Without intending to, Joey Logano created a hornet’s nest for NASCAR when he lost control of his No. 22 Team Penske Ford on the last lap at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and wrecked Kyle Busch as the two were racing for fourth place last Sunday.
And may turn out to be the best thing that’s happened to NASCAR in a long time.
That’s because in racing as in wrasslin’, hate is great.
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Nothing gets fans talking — and arguing and cussing and screaming — more than a good old-fashioned rivalry. And this one has the makings of a world-class hatefest.
Logano and Busch have each been involved in high-profile controversies over the years. Not going to recount them all here, but suffice to say two things: 1. Both drivers have been guilty in multiple past incidents, so neither gets to claim the moral high ground for good sportsmanship; and 2. In less than four years, Logano has wrecked all four Joe Gibbs Racing cars: Denny Hamlin at Auto Club Speedway in 2013, Matt Kenseth at Kansas in 2015, Carl Edwards last year at Homestead and now Busch at Las Vegas.
The Hamlin and Busch accidents were almost identical; in both cases, Logano’s Team Penske Ford wiggled and went up the track, hitting one of the JGR Toyotas. Homestead was hard racing; Edwards tried to block but was too late and Logano hit him from behind. Logano swore Kansas was also hard racing, while Kenseth swore it was deliberate. Draw your own conclusions.
At any rate, Logano has now had high-profile incidents with all four JGR cars and it’s easy to think that will come back to haunt him.
It did in 2015 at Martinsville, when a frustrated Kenseth got wrecked by Penske cars one too many times and responded by drilling Logano into the wall and knocking him out of the playoffs, and, possibly, a championship. Logano paid a high price for Kansas, but that’s how racing is: What goes around comes around.
Why does Logano vs. Busch have the makings of a great rivalry?
The obvious answer is that there are genuine hard feelings on both sides. Logano, remember, used to drive for JGR and got shown the door so the team could sign Kenseth. And it sure didn’t seem as though there was any love lost between Logano and his former teammates, who made it clear they weren’t real fond of “Sliced Bread.”
But there’s more to it: To have a great rivalry, you need two great teams. Duke and North Carolina in men’s basketball is a great rivalry because both teams are almost always in the top 10 or better. The Dallas Cowboys usually have at least one other NFC East team who’s good in any given year to elevate their rivalry.
Conversely, no one outside their respective homes town cares about, say, the Cleveland Browns vs. the Cincinnati Bengals, because the Browns are awful most every year and the Bengals reliably tank early in the playoffs.
But Penske vs. JGR? Two championship teams.
Busch vs. Logano? One driver already has a championship — Busch in 2015 — and Logano has been to the championship round twice in the last three years.