While there has been no shortage of opinions about what happened in the final 11 laps of last weekend's race at Auto Club Speedway, there is no disputing the fact that Denny Hamlin sustained an L1 compression fracture when his No. 11 Toyota slammed into the inside wall during the last lap battle between he and Joey Logano. Hamlin is set to see a specialist early this week to determine the true extent of the injury, and while we wait and see what the time frame is for his recovery, fantasy owners need to hit the waiver wire just in case Hamlin's injury turns out to be the worst-case scenario and he is forced to miss time. After all, the free-agent pool is basically void of talent in leagues where you draft your roster at the start of the year, so this could potentially be the only chance you have to pick up a driver who can help your fantasy team on a routine basis going forward.
At first glance, the obvious choice to fill the role would be Brian Vickers. The guy was excellent in a part-time role with Michael Waltrip Racing last year, he has been looking for a full-time Cup ride, and he just signed with Joe Gibbs Racing's Nationwide program during the offseason. However, there are some potential pitfalls with this strategy. For one, Vickers was probably already drafted in most leagues because he was already in line for at least nine starts with MWR in 2013. More importantly, he would likely still have to fill his obligations with MWR, and his next scheduled start with the team happens to be at Martinsville when the Cup Series returns to action in two weeks. If Hamlin is going to miss time, someone is going to at least have to drive the races that Vickers is already scheduled to run, and that someone could be Elliott Sadler.
After all, Sadler just signed on to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Nationwide Series during the offseason, and while he was never a star at the Cup level, he has won races. He is also the most experienced option in the JGR camp outside of Vickers, and given strong equipment, Sadler has shown he can be a top-15 driver. He actually finished in the top 10 in points in 2004, and from 2002 to 2006, he managed at least seven top-10 finishes in each season.
Granted, Hamlin might be back at Martinsville. The guy is tough, and he was once back in the car two weeks after getting an ACL repaired. Still, his injury isn't solely about pain management this time. There is a chance we are talking about an injury that could become even worse if he races before it properly heals, and drivers with similar injuries in the past have missed time. We just have to wait and see how it plays out. In the meantime, Sadler is definitely worth stashing on your bench while doctors determine Hamlin's next move. In the unfortunate scenario that Hamlin misses time, you could find yourself with an unexpected source of consistent top-20 finishes and occasional top-10s. If Hamlin is back in two weeks, you simply dump Sadler and are no better or worse off than you were before.
As for the incidents themselves, everyone seems to be in a rush to place blame on someone for Hamlin's injury and to take sides in the feud between Tony Stewart and Logano. I'm not sure anyone is to blame or that anyone is wrong in how they reacted. I have been watching NASCAR for a while now, and I don't think Hamlin, Logano or Stewart did anything out of line.
As far as the wreck is concerned, the intent matters much more than the outcome in my mind. Yes, Hamlin suffered an injury, but even if Logano intentionally initiated contact in order to keep him from winning and because of what Hamlin did to him at Bristol the week before, Logano did so while the two were battling for the lead on the final lap. Keep in mind that Carl Edwards has twice returned to the track with the sole purpose of getting revenge. Once, he turned Brad Keselowski's car into a 200-mph missile at Atlanta. The other time, he nearly took off the hand of Dale Earnhardt Jr. as Junior waved to the crowd during a victory lap at a Nationwide race in Michigan. Both of those incidents were 100 times more egregious, but because no one was hurt they get swept under the rug, and Edwards was given the typical slap on the wrist NASCAR dishes out to its big names. Regardless of what the extent of Hamlin's injuries turns out to be, it doesn't change the fact that it was the product of hard racing between two guys that were mad at each other and nothing more. Again, it has to be about the intent and not the outcome.
While the last lap wreck is cut and dry in my mind, the issue of Stewart being ticked at Logano is a little more complicated. It really boils down to a generation gap between older drivers and younger drivers and the different mentality that they have. Keep in mind that Stewart isn't the first driver to get upset with Logano. Kevin Harvick and even the mild-mannered Mark Martin have had issues in the past few years. These guys come from the old school of earning the right to race certain drivers certain ways, and Stewart himself has talked about how he earned his stripes so to speak, with the late Dale Earnhardt when Smoke finished in the top 10 in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 as a rookie in 1999. While Stewart has thrown his share of blocks and caused his share of wrecks, he believes he is one of the drivers that have earned that right. As a result, he feels a little disrespected when a driver that has fewer Cup wins than Stewart has championships runs him into the infield on a restart.
Personally, I don't really have a problem with a young driver trying to demand respect rather than paying their dues. Look at Brad Keselowski. He rubbed a lot of his competitors the wrong way as he climbed the ranks. However, he also won races and now has a Cup Series title. There may still be plenty of people that don't like him, but they now have no choice but to also respect him. The problem that Logano is facing is that he hasn't done either. His performance on the track has been inconsistent and has failed to even approach the hype that followed him into NASCAR. Meanwhile, he keeps ticking off some highly accomplished competitors. In the end, it is just a little gamesmanship at work. Whether it is Stewart taking a swing at Logano or Cole Hamels brushing back Bryce Harper, veterans are always going to be trying to put rookies in their place regardless of the sport.