Hank Kurz Jr.
RICHMOND, Va.: From perfect weather and a big crowd to a classic short-track finish and the fisticuffs afterward, NASCAR hardly could have asked for more from its first visit to Richmond International Raceway.
Joey Logano emerged as the big winner by deftly taking advantage of a three-way duel of former champions Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski, sneaking by them for his second victory.
When it was over, what happened in the three-way battle left Keselowski talking as if he had moved Kenseth to the top of his list, and Marcos Ambrose didn’t even bother making a list. He responded instead to a shove from Casey Mears with a punch in the face that was captured on video.
Then there was Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose father all but perfected the beating and banging style that has made short-track racing so popular, dismissing all the fried emotions with a glib, “Get over it.”
It was all plenty to keep racing fans talking for days.
“We’re looking at the video,” NASCAR’s vice president of competition, Robin Pemberton, told reporters afterward of the punch. “It doesn’t seem to be much. We’ll take a look [today] and Tuesday.”
Forgive Logano if he watches the ending a few times more himself.
He started fourth on the restart with nine laps to go, his outside position a distinct disadvantage, as evidenced by the duel emerging between the drivers who started first, third and fifth.
Logano’s Team Penske teammate Keselowski seemed to have the fastest car, but with Kenseth doing all he could to fend off both Keselowski and Gordon, an inside lane opened up, and Logano was more than happy to make his move.
His outlook on the task at hand once the last green flag dropped suggests that after tinkering with cars and formats and the value of winning races, NASCAR is onto something that resonates with fans and drivers alike with its new format.
“Obviously I was able to see that in front of me and wanted to make sure I was close enough when something happened I was able to take advantage of it, and that’s what I was able to do,” Logano said.
“Restarts, anything, it comes down to the end of the race. Patience is out the window. It’s all about just go for it. I think that’s what the fans want. That’s what you’ve got this year.
“You’ve got the new point system where everyone just goes for wins and you’ve got late race cautions, and everyone has the same attitudes. Everyone is, ‘The heck with it. If we crash, we crash. We’re going for wins.’ ”
Keselowski, who said Kenseth “ran me off the track,” admitted that he retaliated by giving Kenseth a nudge that helped Logano go on to victory, and pledged to remember the finish for future reference.
Kenseth and Gordon, who finished second, both defended Kenseth’s tactics, with Gordon expressing his disappointment at not winning after leading a race-best 173 laps, but invigorated by how it played out.
“I had a blast tonight,” he said.