O’Donnell: Penalties Possible From Martinsville Scuffle

O'Donnell: Penalties Possible
Joey Logano (left) and Denny Hamlin (right) got into an altercation on pit road Sunday night at Martinsville Speedway. (HHP/Garry Eller photo)

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – A NASCAR executive noted Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that a penalty may be handed down from the pit road scuffle that ensued between Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and their crews after Sunday’s First Data 500.

Hamlin squeezed Logano into the wall on lap 458 at Martinsville Speedway Sunday evening, leading to a cut tire from Logano and subsequent spin from which the defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion had to rally just to get a top-10 finish.

After the race, Logano and Hamlin engaged in a heated conversation on pit road before Logano pushed off of Hamlin’s shoulder as he walked away, leading to a melee that involved multiple crew members from both sides.

Particularly noteworthy was a crew member from Logano’s team who pulled Hamlin back and to the ground in the chaos.

After the race, NASCAR officials called Team Penske competition director Travis Geisler, Logano’s crew chief Todd Gordon and the unnamed crew member who took down Hamlin to the Cup Series hauler for further discussion.

Then, Monday morning, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell made his weekly appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s The Morning Drive to expand on the situation further.

“As we always say, we know emotions are going to run high, especially at this time of the season,” O’Donnell noted. “The drivers, we don’t encourage it, but we know that they’re going to address each other after the race when they have an incident and you saw that happen.

“Then, unfortunately, instead of kind of breaking up a fight, I think what we saw was an aggressive move by a crew member, so we called the team into the hauler, including Todd Gordon. … I think in this case, you’ve got a crew member who was maybe trying to break it up but certainly an aggressive move that we viewed on our part and unfortunately we’ll probably have to take some action to address that later today or tomorrow.”

To his credit, Gordon took some responsibility for the fight ever happening at all when he made his own remarks on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio as well.

“I probably take some of the ownership myself to start with,” Gordon said. “(I) stopped Joey when he got out of the car and he’s frustrated. He got run up in the wall with 50 to go and was frustrated about it, and justifiably so. I went back and re-watched it. He pretty much got put in the wall on a straightaway. There’s frustration with that. (So I stopped Joey at the car and said ‘we just don’t need to handle that right now and let his emotions get down,’ and I thought they were at a point where he could go talk. Unfortunately, in the conversation, there got to be a push (from Logano).

“The direction that our organization has is (to) separate drivers,” Gordon added. “We don’t want to have drivers beating on each other. We’ve had the conversation internally, we want situations diffused and separated. Unfortunately, in this situation that happened there, the separation was with too much power afterwards and I don’t think the crew member … he was trying to separate the drivers and did so with probably more force than he anticipated, and he’s regretful of that.”

Gordon added that he’s unsure what direction NASCAR may go with their handling of the situation, but that he did offer an apology to Hamlin afterward.

“(We’ll) see what NASCAR does that and where it goes. There weren’t any punches or anything pulled. (But) Denny got pulled out there and got pulled down pretty hard,” Gordon said. “Apologized to Denny for that and how that was handled. Ultimately, I’ll put that one back on me to start with. I shouldn’t have let Joey down there to start with. I probably made a poor decision in letting him go down and talk. A little bit of that is on me and we’ll work forward from that.

“(I) understand Joey’s frustration. I think it’s genuine. What started the whole situation was what happened on the race track,” Gordon pointed out. “We can talk about what happens in short track racing and all, 50 to go … to get pushed up into the wall side-by-side, it’s going to frustrate you. I think if the roles were revered, it’s probably frustrating as much the other way. … We’ll see what NASCAR does and we’ll adapt to whatever comes forward.”

Sunday marked the second-straight week that fisticuffs ensued on pit road after a NASCAR race, following an Xfinity Series incident between Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer at Kansas Speedway.

No penalties were issued from that fight.

“I think if you go back to Kansas, we spent a lot of time reviewing that video and in our mind, always a judgment call but different incident,” O’Donnell said. “We didn’t see anybody really trying to escalate the situation.

“I think in this case (at Martinsville), you had a crew member who, honestly, I don’t think realized the force with which he made that move,” O’Donnell said. “We have some light drivers and some big crew members and unfortunately that’s what happens when those situations take place. I think they understand what’s coming.

“It’s not something we want to see or encourage, but we’ll have to address.”