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Thursday, March 28, 2013
Blocking in NASCAR here to stay

By David Newton
ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tony Stewart is one of the best drivers in Sprint Cup history, a slam dunk for the Hall of Fame after he retires.

On Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, the three-time Cup champion made a Hall of Fame mistake in attacking Joey Logano physically, verbally and personally for blocking on the final restart.

That's not just my opinion.

That's a Hall of Famer's.

"Out of place," said Bobby Allison, a member of NASCAR's second HOF class in 2011. "Unprofessional. The guy is supposed to be a top professional. He has done an amazing job with his life and career and the whole deal.

Stewart
Joey Logano on his late-race block of Tony Stewart, above, at Auto Club Speedway: "If that was early in the race, yes, it was really dumb to do. Late in the race, it's what I had to do."

"He should be more professional and in self-control than that."

Blocking always has been and always will be a part of NASCAR. What Logano did to give himself a chance to win in the final laps wasn't much different from what Stewart did on the final lap of the Talladega race in October when he triggered a 25-car wreck trying to protect his lead.

"It was my fault, blocking and trying to stay where I was at," Stewart said then.

Those involved in that wreck weren't happy, particularly those in contention for the championship. Michael Waltrip likely would have won the race had he not been cut off.

He didn't go after Stewart.

Nobody did.

"Blocking is blocking," Waltrip said. "When you block, you make yourself vulnerable to the guy you're blocking. He can give you a break or try to wreck you.

"Joey blocked Tony, and it pissed Tony off. I don't have a problem with either of them. Cars make you really mad sometimes."

Most understand that blocking is a necessary evil, particularly in this era, when the cars are more equal than ever, when aerodynamics prevent you from simply driving around a competitor.

Many also get angry about it. But Stewart took it to another level, shoving Logano in the chest and berating him on national television.

"As drivers we have somewhat of a double standard there," 1999 Cup champion Dale Jarrett said. "If we're the ones trying to protect, then we know it, and we accept the consequences could not be pleasing to us.

"When you're on the other side of it, it makes you mad. ... I was a little surprised Tony got as mad as he did the other day."

A lot of people were. Some were offended.

Rodney Childers, the crew chief for Michael Waltrip at Talladega last year, voiced his thoughts on Twitter.

"Tony is one of the best, but I have to say he tried to block us at Talladega in the fall and wrecked the entire field. That's racin &" he wrote Monday.

Then Childers stood up for Logano.

"If my driver didn't try to hold his position on the restart for the chance to win, I would be really pissed," he tweeted.

That's what Logano did. That's what set Stewart off.

"A little disappointed in Tony," Allison said.

So was Logano's team owner, Roger Penske, who has watched Stewart block a time or two from the spotter's tower, where he watches most races.

"Blocking takes place in every race based on where you are, whether you're racing for the lucky dog, the lead, restarts, because some people don't have as fast a restart and they end up going one line down," Penske said. "It's part of the sport. I guess it's like holding in football, isn't it? What else can I say?"

Unlike holding, NASCAR doesn't consider blocking a penalty unless it involves a driver forcing another below the yellow line at Daytona and Talladega. Officials weren't bothered by Logano's move and have no plans to implement a rule as there is in IndyCar, where blocking can result in a drive-through penalty.

"I can tell you there are not any conversations internally inside of NASCAR to look at blocking as a violation or a penalty type situation that some other forms of motorsports do," Cup series director John Darby said. "& As good as the racing has been and as exciting as it's been, I don't think we need to jump in the middle of any of that and screw it up."

In other words, Stewart needs to accept that blocking is here to stay.

No driver has been more vocal against blocking the past few years than Stewart. In 2011, he tried to wreck Brian Vickers in retaliation for a block at Sonoma.

"If they block, they are going to get dumped," Stewart said at the time. "It is real simple. I mean, I don't blame him for dumping us back. But I don't race guys that way; I never have. If guys want to block, then they are going to be wrecked every time.

"Until NASCAR makes a rule against it, I am going to dump them every time for it."

His comments were just as pointed on Sunday.

"He has the choice to do that," Stewart said of Logano's block. "He's in control of his car. But if he ever turns down across in front of me again, I don't care what lap it is, he won't make it through the other end of it."

Stewart was offered the opportunity to explain why Logano's block set him off so badly, but his public relations department declined for him. He also wasn't interested in listening to Logano's explanation of how he slowed in order to not pass leader Kyle Busch on the restart.

That Stewart finished 22nd and is 22nd in points might have escalated the frustration. But pitching a fit won't make blocking go away.

And to be fair, Stewart isn't the only driver passionate against blocking. Kevin Harvick told me a few years ago that blocking "is kind of a cheap move."

"It's not good for racing, just for the fact it causes wrecks that don't need to happen," Harvick said.

But there is a place for blocking. It's not early in a race, which happens more often than it should and is why Stewart gets upset more than he should. The right place is where Logano moved in front of Stewart at ACS, where Stewart moved in front of Waltrip at Talladega.

"Joey did nothing wrong in my eyes," Jarrett said. "If Tony had spun him, I would have said there was nothing wrong with what Tony did, either.

"Everybody asks, 'Does it have a place in the sport?' Yes. You have to be able to protect. In football, the running backs have blockers that help them. Even in basketball you have somebody screening for you to get an open shot."

In NASCAR, the driver has to protect himself.

"The key is, if you're going to do that, you're going to have to be willing to accept that bad day whenever that driver does not give you that break," Jarrett said.

But you shouldn't have to accept a driver, even one as great as Stewart, to attack you for doing your job.

"He was a little over the boundary," Allison said. "I can't blame him for yelling, because if I thought I had a shot at winning and somebody blocked me, I probably would want to yell at him, too.

"But I think Tony was not in the right."

You don't have to be a Hall of Famer to see that.

 Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart (14) triggered a 25-car pileup in the October Talladega race when he tried to block Michael Waltrip on the final lap.