Is NASCAR Getting it Wrong, or Getting it Right?
The result of NASCAR’s new philosophy has never been as evident as it was at Infineon Raceway this past Sunday. Double file restarts, multiple green-white-checkered attempts, and a ‘boys have at it’ mentality have all contributed to a breakout of aggressive driving on every style of track. From super speedways to road course races, no track seems immune to drivers displaying their machismo.
The carnage in the garage area after the race in Sonoma looked similar to what it would after a short track race like Martinsville or Bristol. If there was a car on the track that didn’t have dents, banged up fenders, or tire donuts along the side of it then it was probably at the back of the field all day. From seasoned veterans like Jeff Gordon to rookies like Brad Keselowski, every driver seemed willing to move their competitors out of the way to get to the front.
It seems like we’ve seen cars being used as battering rams more and more each weekend. Tempers are soaring, gauntlets are being thrown, verbal barbs abound, and sports writers are having a tough time picking which ‘feud of the week’ to spotlight, because they have too many to choose from.
Does anyone remember the last race we had where fans weren’t listening closely to post-race quotes to see which driver had the best insult for another? It’s been awhile, and I believe the aggressiveness that drivers are showing both on track and off is a direct result of the changes that NASCAR has made over the last year.
Double file restarts in particular have made a big impact on how drivers are racing each other. It seemed to take everyone awhile to figure out how to use the new restart format to their advantage. First one driver shoved his way through the pack in front of him – probably a younger driver with something to prove. Then one or two more in the back half of the field who had nothing to lose decided to try it.
Pretty soon there were a dozen guys out there fighting tooth and nail each restart. And it was working! They were gaining positions on those restarts and were able to keep them after everyone got strung out. Unfortunately, with half of the field playing bumper tag and throwing elbows on each restart, there were an equal number of racers who were on the losing end of the deal.
I only watch AJ Allmendinger on race day, so I can’t speak for all fans out there, but I know I was getting sick and tired of my driver losing five or more spots on each restart by trying to keep his nose clean and stay out of trouble. Then he would have to drive the wheels off the car to gain those positions back. It was frustrating.
Nice guys can only be nice guys for so long before they start looking like chumps, so even the most respectful drivers out there have had to change their normal demeanor inside the car in order to be competitive on restarts. And with an abundance of late race cautions and multiple attempts to finish under the green flag, those restarts are more important than ever.
These guys are super competitive by nature anyway, and now drivers have had to unearth the aggression inside them more and more. Now combine those primal feelings with the fact that there are forty-two cars beating on your bumper or knocking you into the wall, and it is only natural for road rage to take over.
Every driver out there has a zeal for racing, and wants to win more than anything. It’s emotion – pure and simple. You can’t put a racecar driver in a car for three or four hours and make him fight it out gladiator-style and then just expect him to turn off all that vehemence. It’s going to carry over after the race, and then once the media gets a hold of the juicy sound bites, everything said in anger is repeated over and over again for each side to hear. How could you not hold grudges?
So it isn’t surprising that the feuds between drivers seem to be escalating. NASCAR created the current climate with their new rules, but is that a good thing or a bad thing? Each person seems to have an opinion on whether they like it or not. Some say they should go back to racing with respect, while others like the excitement of never knowing what might transpire during the course of a race.
Personally, I love it. Racing should be passionate. I can remember racing events in the past where there was less emotion shown than what you might witness in a game of croquet. Sure it’s no fun when your driver gets taken out by a boneheaded move, but the next week it’s just as likely to be your driver taking out someone else in a boneheaded move. Those are the breaks.
Some might argue that it takes away from the technical aspect of the racing. A race should be about who has the fastest car and the best driver. I agree with that assessment. The new rules of NASCAR are trivializing some of the things that used to be important and are leveling the playing field. But what people need to realize is that, whether they like it or not, NASCAR is now part of the entertainment industry.
Stock car racing used to be a group of guys who got together at a track, each paid an entry fee to race, and then gave those fees back in the form of the winning purse. Fans were mostly family and friends that were dragged along to the event by the driver. Eventually more and more people started showing up for amusement and they got the idea to charge spectator fees.
So the cars and the drivers used to be the priority and the fans were just an afterthought. In today’s NASCAR though, the fan is king. Teams are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for each race only because of the spectators who are willing to shell out their hard-earned dollars to be entertained.
So is NASCAR doing the right things in order to make races entertaining? I believe they are. And while drivers like Denny Hamlin may complain about the fact that officials have the ability to script endings by deciding when to drop yellows for debris, it is for the fans’ sake that they are doing it. Sometimes a debris caution is the only thing that saves a race from being a total waste of the time spent watching it.
I say keep doing what you’re doing, NASCAR. I love the passion, I love the emotion, and I love the hard racing! It’s everything I could ask for to fill a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon.