The Frontstretch: The Racin', the Dumb, and the Just Flat Ugly: Where Do On-Track Incidents Rate? by Amy Henderson -- Thursday November 12, 2009

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The Racin', the Dumb, and the Just Flat Ugly: Where Do On-Track Incidents Rate?

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday November 12, 2009


The blame game.

It’s a game that race fans and media play all the time when it comes to wrecks, one that’s to be expected as no two viewers are going to have exactly the same view on an on-track incident. But since I got taken to task for calling out a certain driver this week in Mirror Driving (an opinion I stand by), I decided to take a look at some different, but common scenarios where controversy can come into play. For example, what makes something a “racing incident” instead of overaggression or a flat out lapse of judgment on a driver’s part — and what kind of crash can be chalked up to pure selfishness or lack of thought instead of an honest mistake? Where do we draw the line?

I can’t speak for every observer, but here’s my take on a few scenarios.

First, let’s look at the Jimmie Johnson accident at Texas on Sunday. It’s a scenario that plays out throughout the year, with a couple of key variations. Here’s what happens: Three drivers are racing for position coming into a turn. The driver on the top of the racetrack holds his line. The driver in the middle tries to hold his line, but his car is loose. The driver on the bottom decides to make it three-wide into the corner, hits the left rear of the middle car, and sends that car, which was already loose, into the outside car. The end result is a wreck that leaves at least two of those three vehicles in tatters.

My verdict: At Texas, David Reutimann, the driver on the bottom, made a stupid and dangerous move. It was just the third lap of the race, and Reutimann had a good car. It’s his responsibility as a driver to know the car directly in front of him is loose. Had Reutimann backed out, Sam Hornish, Jr. might have been able to save his No. 77 Dodge, allowing Reutimann to make the pass cleanly within a couple of laps. The car on top in this scenario became an innocent victim. In this case, it was the point leader, but as long as that driver holds his line and doesn’t compound the issue by trying to drop down, it doesn’t matter who is up top. The end result is a wrecked race car — and it’s all because someone got impatient.

It might be different if: There is no bottom car, the middle car isn’t visibly loose, or it is considerably later in the race. If the driver in a side-by-side pairing loses the car and spins (like the Juan Pablo Montoya – Carl Edwards wreck on Sunday), that’s a different deal. It might be ugly, it might even suggest that the driver isn’t as skilled as he could be, but it’s just a racing incident – albeit an avoidable one. Also, if two cars are already racing with one not clearly having handling issues, making it three-wide in some turns at some tracks is perfectly acceptable and should be expected, as long as the battle is chosen wisely. And if Sunday’s incident had happened with three laps to go instead of three laps into the race, it might even be a different story – but early on isn’t all “go time” all the time. Competing at this level, with races hundreds of miles in length, makes it as much a game of strategy and patience as it is going fast – something that the best racers have always known.

There’s plenty of debate over what causes a restrictor plate wreck. But no one can argue with the destructive aftermath that leaves cars and drivers an absolute mess.

Next, we’ll take a look at the typical restrictor plate track incident. Here’s what happens: One driver gets out of shape (or sees the driver in front of him in trouble), slows a fraction, and gets run into from behind, which more often than not triggers a multi-car incident in which several cars suffer damage.

My verdict: This is a racing incident, and is much more the fault of a car without any throttle response. If a car slows just a fraction, the driver behind him might have the chance to avoid it, but the car behind him – not as likely. Many times, it’s not even visible in real time that the first driver slowed down, a product of a draft that’s a powerful and difficult thing at best. So blame this type of “Big One” on the racing created by restrictor plates, not on driver error.

It might be different if: The driver behind mistimes a bump draft and launches the car in front, or a driver tries to throw a block. Bump drafting has its place and has helped many a driver win a plate race, but if it’s mistimed or off-center, it can be disastrous. In some cases, it is a case of overaggression (it’s called “bump drafting” and not “slam drafting” for a reason), but in others, it’s the case of an error in judgment or in execution – still an error, but of a different ilk. Blocking on a plate track (or an intermediate, for that matter) is a touchy business to begin with, anyway. Unless there is considerable distance between cars (a rarity on the plate tracks), it simply takes more time for a car to move in multiple directions to block (forwards and sideways) as it does for them to move in one. That can easily result in the blocker getting a wild ride from the blockee — but in the end, it’s the blocker who’s at fault.

The third scenario often appears like the first one we discussed, with two notable differences. Here’s what happens: Two drivers race hard into a corner, late in a race – and one of them doesn’t (or can’t) hold his line. Last year at Richmond, this happened twice, with the same drivers in the spotlight, and ended the same way both times – with wrecked race cars and angry drivers.

My verdict: In the closing laps, it’s a racing incident, but most of the time, it’s an avoidable one. It’s also always the fault of the driver who did not hold his own line — regardless of why. Even if the car just “gets loose,” it’s the driver’s responsibility to keep it together when racing side-by-side going into the turn. In both cases last year, it appeared that Kyle Busch didn’t hold his line in either incident, though he was the top car on one and the bottom car on the other. Both times brought fan outcry because the other driver involved was Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – only the sport’s Most Popular Driver – who appeared from every angle to have held his line through the corners. Late in the race, I understand drivers need to take chances, but one does wonder if “wreckers or checkers” is always the best philosophy in the long run. Would backing off with a loose car and finishing in one piece really be a terrible option instead?

It might be different if: It were a deliberate blocking (or wrecking) move. If one car, more likely the top car, turned in an attempt to squeeze or block the other, then it’s a deliberate move made with the intention of at least making the other guy hit the brakes. Part of racing, but not the cleanest part.

Finally, there’s the infamous “bump and run.” Here’s what happens: In order to gain track position, one driver drives deep underneath the other and deliberately bumps him in the left rear in an attempt to make his car get loose and slide up the track, allowing him to take the spot. It’s been done countless times over the years, and there are definitely mixed feelings on the morality of this one.

My verdict: If it’s a last lap attempt to take the checkers, it’s the driver’s job to get all he can. But there is a right way and a wrong way to do the “bump and run.” The right way doesn’t involve wrecking the car on the outside: That makes the car loose, forcing the driver to back out and allow the car on the inside to complete the pass. The wrong way causes the car on the outside to hit something (or several somethings), including but not limited to the outside wall and/or other cars.

Instead, the right way — on the last lap, light enough to upset the car in front but not send him wrecking — has been part of the game since they made the second car and ran the first race.

It might be different if: It happens on any lap but the last, or it’s done the wrong way. Then it’s just dirty driving.

That’s just my take on these types of incidents. Others can call ‘em like they see ’em, and that’s what makes racing interesting. But in judging any type of on-track contact, both timing and thought are key. Racing is sometimes as much a game of patience as it is speed, as even the most aggressive drivers know when to push an issue and when not to. There are smart, aggressive racers and there are not-so-brilliant racers who act without forethought. The latter are dangerous for obvious reasons; they don’t think and don’t plan, meaning someone else pays the price. As for the former, they will make every attempt to get by, but their moves are calculated and correctly timed and orchestrated — almost like watching a big cat stalk and kill its prey.

And as for the dirty drivers? Well, those are the ones racers just have to avoid at all costs.

Contact Amy Henderson

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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11/13/2009 07:39 AM

You forgot to mention scenarios where drivers on the outside just simply don’t have the talent to keep their cars under control when barely touched by a car on the inside . Like for example , well i’m sure we can think of a recent example . Is it then the fault of the car on the inside for being aggresive and losing control , or is it the fault of the car on the outside for not having the driving ability to regain control and avoid a single car crash ? Cars get bumped on every lap of every race , somtimes its imtentional , sometimes not . But all of the drivers are paid big money to be able to get their cars back under control and continue racing . Not drive back across the track out of control like a big toothless cat ( whose fearsome reputation is mostly hype ) stumbling along trying to pretend it can catch its prey .

11/13/2009 08:00 AM

Not the least impressed with your take on things here either!!

Don Mei
11/13/2009 09:14 AM

Your analysis sounds like an MBA student trying to reason out the impact the changes in interest rates have on the market price of derivatives and is just as silly. I have no idea if you have ever been in a race car at speed but if you have not, may I respectfully suggest that you attend one of the Nascar driving schools so that perhaps you may know of what you speak.

The Turnip!
11/13/2009 09:16 AM

Sure doesn’t get an clearer here for sure!

Quote from above: “Here’s what happens: One driver gets out of shape (or sees the driver in front of him in trouble), slows a fraction, and gets run into from behind, which more often than not triggers a multi-car incident in which several cars suffer damage.

My verdict: This is a racing incident” (end of quote)

So, with that said, lets consider:

1. I always thought the races started when the green flag was shown, but apparently the racing has to start at least AFTER the third lap! Per Amy!

2. now we have this scenario, Amy says that three (3) wide, three (3) laps into a race, makes a driver an IDIOT!

BUT! Now that driver is not “below” anyone, but in FRONT of another car, and WIGGLES! (same exact thing as Reuti did down low), BUT, since this driver is in FRONT of the others, CAUSING THE OTHERS TO LIFT THUS CAUSING A MAJOR CRASH, this is considered simply a “RACING INCIDENT”?


If one cause a MAJOR crash from “wiggling”, who cares whether it is beside, in front, behind, or anywhere else, they lost control of their car? Resulting in a major crash!

I’m admittedly having a hard time following when one actually qualifies to become an “idiot”?

A “loose” car, is a “loose” car, ALL causing accidents!

Maybe I need to open both eyes? Or maybe it’s not me!

11/13/2009 09:36 AM

I actually got a headache reading your column. There is nothing you can write to cover up your bias against the so called “idiot” and your love for the 48.

11/13/2009 09:38 AM

Totally disagree with this assessment and seems a bit narrow minded. To put the entire blame on Reut for this is stupid (using your choice of words). The only reason this is getting so much attention is because it happened to be Jimmie Johnson on the outside. If it was Robby Gordon on the outside would this have been such a big issue with you?

Its racing. These things happen all season long. Just take it for what it is. Jimmie was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So if Jimmie loses the championship, are you going to blame it all on Reuti?

Carl D.
11/13/2009 09:54 AM

Here’s What Happens: Although his car owner has thrown more money at his team than the government spends bailing out Wall Street, the annointed finds himself the victim of a three-wide racing incident and back in the garage. With help from one of his closest rival’s crew members, the car is repaired and returns to the track. Unfortunately, the annointed still loses over 100 points of his lead in the chase. Wednesday on Fronstretch, his biggest cheerleader is called out for bias by her co-panelists and commenters alike, and so on Friday we get an entire article explaining how to tell who’s at fault in a wreck.
My Verdict: Just check to see if a HMS team is involved. If so, it’s obviously the other driver’s fault.
It might be different if: David Reutimman was leading the points and Jimmy Johnson the guy on the bottom making it three wide.

The Turnip!
11/13/2009 10:24 AM

Hey Carl D. your “and so on Friday we get an entire article explaining how to tell who’s at fault in a wreck.”

Well, “trying” to explain anyway, but the “explanation” is not much better than the original”

Me thinks the hole is getting DEEPER!

11/13/2009 11:01 AM

It,s called “RACING” Amy, not ride and be nice till the last lap.
geoff fl

11/13/2009 11:05 AM

Well Amy you could have saved your fingers alot of work if you had stopped after that first paragraph.

Dom Mei and yourself point it out perfectly. Everyone “sees” it differently and we’re not stock car drivers.

This was an exercise in futility of thinking that YOUR opinion matters and you’re going to beat everyone over the head with until they change thier opinion to match yours. And if they don’t you’re going to keep beating us over the head with it (write from the angle you do) unitl we capitulate to you.

As I made the statement in mirror driving. I’ll say it again here. If you were on the tittantic, you would have been the one hanging onto a railing screaming at the top of your lungs that the ship couldn’t sink because Mr. Ishmay told you so.

It becomes easier to read and understand you if we all know your “angle”. Thanks for an entertaining but feeble “what if” game.

11/13/2009 11:38 AM

Hey Geoff from FL – It’s not always racing, sometimes it is riding in a single file line for many many laps on end. But maybe you missed Talladega, just like Brian France did. And for the record, I am in no way comparing you to Brian France. Just noting that maybe you had a valid reason for missing the Talladega parade, unlike Brian France, who, if he isn’t at the track on raceday, should be glued to his television. But apparently he has better things to do than watch Nascar races.

Joe W.
11/13/2009 11:53 AM

So let me get this straight. Since Jimmie got wrecked it has to be someone else’s fault, either Ruetimann or Hornish. But when the exact same thing takes Carl Edwards out, it can’t be Montoya’s fault. It is just a “racing deal” then. Does that about cover it? Seems biased to me. No that can’t be. No one would ever write anything biased. Ha Ha

cons 5
11/13/2009 11:55 AM

Amy, it happened on the 3rd lap exactly when cars are close together and it is easy to misjudge something like the car in front slowing slightly, a little loose or whatever. That’s when things are most likely to happen. Even your precious JJ makes mistakes in those circumstances. Things happen.

I got the biggest kick out of your speech about good journalism the other day, that good journalists (as you see herself) deal only in facts not opinions. Well, Amy, the only fact we know is that David Reutimann got into the corner of Sam Hornish. When you start stating why, assessing motives or deciding he is an idiot, you have stopped being a “good journalist” (by your definition) and are giving your opinion.

11/13/2009 12:50 PM

I don’t think it matters who the drivers in question are, to be honest. If Johnson had been the one on the bottom and Reutimann on top, it would have been Johnson’s fault for not driving smarter so early in a race. The fact that Johnson was the point leader does magnify the situation-he has a lot more to lose than Reutimann, but there is really no excuse for trying to put a car where it doesn’t fit on lap three of a race. Racing is as much about strategy and patience as it as about going fast. Reutimann didn’t take himself out, but that does often happen with overzealous drivers-and then it’s even more of a silly move, given that had that driver have waited to make the move at a better time, he’d not be wrecked either.

One other thing…the journalistic ethics argument that I made in Mirror (and stand by)makes a distinction that perhaps the layperson doesn’t understand-my bad if I didn’t explain. There is a difference between a news piece (which event coverage essentially is) and a commentary, or opinion piece. A news piece should not comment on the situation, just report facts. This is why you won’t see a reputable anchorman or woman comment about a story (What a terrible person the accused burglar is-he should be ashamed of himself and rot in hell!) That same line would be perfectly acceptible in an editorial piece, but it is not ethical in a hard news piece.

Will good sports commentators occassionally express an opinion about an individual event? Yes- “And he makes a spectacular catch against the outfield wall!” or “That was an incredible save.” Even that is acceptable-but commenting on the quality of the event is not. Fans can make that decision on their own. You won’t hear a World Series announcer exclaim what a horrible game it is because nobody has scored any runs and it’s the eighth inning. They report that there have been no runs scored, give the circumstances surrounding that, and leave the final judgment up to the fans. That’s how sports should be broadcast and reported according to the journalistic standards taught in intro level classes-and are only further enforced as you advance. News and event broadcast are different from an opinion piece in the same manner that a news story is different from an op-ed piece.

Doug In Washington (State)
11/13/2009 01:47 PM

I still don’t place all the blame on Reutimann. It was quite clear, particularly from the 4 dozen replays of the incident, that Hornish was going backwards in a hurry. Anyone who got trapped behind him was going to end up in the back with him. Once again, “Sideways Sam” qualified beyond his talent level and as such was making a rolling roadblock out of him self. Watching the replay, no one was lining up behind Hornish- they were all in the bottom groove where Reutimann was or up high where Johnson was, not sliding backwards in the middle.

So what if it was lap 3? The only time these rolling boxcars can pass is on a start or a restart. Once everyone gets strung out, your’re stuck until the next caution. You don’t want to be stuck back with the scrubs who are going to get lapped by the leader within 25 laps, which is where Hornish was headed. You want to be up front with the leader and close enough to see the clean air that lets the top 3 or 4 cars check out on the rest of the pack.

I’m not saying Reutimann is faultless- Reutimann has a reputation for running hard and fast at the beginning, and has been taken to task for it before. But I’d rather see more of that than the guys who think riding around midpack or worse for 90% of a race is the proper strategy. The only time you see everyone scrambling before the final caution anymore is when there’s a threat of rain. Otherwise, it’s hold steady until the last pit stop then maybe go bat outta hell if you need to make up points. It makes no sense to hold a 500 mile race if folks only “race” for 50 of those miles.

Carl D.
11/13/2009 02:12 PM

As a “layperson” I have a problem with equating the standards of covering hard news with the standards of covering sporting events. Guys like John Madden, Billy Packer, and even Benny Parsons made a name for themselves by being honest and calling things like they see ‘em. Still, the bigger issue is Poston’s public condemnation of the broadcast team. It came across as petty, heavy-handed, and unfortunately, typical of the “our-way-or-the-highway” attitude prevalent in those currently managing the sport.

11/13/2009 02:24 PM

Amy , you are correct . Not on this ridiculous hash of a column , but on the difference between commentary and news .
The only thing you and the Fronstretch staff do is commentary , so the readers should keep that in mind . You have one favorite driver and team who never do any wrong . According to you , its always someone , or something elses fault when the 48 has any problem . Therefore you have no real credibility on any subject that even remotely touches the 48 team . Your explanation or insight will always be slanted in favor of the 48 team .
As you can see , the readers disagree 100 % . That might be a record for Frontstretch reader feedback .

11/13/2009 02:31 PM

By the way , do you know the difference between yourself and any of the Laypersons who read this column ? You get paid for this tripe . Other than that , the Laypersons seem to have a much better knowlege of NASCAR and racing in general than you do . Funny world isn’t it . We , the Laypersons , do all the real thinking and writing , yet you get the paycheck .

11/13/2009 03:52 PM

I’ve never said that any team is without fault-if you regularly read my columns, you would see that I lay blame where I see it. This column was not meant to be about any one team or situation-it does offer an explanation of why I felt the wreck on Sunday was silly and senseless. As I stated before, it would have been just as silly and senseless if the roles of the 48 and the 00 were reversed-and I would have called Jimmie Johnson out for making a move early in the race that not only wrecked two racecars, but could well have ruined his own chances in the race. Do I respect the 48 team?Heck yeah-because they are the best team in the business right now-but they are not blameless. Johnson was one of the worst plate drivers on the circuit five or six years ago and caused plenty of “excitement.” Other than one instance where I felt (and still do) that blame was shared, I have called him out on it. He tried to do things with his racecar that he, in hindsight, should not have done. It happens a lot, and to a lot of drivers. Nobody is immune.

Those of you who think the move to go three wide on lap three was smart because it effected the outcome for Reutimann-cool. I don’t think it made a difference to him in the end. If you can make a good pass for position early-do it-that’s why it’s called racing. But making a move that could well result in your own early exit, or that takes someone else out of contention-I don’t agree with it, and it’s not smart racing, period. You rarely see the best drivers make a move like that-because they understand the need to make equipment last for 500 miles, and will back out of a situation on lap three that could end their day.

The Turnip!
11/13/2009 07:06 PM

WHAT! I “SHOUT” once again?

Once more we are subjected to this comment from Amy: “ but there is really no excuse for trying to put a car where it doesn’t fit on lap three of a race”, FROM THE ABOVE RESPONSE YET!

So, once again, Amy is saying that the racing DOES NOT START WITH THE DROP OF THE GREEN FLAG!

But of course she never states when the racing “really should begin”!

Obviously these key words “where it doesn’t fit on lap three of a race”!

Amy! Please, please, repeat after me “THE GREEN FLAG IS OUT, THE TRACK IS GREEN, THE RACING HAS BEGUN”!

Not a difficult concept to understand I think!




(“and we decide which is right”) Nights in White Satin!

11/13/2009 08:19 PM

The interview nobody saw.
Q. So, Jimmie, tell us what you think, now that your lead is around 70 points.
A. I’m totally disappointed that it is 70 points. I wanted to lose more but the Lowe’s crew did a quick repair job and got me out way before I wanted to. I had lunch with Mr. France the other day and he impressed upon me that I was screwing up his great idea of the chase and I had to do something about it. So I qualified back with the lowlifes and no-brainers and then went three wide on lap three and got in a big wreck. I thought that would be it but the Lowe’s crew really did a job I didn’t expect and got me back in the race. I even drove below the speed limit and still wasn’t black-flagged for going too slow. So in a word, I am pissed. Sorry Mr. France, I tried.

11/13/2009 10:42 PM

Excellent column.

11/13/2009 11:36 PM

Amy, the saying goes “when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging”. You are never going to live down or change the opinion that you are a biased 48 lover. Admit it. That’s the first step to Kool-Aid recovery.
On the other side, as long as I have been involved in racing, there have always been drivers called dumbsh*ts. It’s called a learning curve. I’m sure if you took off those Lowe’s glasses and looked at JJ’s early years, particularly on restrictor plate tracks, you’d see he left his own carnage.

The Turnip!
11/14/2009 08:00 AM

Question? OF THE DAY!

“can anyone please tell me what lap # the racing really starts on Sunday”?

It certainly ain’t on lap #1!

Just want to make sure I get my facts right.

I can see it now, the “new” NA$CRAP advertisement: “FOR SUNDAY’S RACE THE GREEN FLAG DROPS AT 2:08pm, THE RACING STARTS AT 3:25pm”!

Oh, and as another note, passed thru Homestead yesterday, near the speedway, I swear the banners they have flying advertising the “final” event said “NA$CRAP CHUMPIONSHIP RACES, NOV 20-22”!

That’s what I thought I read anyway!

Sure glad the season is almost out of it’s ever loving misery soon, this thing has been flogged to death!

You know how they used to play loud music to disturb the prisoners? I understand the new method, less humane even, is to have them all watch a NA$CRAP race start (whenever that is) to finish!

And then listen to a Brian France interview!

Talk about torture!

Kevin in SoCal
11/14/2009 10:13 PM

I agree with Doug in Washington. Hornish was going backwards and Johnson and Reutimann were attempting to pass him. Either Reutimann moved up or Hornish moved down, I dont know. But it was just an “accident” or “racing deal” and nobody’s fault, in my opinion.


Contact Amy Henderson

Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
Fans To Decide Format of Sprint Unlimited at Daytona
UNOH and Kentucky Speedway Extend Sponsorship Agreement
Earnhardt Out For Charlotte and Kansas After Talldega Concussion
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