Auto racing: Blocking theories are like opinions – everybody has one

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Tony Stewart says never. Joey Logano says late in the race. Jimmie Johnson says to protect a victory in the final laps, except, perhaps, if Stewart is behind him because of the potential consequences.


Theories on blocking and when it is acceptable vary widely in the NASCAR garage.


The topic has become a hot one since the last race two weeks ago in California, where an infuriated Stewart confronted Logano’s crew and accused the young driver of blocking him late in the race.


“I don’t like blocking. I never have, I never will,” Stewart said at Martinsville Speedway. “It’s our jobs as drivers to go out there and try to pass people. That is what racing is about. We didn’t have blocking 10 years ago. I don’t know where all of a sudden it became a common deal or some people think it’s alright to do now and think it’s common practice. I don’t believe it should be common practice.”


Others disagree, especially when trying to hang on for a victory.


“Those are decisions we all make on the track and when you are in the sport long enough, you realize what those decisions could lead to and, honestly, who you throw a block on,” Johnson said.


Blocking can be keeping a car in front of you by continually positioning your car in front of theirs, or taking away their preferred line around the track by adopting it for yourself, even if it’s not your preferred line. The thinking is if a driver is gaining on you, taking away his line can slow that.


Sauter gets truck win: Johnny Sauter passed Jeb Burton for the lead on a restart with 17 laps to go Saturday and won the NASCAR truck race at Martinsville Speedway, his second victory in two series races this season.


“Two for two starting out. This is unbelievable,” Sauter said in Victory Lane.


He got there by passing Burton, the pole-sitting rookie making just his seventh start in the series, on the outside following a restart on the 234th of 250 laps, and then holding on. Matt Crafton rallied to finish second and Burton was third.


Hunter-Reay edges Power for IndyCar pole: An intense qualifying session at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama showed how strong the IndyCar competition is this season, the series isn’t immune from controversy and race control won’t hesitate to make a bold call.


One other thing made clear Saturday? Defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay can still get the best of Will Power.


Hunter-Reay ended Penske Racing’s ownership of the pole position at Barber by beating Power with a late final lap to claim the top starting spot for today’s race. The Andretti Autosport driver became the first driver not from Penske Racing to win the pole at the picturesque permanent road course, where Power and Helio Castroneves have won every pole and every race since IndyCar’s 2010 debut.


“The team has done a great job in the offseason of moving forward, especially at this racetrack,” said Hunter-Reay, who had never started higher than 11th in three previous visits to Barber.


Hunter-Reay’s pole, the third of his career, capped a qualifying session that was intense from the very beginning.


The first group was stacked, and driver after cycled in and out of one of the top six positions needed to advance into the next round. AJ Allmendinger, who will make his IndyCar debut Sunday, made it through but Dario Franchitti, the four-time series champion, was among the several big names sent back to the paddock.


The next group didn’t wage as spirited a battle, but tempers flared when James Hinchcliffe accused Power of blocking him and ruining his qualifying lap. Hinchcliffe failed to advance, and that’s what Power said was really eating at the winner of the season-opening race at St. Pete.


“I don’t think I blocked him, actually,” said Power, who claimed Hinchcliffe teammate E.J. Viso slowed in front of Power to start an accordion effect.


“Don’t know what he’s talking about. Blocking? Have to take a look at the video, (he’s) just whining because he didn’t get through.”


Hinchcliffe said the track data proved Power slowed more than four seconds “in a matter of six corners.


A similar incident in the second segment between Takuma Sato and Justin Wilson left Wilson fuming as IndyCar officials turned to the tape to review Sato’s action.


An amendment to the 2013 rule book gave IndyCar the power to disqualify a driver from the Firestone Fast Six final round of qualifying for interference in an effort to “further emphasize on track sportsmanship.”


So when Wilson complained to IndyCar officials that Sato interfered with his lap, IndyCar took a look and disqualified him.


Sato will start 12th today. Rookie Tristan Vautier wound up third followed by Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Charlie Kimball.


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