Chaos reigned at Pocono's end
LONG POND, Pa. -- The day began with a storm at Pocono Raceway and ended with one, too.
The first was created by Mother Nature.
The second was by NASCAR.
In between, Denny Hamlin won his fourth Sprint Cup race of the season and gave Joe Gibbs Racing its sixth win in the past nine events.
But what most will be discussing around the watercooler Monday morning will be the green-white-checkered finish that ended with a nine-car pileup and the postrace incident between Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick.
That John Cena of World Wrestling Entertainment was here to greet drivers before a tumultuous storm delayed the start of Sunday's marathon for about two hours was fitting.
This had sort of a WWE contrived feel to it.
Third-place finisher Tony Stewart might have said it best.
"Restarts were idiotic," the two-time Cup champion said. "I've seen some of the worst driving I've ever seen in my life in a professional series right here. So for anybody that's looking for drama for the next couple of races, start looking 'cause I can promise I'm going to start making the highlight reel the next couple of weeks.
"I know you love that."
NASCAR does. It's why it went to double-file restarts shootout style and told drivers before the season to "have at it, boys." The governing body felt pressure to create more drama to boost sagging television ratings and keep sponsors interested in one of the toughest economic times the sport has seen.
It has created drama. At one point, the Logano-Harvick incident that was made more dramatic by Logano's father, Tom, getting involved was trending up there with the MTV Awards and the NBA Finals, according to Twitter.
Why not? It's not every day you have a 20-year-old driver telling Harvick, "I don't know what his problem is with me. His wife [DeLana] wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do. It's probably not his fault."
To which Harvick responded on Twitter, "After his TV comment I don't know if he wants to fight me or [DeLana]. My money's on her!"
That's undeniably good stuff. Without that, everything that happened leading up to the final laps of Sunday's race would have put the most die-hard fan to sleep.
Is this what you the fans wanted? If not, speak out, because NASCAR believes it is.
"The competition at the end of the race was everything everybody expected and wanted, and it made a heck of a race out of the last 50 laps," Sprint Cup Series director John Darby said after meeting with Tom Logano for interfering with a television broadcast when his son was trying to get to Harvick on pit road.
"It was real typical of a 500-mile race. You've got to survive those last 50 laps to be able to put yourself in position to compete."
To clarify, Darby was asked whether this is what NASCAR wanted to create.
"The level of competition and the racing we see today is just fierce competition," he said. "No more, no less. NASCAR backing off a little bit never was intended to [mean] -- and I don't think it was perceived by the garage -- that it's an open book to knock somebody out of the way or create a wreck.
"The drivers are definitely up on the wheels about as hard as they could be."
But have they truly gotten as idiotic as Stewart insisted? AJ Allmendinger sent teammate Kasey Kahne hard into the fence trying to pick up a spot at the end. It's going to get worse before it gets better.
"Part of it is that's kind of what people want to see and NASCAR gets it," said JGR president J.D. Gibbs, who also was in the hauler meeting. "They want to have the guys side by side it's not going anywhere. You've just got to learn how to do it and make the most out of it."
Hamlin and teammate Kyle Busch, who finished second, appeared to have figured that part out. They're on a tear that has JGR making the NASCAR world forget about the domination of four-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports.
Even Hamlin, whose effort shouldn't be overshadowed by everything else that happened, admitted that NASCAR got what it wanted as Jeff Gordon insinuated earlier this year when a caution came out with him about a hundred yards from taking the white flag -- and thus the victory -- at Martinsville.
Hamlin wasn't much farther away Sunday when Harvick spun out Logano to bring out the caution that set up the green-white-checkered finish.
"I think that they have the yellow flag in their hand instead of the white," Hamlin said while laughing. "They're just waiting on something. There's no way they switch flags that quick. I think they had it, were ready to go with the yellow.
"For the show purpose, it was good. But it was a legitimate caution."
That part is true. But it goes back to whether competitors are driving over their heads -- or idiotic, as Stewart said -- because NASCAR says they can.
It's just like Talladega. Guys don't race until they have to. That's just a product of the distance of the races, knowing that you're going to have cautions at the end.” -- Denny Hamlin
"It's just like Talladega," Hamlin said. "Guys don't race until they have to. That's just a product of the distance of the races, knowing that you're going to have cautions at the end. I don't think anyone pushes it at the beginning. You don't go three-wide, four-wide. We were four-wide for the lead at one point. Where else are you going to see that?"
You didn't see it here until the last 30 laps of a 500-mile race that should be 100 miles shorter. That's when every kind of fuel-mileage and tire strategy came into play. Had there been another crash, it would have gotten wilder because drivers such as Stewart and maybe even Hamlin would have run out of gas.
Had it gone to three green-white-checkereds, 19th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. might have won.
"It wasn't much fun at all to be honest with you," said Johnson, who rallied to finish fifth. "There's so much to lose and so much chaos on the track. It's one thing when you're at Bristol going 100 mph, but when you're running 220 mph and seeing some of these moves it was pretty crazy, and I hope everybody is all right on the backstretch."
All five drivers taken to the infield care center were OK, but what about the next time?
And if you believe Stewart, there will be a next time when we start comparing events at Pocono to Talladega and Bristol, where mayhem is expected.
"We're here to give you something to write about," Gibbs said jokingly. "We'll take all comers. We win a race, start a fight "
But the reality is even Gibbs was frustrated. He should have had three cars in the top five instead of two after Logano limped home 13th thanks to the wreck at the end.
That's what happens when you create storms.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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