The introduction of stage racing has so far provided the intended effect of spicing up the NASCAR Cup Series.
But nothing beats a good oldfashioned brawl to get everyone buzzing.
Martin Truex Jr. wasn’t immune. After taking advantage of Brad Keselowski’s mechanical issues to sweep all three segments and take Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Truex came into the media center and was asked about the Kyle Busch-Joey Logano pit-road brawl.
“Who won?” Truex asked reporters.
Told that Busch ended up with a bloody forehead, Truex wanted details.
“Haymaker swings?” he replied as play-by-play trickled out. “Wow, I’m sure NASCAR is going to love that one.”
And after Truex finished taking questions, he huddled in front of a tablet to watch what happened, an incident that provided the first big spark to the 2017 season.
Truex Jr. passed Brad Keselowski with two laps to go. And just before he crossed the finish line with his eighth career victory, Logano got into Busch as they raced for third.
Busch’s car spun onto pit road. Fireworks followed in a city used to hosting big-time fights, just not like this.
“It was nothing intentional,” Logano said. “But obviously he thinks that.”
As Truex headed toward victory circle, video showed Busch walking down pit road, then turning right and throwing a right hook at Logano’s face. Logano’s crew members brought Busch to the ground as NASCAR officials yelled for them to stop.
When they were separated and Busch got to his feet, he had a bloody gash above his right eye.
“There wasn’t much talking, just a lot of swinging,” Logano said. “I was racing hard there at end.”
Busch, who had recovered from a speeding penalty that left him a lap down to get into contention, was escorted to the infield care center and quickly released as the track buzzed.
“I got dumped. He flat out just drove straight in the corner and wrecked me,” Busch said. “That’s how Joey races, so he’s going to get it.”
The fight overshadowed a dominating day for Truex and a toughluck finish for Keselowski, who appeared to be pulling away after a restart and on his way to his second win in as many weeks when he ran into mechanical problems.
“I just know it was something major,” he said. “It wouldn’t turn and I lost brakes.”
Truex passed him and held on to become the first driver to win all three segments in NASCAR Cup’s new stage racing.
Kyle Larson was second, followed by Chase Elliott, Logano and Keselowski.
Truex re-took the lead with 39 laps to go after a lengthy cycle of green-flag pit stops. After a hardcharging Keselowski went in front, Danica Patrick blew an engine, bringing out a caution.
Keselowski, who started from the pole, just beat Truex out of pit road road after their four-tire stops. He chose the outside lane on the restart and shot ahead until his car slowed at the end of the 267-lap race.
That gave Toyota a win after Ford victories in the season’s first two races.
“I’ve been on the other side of those things plenty of times, so it definitely feels good to take advantage of somebody else’s issue for once,” Truex said.
Denny Hamlin was sixth, followed by Ryan Blaney, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer.
Jimmie Johnson was 11th, marking the first time since he became a full-time driver in 2002 that he has failed to have a top-10 finish in the first three races.
As Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 16th, Kevin Harvick’s hope of bouncing back from a disappointing finish at Atlanta lasted only 68 laps. He crashed hard into the wall when his right front tire exploded.
The bigger explosion came at the end. NASCAR had no immediate comment on the incident, although penalties could come this week.
“Kyle and I usually race well together and don’t have any issues,” Logano said before adding, “We’ll move on.”