seat, so Stewart could show Haas F1 Team drivers Romain Grosjean of France and Kevin Magnussen of Denmark how to handle a 3,200-pound race car around America’s lone purpose-built F1 track. Haas F1 Team is owned by Gene Haas, Stewart’s NASCAR partner in SHR.

Stewart has split time in Texas this weekend between Austin and Fort Worth, where Texas Motor Speedway’s high-banked/1.5-mile oval is playing host to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and Xfinity Series Playoffs. In addition to his duties as co-owner of SHR, “Smoke” also raced on the quarter-mile Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track on Friday and Saturday nights in the Tony Stewart presents the VANKOR Texas Sprint Car Nationals.

Stewart is a longtime friend of TMS President Eddie Gossage, whose facility has enjoyed NASCAR exclusivity in the entire Texas market since the track opened in March 1997. Stewart said there’s no question COTA could stage a successful road-race in the trendy Austin market.

“Absolutely. Don’t tell Eddie Gossage that, he’ll get mad at me,” Stewart told Racer. “But yeah. I think NASCAR is actually looking to run some more road-course races, and after driving it there’s some really good passing opportunities on this track for our cars, and I think it would be a lot of fun to see a race here.

“I think it would be very realistic and very easy for NASCAR to come here. The facility is already set up for it, and driving the track, there are definitely five legitimate, solid, passing opportunities on this track. That’s plenty to have a really good race here.”

Stewart’s itinerary included induction as the 22nd member of the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame at TMS during ceremonies Saturday afternoon. Stewart also is a member of the Class of 2020 set for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., on Jan. 31.

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A press conference that began with a fake retirement announcement morphed into the news that Kurt Busch has signed a two-year contract extension with Chip Ganassi Racing. Busch will continue in the No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 as teammate to Kyle Larson in the Cup Series.

“To have a multi-year deal, it’ll be comforting to know I’ll be a 41-year-old veteran in a sport where there’s a young push,” said Busch, who won at Kentucky Speedway this summer.It means the world to me to have a championship-caliber car to drive at this point in my career.

“This group of guys on the No. 1 car are special to me. This is about the partnership we generated in a short time and the commitment Monster Energy gave me early in my career. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to race for Monster Energy in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series…and there’s more special moments ahead. What the future brings, nobody knows exactly. For me, it’s another opportunity of living in the present.”

Ganassi said Busch has changed the complexion of the team led by crew chief Matt McCall. “Kurt sparked that No. 1 car to places it’s never been before…I believe it was the first time a Chevy has won at Kentucky,” Ganassi said. “I think he and Kyle Larson have had a great time becoming teammates and I think it’s made Kyle a better driver. This guy brings a lot more than just what’s on the track. He brings a lot off the track _ he brought a lot of guys on that No. 1 team their first NASCAR win. I’m very proud to keep him a part of this team for the foreseeable future.”

The session began with TMS President Eddie Gossage taking the cover off a white rocking chair for Kurt to enjoy during retirement. Busch played along with the gag before declaring, “There’s plenty of gas in this tank!”

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Texas Motor Speedway and Speedy Cash have agreed to a multi-year partnership renewal for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series SpeedyCash.com 400 beginning in June 2020.

The online lender’s partnership with TMS began when the SpeedyCash.com 400 debuted June 7, 2019, as part of the doubleheader weekend with the NTT IndyCar Series. The new multi-year deal includes entitlement rights for the Truck Series race in June as well as year-round signage around the track and in the Fan Zone area.

“We received an overwhelmingly positive response from both our customers and teammates to the Speedycash.com 400 in June,” said Don Gayhardt, President & CEO of CURO Financial Technologies Corp. “The economics made a lot of sense, but for us, what’s hard to measure is the energy and excitement the sponsorship does. There’s a lot of gear heads in the company.”

Speedy Cash was founded in 1997 in Riverside, Calif., by three partners. The company currently operates 214 brick and mortar locations offering online loans in 28 states.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 2 2019
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