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Friday, April 5, 2013
Tony Stewart was upset with Joey Logano for blocking at Auto Club Speedway, but it wasn't anything Smoke hasn't done before Photo: AP

To block or not to block. That is the question surrounding NASCAR following the race at Auto Club Speedway two weeks ago.

We all know what happened by now. Tony Stewart was fired up following a block from Joey Logano on the final restart, resulting in a 22nd-place finish for Smoke ... and this post-race reaction: “The dumb little (expletive) runs us clear down to the infield. He wants to (expletive) about everyone else and he’s the one that drives like a little (expletive). I’m gonna bust his ass.”

He tried, too, confronting Logano on pit road as the two attempted to exchange punches, slaps and even water bottles while their respective crews peeled them apart.

Of course, it wasn't that long ago that Stewart caused a 25-car pileup at Talladega. In an attempt to block Michael Waltrip, Stewart cut inside too soon, resulting in "The Big One" ... and this post-race reaction: "I screwed up."

Blocking happens all the time. Sometimes it goes without being seen. Other times it results in an emotional and, as it so happened at Fontana, a physical reaction. So, should NASCAR start penalizing such an action?

"I would expect and accept to be blocked in certain situations," said NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. "But you've got to give me racetrack. You've got to give me somewhere to run. You can't just run me up into the fence. You've got to give me a lane. ... If you give me a reasonable amount of racetrack to race on, then I really can't complain in regards to what you're trying to do to maintain the position."

Junebug seems to think that this is just part of racing and that as long as there's respect between drivers, then it shouldn't be an issue to block another driver from stealing a position. Stewart's teammate, Ryan Newman, agreed to a certain extent.

"I think blocking is a chicken way to drive ... it's just something I don't do," said Newman. "If you've got a run on me, take it.  If I can get through the corner better than you, then we'll race, but blocking is an IndyCar form or F1 form or an open wheel type move it seems like.  It's not to say they don't do it in NASCAR; obviously they do, but to me it's just a chicken way of driving and not very respectful for the guys around you."

The fact of the matter is that blocking is simply one of those racing deals. Some drivers do it. Some don't. But the most recent case involving Stewart and Logano could simply be a case of frustration for the 2011 Sprint Cup Series champion, whose off to a slow start with just one top-10 in his first five races. And he took out that frustration on Logano - he just didn't expect a push-back.

Logano has been bullied for much of his Sprint Cup career. But the switch in teams (Joe Gibbs to Penske) and another year of maturity have toughened Logano.

"That was the race for the lead," said Logano when asked about this dustup with Smoke. "I felt if the 14 (of Stewart) got underneath me, that was going to be the end of my opportunity to win the race."

In reality, Logano didn't do anything that Smoke hasn't done numerous times in his career. Logano ended up in third, while Stewart faded after having to slow down to avoid smashing into the back of the No. 22 Ford.

But would Stewart have let Logano sneak by on the low side with ease? Doubtful. Because that's what's made Smoke one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history. It's why he's uber-popular and super-hated by NASCAR Nation. He's aggressive and speaks his mind. And it's a safe bet he'd have done the exact same thing to Logano in a similar situation.

So, does blocking need to be enforced? Does it need to penalized? Does it need to be banned altogether?

If it leads to this kind of conversation and this kind of on- and off-track excitement, then the simple answer is no way.