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11/02 2018

Dale Jr. Download: Did Roger Penske change opinion on last-lap contact? By Dan Beaver

It was the shot heard around the racing world Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, where Joey Logano moved Martin Truex Jr. on the final lap for the win.

And it reminded Dale Earnhardt Jr. of another last-lap shot three years earlier at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Regan Smith, driving for JR Motorsports, bumped Alex Tagliani of Team Penske out of the lead for the Xfinity Series win in the Aug. 15, 2015 race.

“Really what (Smith) did, he just pushed (Tagliani) off the road; there was no question what happened,” team owner Roger Penske told Claire B. Lang on SiriusXM after the race. “I guess if that’s the way these guys want to play, we’ll remember that. There will be another time.

“That, in my mind, didn’t give me the reason I’d hire a guy like Regan Smith, because he pushed a guy off on the last lap,” Penske added. “He should have raced him clean.”

During his weekly Dale Jr. Download podcast, Earnhardt was struck by how Penske’s opinion seemed markedly different when Team Penske’s Logano moved Truex in a fashion that wasn’t entirely dissimilar, causing Truex to brand it a “cheap shot.”

“(Truex is) a racer and should know better than to say that,” Logano’s car owner Roger Penske retorted after Logano’s victory advanced him to championship race in Miami. “That was as clean a shot as you can have in a race like this.”

Earnhardt was amused by the differing views.

“Roger said, ‘Well, Martin knows better, being a race car driver. That was probably the nicest shot he could have expected to get at a race like this,’ ” Earnhardt said. “(Penske was) saying Martin should be ashamed of saying (it was a cheap shot) being the race car driver he is … that he got handled with kid gloves.

“But! Do you remember Mid-Ohio? Pushing (Tagliani) out of the way in the last corner? You know what Roger said about that? I will never hire a driver that will win a race that way. So all right, think about that. It depends on who’s doing it. If it’s your favorite driver, boy, you’re all for it. If it’s your favorite driver getting bumped out of the way, it’s (expletive). Even if you’re Roger Fricking Penske.”

Whether Logano’s move was clean or dirty seemingly depended entirely on one’s perspective.

“He just ran in the back of me and knocked me out of the way,” Truex said on NBCSN after the race. “Short track racing, but what comes around, goes around. He just took a cheap shot at the end there.”

After Martinsville’s race, Denny Hamlin may have summed it up best: “It depends on who is doing it. If it’s your favorite driver, you love it. If (it’s not), it’s dirty.”

Some of the times that haunt a driver most are when he’s too nice, according to Earnhardt.

“I’ve been a nice guy,” Earnhardt said. “There’s a lot of those moments in my career that I certainly regret. … You relive every race that you didn’t win. What you could have done differently. What you should have done. There’s moments when I know… if I’d been more aggressive. Or I could have run over the guy. So when I see Martin doing that I’m like ‘Argh, Martin come on, don’t do this again. ‘ ”