Don’t look too closely at the playoff grid. Not yet. The makeup will change throughout the year, beyond these early weeks of the season.
But for the drivers currently outside the 16th-place cutoff, the urgency is there to reach victory lane soon.
One of those drivers is Kyle Busch, whose competitive edge overheated into outrage pointed directly at Joey Logano last week at Las Vegas. Busch was closing in on a top-five finish when Logano got loose on the inside of Turn 4 and bumped Busch off the track on the final lap.
Busch hurled a right hook at Logano on pit road (Logano says it didn’t land), and members of the Pennzoil crew wrestled Busch to the ground while pulling Logano away from the scrum.
The contact on the track was unintentional. Logano can’t be blamed for aggressively chasing points on the final lap of any race, especially after he missed out on points after finishing Stage 1 outside the top-10.
Logano said he was surprised by Busch’s confrontation, and he tried to patch things up later. Logano called Busch on Tuesday to share his perspective. When Busch requested Logano’s throttle data, Logano cooperated.
The two drivers had to sit down and talk it out with NASCAR on Friday morning in Phoenix. Neither was penalized.
Upon exiting the Monster Energy Cup Series hauler, Busch smiled and said, with a dash of sarcasm, “Everything is great.”
He had the same answer for two more reporters outside the hauler before heading to his garage.
Busch is right to be frustrated, but Logano isn’t the one all of his anger should be directed toward. The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has stumbled through the first three races of 2017, just the third time in Busch’s Cup series career that he has missed the top-10 in the first three races.
His bout with Logano is the second time this year Busch has finished a race with his finger pointed at someone else. He blasted Goodyear during a Fox interview after a rear tire blew out with less than 100 laps to go at Daytona a few weeks ago. Goodyear responded, denied blame for the wreck and the dispute petered out.
Busch finished 22nd last week after being dislodged by Logano, who placed fourth for his third top-10 finish of the season. NASCAR pulled out of Las Vegas with Logano at seventh in the points standings. Busch is 19th.
It couldn’t have been easy for Busch to watch Logano win the Phoenix pole Friday, just hours after their meeting with NASCAR. Logano again had the fastest car Saturday in the final practice run with a best lap of 134.736 miles per hour. Busch wasn’t too far behind him in third.
Logano will try to take advantage of his position as the pole-sitter today and repeat as a winner at Phoenix after taking the checkered flag there in November. Busch will start five rows behind him.
Logano admitted the contact with Busch at Las Vegas was his fault, but he said he’d probably chase the inside of that turn again if it secured him another top-five finish.
Busch was bumped because Logano’s aggressive racing has worked for him this year. He was nearly clobbered for it, only because nothing has worked for Busch so far.
The real winner here is NASCAR. Clips from the fight played across social media and on television throughout the week, catching the attention of sports fans that otherwise don’t follow racing. Does this mean more eyes tuning in today? That’s NASCAR’s hope.
Like Busch said: “Everything is great.” Harvick’s history
Nobody is happier to race in Phoenix this weekend than Kevin Harvick.
Harvick already has eight wins in the desert, including six of the last nine races there. He’ll have a tall ladder to climb today, starting from the 23rd position. His longest run to first place at Phoenix started from 19th place in 2012.
Harvick has one pole at Phoenix from 2015, which led to his seventh win at the track. He has placed outside the top four only once since 2011.Hamlin’s hard luck
A rogue screw punctured a tire on Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota during qualifying, sending the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to the rear for the start of today’s Camping World 500.
NASCAR requires drivers begin the race on the same tires they qualify on, a new rule introduced this season, leaving Hamlin with no choice but to swap tires and start the race from last place.
Hamlin’s crew chief, Michael Wheeler, wrote in a tweet that the puncture was located after tire pressure was revealed to be 15 psi low.
(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3339, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NickStoico.)