As the laps wound down in Darlington Raceway’s Goodyear 400, Joey Logano zoned in on leader William Byron. Ending a 40-race winless drought and securing a NASCAR playoff spot depended on Logano working his way around Byron’s No. 24.
Finally, he found himself on Byron’s rear bumper, close enough with two laps remaining to have a shot. That’s when Logano chose to leave nothing to chance.
“He was faster,” Byron said after being knocked out of the way. “[Logano] could have easily gotten to the left rear and loosened me up… but he runs in there 10 miles an hour [faster], he didn’t even barely make the corner, so I don’t know why he goes in there so hard and knocks the sh– out of you. Makes no sense.”
From Logano’s point of view, the bump-and-run made perfect sense.
He claimed it was payback after contact from Byron squeezed him into the wall on the final restart.
“I probably wouldn’t have gone straight to the bump-and-run if it wasn’t for how he got the lead,” Logano explained. “At that point, I’m lucky my car’s not broken and I’m a very angry driver. So I said, ‘Let’s go.’ … he checked up in the corner pretty early, so he obviously knew it was coming.”
That had Logano leaving the track thinking “we’re equal.” Clearly, he and Byron have wildly different views on what transpired.
“Logano had a shot to do it clean and chose to do it a different way,” said Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman and four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon. “That’s Cup racing… I would have liked to have seen it done different… William’s got a payback coming to Joey, I’m sure, at some point. That’s the way it works.”
The bump-and-run to win isn’t completely new to NASCAR. It’s been around for generations. Dale Earnhardt Sr. famously used the move on several occasions, including the 1999 Bristol Night Race where he punted Terry Labonte to win. The move ignites controversy as, in some cases, you’re literally body-slamming someone out of the way: think a dirty hit during an NHL game or an offensive pass interference that doesn’t get called in an NFL game.
NASCAR typically doesn’t intervene, hoping a gentlemanly code among drivers keeps things in check. Indeed, there were a handful from the last generation like Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne and Dale Jarrett known for always racing clean. Jarrett’s precision pass to win the 1993 Daytona 500 over Earnhardt was a classic example.
But now? In 2022? Throw any type of Gentlemen’s Agreement out the window. Already this season, we’ve seen Ross Chastain muscle past AJ Allmendinger at Circuit of the Americas; Chase Briscoe take out Tyler Reddick in the final lap of the Bristol Dirt Race and Ty Gibbs bump his own teammate out of the way in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
Bumping someone to win is no longer the exception: it’s the rule.
“I think in the past,” Denny Hamlin said recently, “What happened is, you got wrecked or knocked out of the way, you’d get your front teeth knocked out. Nowadays, crew members protect their guys, and it’s very corporate, very different sport than what it used to be. So these young guys feel like – and it’s not always young guys, us old veterans, we make our mistakes too – but they’re just more aggressive in thinking that, ‘Hey, the risk is worth the reward because the reward is winning.’ The risk is, eh, I might get a little backlash here and there, and I might have to worry about that guy wrecking me in the future.
“But people just think it’s worth it nowadays.”
For Logano, the upside was all-but-clinching a postseason berth during a season Team Penske has struggled. Leading just 35 laps entering this race, who knows when he’ll get another chance to get up front? Making the NASCAR Playoffs make-or-breaks your season.
“Just knew that was my shot to win the thing,” Logano reiterated. “I had to take it.”
Will it cost him? That’s up to Byron as the only people willing to police this move are the drivers themselves. Until someone provides some serious consequences, why would it stop?
Green: Chase Elliott — A fifth-place finish was masterful for Elliott after crashing his primary car and starting from the rear of the field. Last week’s Dover winner is hitting his stride, a NASCAR-high ninth top-10 finish that expanded his point lead to 65 over Byron and Ryan Blaney.
Yellow: Tyler Reddick — The Byron-Logano contact almost cut Reddick a break. He was third at the time and wound up running second. It’s the fourth almost victory we’ve seen from Reddick and the No. 8 team this season. But if the playoffs started today? They’d miss the cutoff by a single point.
Red: 23XI Racing — Both Kurt Busch and Bubba Wallace were caught up in Darlington’s big wreck, a nine-car pileup started when Martin Truex Jr. lost it on the backstretch. It’s the third incident in the last four races for Busch while Bubba has now gone 11 races without a top-10 finish. Michael Jordan’s two-car team now sits outside the top 20 in points and may need to win to get in the postseason.
Speeding Ticket: Austin Dillon — Dillon was the only driver to speed on pit road at Darlington and he did it not once, but twice. Somehow, he wound up ninth after falling outside the top 30 on multiple occasions and fighting a car so ill-handling he smacked the fence multiple times. “I was starting to wonder,” Dillon said after the race, “How many times I could hit the wall without having issues.”
Ross Chastain makes this list a second straight week after simply losing it while battling for the lead up front. It’s why Darlington earned the nickname as the Track Too Tough To Tame.
“Too much throttle and not enough grip,” he said afterward, referencing a bump in turn 2 that gave drivers trouble all day. The two-time Cup winner was one of a whopping 13 drivers who failed to finish, tying a season high.