This past Sunday we received another reminder of the potential for excitement in Nascar racing. Occasionally drivers let their emotions get in the way of their best judgment, and the results are typically anything but ideal for those involved. But for the rest of us, this banging on the track and the squabbles off the track make for some premier entertainment!
For as long as there have been sports, there have been sports rivalries. Lakers vs. Celtics, Red Wings vs. Blackhawks, Patriots vs. Jets, and Liverpool vs. Manchester United… just to name a few. But there’s something different about a racing rivalry. Reckless abandon at high speeds parlays into risking one’s life. A poor decision on the playing field in another sport might result in a penalty or ejection, but in Nascar a spiteful reaction could result in serious injury.
Let us not forget that Nascar is a one-on-one battle, mano-a-mano. Most of the other popular sports are team-versus-team with team consequences for one player’s mistake. In other sports there might even be a few players that are friends with opposing players. But this cannot occur in a Nascar rivalry. Two drivers obviously do not like each other, and they have thousands of pounds of metal in their control that they use to prove just that! True, they have team members which may or may not fall into the aforementioned rivalry characteristics, but these team members do not determine the fate of the vehicle via a steering wheel!
There have been numerous occurrences over the years of drivers creating rivalries and grudge matches. Back when the ‘good old boys’ raced, rivalries constantly were being “brewed up.” Bobby Allison vs. Junior Johnson, Cale Yarborough vs. Darrell Waltrip, and Richard Petty vs. David Pearson just to name a few. One driver didn’t like another, and wrecks happened. As the old school drivers would say: “It was just one of those racin’ deals.” These unpleasant situations occurred as a result of two drivers that simply did not like one another. It was not (and still is not) difficult to allow that to spill onto the track, as unwise as it might have been.
Another Generation, Same Antics
Today’s Nascar rivalries seem to have taken an entirely new twist. ‘Friendly’ racing competitions in this generation seem to manifest due to the nature of events on the track. One driver gets in the way of another and does not give him enough room. Or a driver views another as being overly competitive considering the circumstances of the race. Maybe one driver believes another is out to go for broke and doesn’t care what other drivers he runs over on his way. All it takes is one driver to lose his cool during the course of a race, and the conditions for a perfect storm are set. If that driver wants to create an absolute mess, he or she has that power.
To some extent, Nascar wants to let the drivers have at it. They want there to be rivalries and close racing. They want close finishes. They want to stoke the interest of fans, attract sponsors and garner more media attention. Nascar wants the drivers to have personalities. However, Nascar also has a responsibility towards safety. So they cannot blindly look the other way. They cannot afford to have drivers out there operating 1.7 ton wrecking balls on wheels. Demolition derbies at these speeds would be disastrous! So Nascar tries to police accordingly. Nevertheless, there is no stopping a driver once he is buckled in and on the track. If a driver decides to get retaliation or retribution, all it takes is a turn of the wheel. Just ask Jeff Gordon last year in Phoenix.
No More Mr. Nice Guy
If a driver gets to that breaking point, he or she has decided to do what is necessary. Another driver on the track has this driver so upset that a bump, crash, or complete melee is deemed worth it! But just before the driver decides to take matters into his or her own hands, there is one last line of defense. If a driver has a good enough relationship with any crew members, that person might just be able to talk the driver off the ledge. A good owner can see a situation brewing, and a good crew chief can calm a driver down. But there are no guarantees.
Consider all that these highly skilled drivers have to combat on raceday, beyond just the other drivers/cars on the track:
- They subject themselves to maintaining hours of mental acuity. One slight loss of focus, and the resulting mistimed brake point will have their car in the wall.
- They have to put up with extreme heat. On a warm sunny summer day, I don’t care how many cooling fans these drivers have blowing on them in the car. It still gets hot!
- They have hours of physical demands, withstanding constant G-forces much higher than you or I ever deal with on a roller coaster.
- They are out establishing their professional identity. They are showcasing their skill and maintaining job security at very high speeds. If a successful race that is critical to one’s career is destroyed by another driver, it is unforgettable.
So it should come as no surprise that the last thing any driver wants to do is put up with another driver doing something that he or she feels is foolish. No knucklehead maneuver is worth ruining a day or season’s worth of effort. And if another driver purposefully or inadvertently violates any component of the success the driver is trying to achieve, well, the battle is on! The driver taken advantage of is already hot, tired, mentally weary, somewhat impatient, overly competitive, etc… And adding anger to the mix is enough to put that driver beyond the tipping point!
The Good In It All
There is something very refreshing and appealing about a good racing rivalry. Nobody likes an athlete that is a pushover. As fans, we want to see the aggressive nature of our favorite athletes, and we want to see competitive events. Recent Nascar rivalries have included Jeff Gordon vs. Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick vs. Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart vs. Matt Kenseth, and Carl Edwards vs. Brad Keselowski. This past Sunday we added another pairing to the mix: Denny Hamlin vs. Joey Logano.
The bad blood actually began in 2012 while Hamlin and Logano were teammates, and it carried over into Daytona this year. This past Sunday at Bristol, it finally hit full tilt. With 150 laps to go, Hamlin chose to not give Logano the room he was seeking for a pass. The result? Logano was put in the wall and was quickly in Hamlin’s face after the race. It is safe to say that Logano is now upset and has a bullseye on Hamlin. The secondary consequence is that two more drivers are out to get each other every race for weekends to come. There will be no love loss. Big picture, Nascar has increased its entertainment value, even if it lasts just one week.
So yes, despite the potential for injury, it appears that rivalries, recklessness and wrecks are in fact good for Nascar. What do you think?
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