Logano forced to watch practice as part of NASCAR punishment

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

By DAN GELSTON

AP Sports Writer

LOUDON, N.H. (AP) Joey Logano was parked in NASCAR's penalty box.

Logano was forced to strap in, put on his helmet and sit on pit road in the No. 22 Ford for the duration of a 50-minute Cup series practice Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. NASCAR punished Logano and his Team Penske team because the car failed inspection four times before Friday's aborted qualifying attempt.

NASCAR teams routinely hold cars for allotted periods of time during practice for various infractions. But NASCAR said it was the first time a Cup driver was benched for the entire practice.

Logano sipped on his water bottle while inside the car on an 80-degree day.

"I had time for a lot of thoughts in there," Logano said. "Mainly, that it's a total joke. I don't know why it has to be on pit road. There's no reason to sit out there. It's dumb."

Logano shook hands with fans and some snapped selfies with the car as the rest of the field sped by during practice.

"I just think it makes our sport look dumb," he said. "I think we can accomplish the same thing in a more professional manner."

Logano wasn't alone in criticizing NASCAR for the decision. Dale Earnhardt Jr., long NASCAR's most popular driver, tweeted it was "silly" to make Logano sit on pit road.

"I've no issue with making him miss practice. Him sitting on pit road with what amounts to wearing a dunce hat is highly unnecessary," Earnhardt tweeted .

Kurt Culbert, managing director of integrated marketing and communications, fired back at Earnhardt on Twitter: "Don't do the crime if you can't pay the fine. Simple logic here. EVERYONE knows the rules on this one."

"But the `hold' part of the practice hold is to be held on pit road. That's intended to be part of the infraction (as is missing track time)," Culbert tweeted.

Teams signed off on the escalating punishment structure in the offseason and knew the consequences for messing with the car for inspection.

The dunce caps and playground taunts briefly swiped the headlines from the other pressing NASCAR playoff hot topics, such as spoiler tape, encumbered finishes , driver twitter spats and lugnuts.

Logano's real punishment is starting last in Sunday's Cup race.

Logano was runner-up in the championship standings in 2016 but failed to make the playoffs this season. Logano's lone win this season, which normally would have guaranteed a playoff spot, was ruled encumbered. NASCAR essentially stripped him of all benefits that came with his April win because of a rear suspension violation.

Logano joked with his crew and fellow driver Clint Bowyer in the garage that he should bring lawn chairs or maybe put a food tray on his car and place an order. One positive: Logano had a brief visit with his pregnant wife Brittany while he sat and watched practice like a fan.

"She put her hand on the window net and I put my hand on the other side and she was laughing because it was like we were in jail," Logano said, laughing. "I said, `It's kind of like that, actually.'"

Logano had some company for a spell on pit road from other drivers forced to sit and think about how their teams broke the rules. Martin Truex Jr. was forced to miss 30 minutes of practice because his No. 78 Toyota failed inspection three times before last weekend's playoff opener at Chicagoland.

Truex would win the race and earned an automatic berth in the second round of NASCAR's playoffs. His celebratory burnout caused the Toyota to blow a rear tire, the type of damage that could affect the results of post-race inspection.

Truex is hardly alone over the last few years among winners who seemingly do more damage to cars through burnouts and donuts than over several hundred grueling miles in a race.

Earnhardt, who has cranked up his feistiness since he announced his retirement, said drivers should know how to celebrate a victory without tearing up a car. Earnhardt said it was hard to see the logic in NASCAR penalizing his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliot for having a piece of tape applied to the rear spoiler, while race winners drive into victory lane with "the car tore all to hell."

"I have been kind of waiting all this time for NASCAR to eventually say, look you know we would just rather you guys not blow the tires out," Earnhardt said. "They talk about not wanting to be the `fun police' but being the `fun police' is not on the radar of their damn problems."

NASCAR stood by its process.

"We're confident that our process provides a fair playing field for all of our competitors while also allowing the fans to enjoy the celebration of the winning driver," Scott Miller, NASCAR's senior vice president of competition, said in a statement. "In addition to the pre-race inspections, every winning vehicle must still go through a full post-race inspection where we expect it to be within the rules set forth by the rulebook."

Earnhardt said drivers intentionally blow out tires and wondered just how exactly crews might tinker with a car once it's up on the jack for new tires before it goes through post-race inspection.

"But until they tell them not to do it, it's fair game," Earnhardt said. "It just upset me with what happened to Chase and how they sort of got zeroed-in on when all this is sort of going on right under everybody's nose. It doesn't make sense."

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More AP Auto Racing: http://racing.ap.org

Updated September 23, 2017

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