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Everyone is a rival
When they drop the green flag here on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, as a driver you are surrounded by 42 rivals. A rival is everyone going for the same prize. A rival is anyone who is trying to win what you want. In this case it’s any of those other 42 drivers who are trying to win the race Sunday and claim the famous Martinsville grandfather clock.
Now don’t confuse a rival with a feud. Sure, on Sunday there are 42 rivals you are racing against, but some drivers might have an on-going feud with someone else on the track. Feuds are long-simmering disagreements about something. For a driver, it might be a problem you had with another driver last year or maybe even something happened between the two of you already this year. The perfect example of a long-standing feud is obviously the Hatfields and the McCoys. There’s a case of families versus families.
So Sunday during our NASCAR on FOX broadcast, while you are watching 43 rivals trying to win a race, don’t be surprised if a continuation of a feud surfaces. Obviously the first one to come to mind is Tony Stewart and Joey Logano after what happened at Fontana two weeks ago.
You might want to keep your eye on Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon. Remember what happened right here at Martinsville last year between the two of them and then again in November at Phoenix. You just never know when some long-simmering disagreement might rear its ugly head and a short track like Martinsville is the perfect setting for it to happen.
It’s the heat of the battle that will be the trigger. You don’t start a race looking to get even with someone. You start a race hoping you never see that guy. Trust me, the last thing that Joey Logano wants to do Sunday is have to mix it up with Tony Stewart. He knows and the entire racing world knows that Tony isn’t happy with Joey after the end of the Fontana race.
If Joey happens to find himself around Tony on Sunday and puts himself in a vulnerable position, you can pretty much bet Tony will take full advantage of the opportunity. Luckily for Joey he doesn’t have to worry about his other on-going feud with Denny Hamlin, because as you know, Denny was injured at Fontana and won’t be driving the No. 11 car this weekend. Mark Martin is in Hamlin's No. 11 this weekend so, so Joey doesn’t have to worry about Mark paying back Joey for what happened between he and Denny at Fontana.
NASCAR on FOX brings live coverage of the Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway on Sunday. The green flag drops at 1 p.m. ET, with coverage on FOX beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET.
Speaking of Fontana, let me just say it gets really annoying to hear people say what happened between Joey and Denny was someone’s fault. I saw two drivers going all-out for the win. This was as good as it could get. It was two guys who had come off a heated battle the week before at Bristol Motor Speedway and both were racing hard to win. There wasn’t a cheap shot taken, however.
What I saw was aggressive racing at the end of the race. When you open the bottom of the track up, especially in the third and fourth turn on the final lap, you are setting yourself up to get beat. I saw Joey do what any driver worth his salt would have done. He drove hard into the third turn, his car slipped up and he hit Denny’s car in the door. They both lost control momentarily and then when Denny corrected he got into Joey’s right rear and they both wrecked.
If you want to be mad about something or point at a villain in all that, then no SAFER barrier where Denny hit the wall is a very good place to start. It really bothers me that folks keep blaming Joey for Denny’s injury. What you aren’t hearing is talk about why there wasn’t a SAFER barrier there.
I feel very comfortable in saying that if there had been a SAFER barrier in place, Denny wouldn’t have gotten hurt or at least not as hurt has he was. I could almost promise you that Denny would be behind the wheel of the No. 11 car this weekend. You simply can’t dismiss or underestimate the protection these SAFER barriers give drivers today. SAFER barriers can cut an impact down by 40 to 50 percent. That’s really the bigger issue in my mind, because Denny may not have gotten hurt if a SAFER barrier would have been in place.
Joey feels he has a new lease on life with the No. 22 car. He wants to prove to everyone he is no longer a pushover. In the past, other drivers have taken advantage of Joey and moved him out of the way when necessary. This year Joey has a fast car and is driving aggressively. That’s what you want out of your driver.
This new Generation 6 Sprint Cup car has helped Joey and a lot of other drivers this year. Joey seemed to struggle with the old car. So did Dale Earnhardt Jr. and look at the difference this new car has made for them. Joey is running up front competing for wins and finds himself ninth in the points. The same can be said for Dale Jr.. His No. 88 team has five top-10 finishes in five races and following Fontana, Dale Jr. took over the NASCAR Sprint Cup points lead.
This new car is giving opportunities to those two plus guys like Kurt Busch and Paul Menard to run up front and win races. For Menard, he is sitting eighth in the points after our first five races. This new car has changed everything. It’s opened the door for a lot of guys to be competitive who maybe weren’t as competitive in previous years.
So rivals are one thing and feuds go on for a while. I suspect that unless both Denny and Joey find some common ground between them, then theirs will be an on-going feud. They didn’t really care that much for each other when they were teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing and now that they are on different teams care even less for each other.
I was in a feud with Bobby Allison and Dale Earnhardt Sr. for years. What you want to do is nip the feud in the bud. You can’t win races or a championship if every time you race you are always mixing up with the guy you are feuding with. It just won’t work. Trust me, I know.
There's that old saying, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” That doesn’t apply in racing. It especially doesn’t apply this weekend on the short half-mile paperclip we know as Martinsville Speedway.