I wrote a column not too long ago about the “diva complex” NASCAR faces with some of the egos in this sport and how aggravating it is watching millionaire racecar drivers complain about others racing them too hard. Incidentally, many of you agreed with me and are just as aggravated by this phenomenon as I am. Sure, tempers are part of the sport, but temper tantrums over how someone else is racing you? It’s maddening!
We wouldn’t be very smart, though, to not fully expect it at a track like Richmond. After all, a short track Saturday night race is well known for its tendency to get under the skin of even the most patient drivers.
And, oh, did it ever. As the final laps wound down, I took a quick glance at the top three and saw the names “Montoya, Busch, and Harvick” scroll across the ticker. I’m not sure you could have had a more explosive mixture of possible tempers up at the front in the closing laps of a race. Though that top three did change, with some unexpectedly late cautions, there was just that nagging feeling in my head waiting for some explosive fireworks — and not the pyrotechnic kind.
While Harvick went on to win, and Montoya unfortunately lost an opportunity for his first oval victory, Busch was expectedly in the middle of a post-race fracas involving Tony Stewart (another shocker). Long story short, they were racing really, really hard for position and neither were happy with the way the other competed. A very similar thing happened in the Nationwide Series event, on Friday albeit with a little more “nut-kicking.” It was very much expected for it to happen like that, and the drivers were expected to lose their minds. Yes, I was annoyed when I saw the replays from the on-track incidents that generated these reactions were simply racing accidents and didn’t deserve the kind of over-reactions that happened post-race.
But Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart didn’t feel that way. Instead, they exchanged words by their haulers after some nudges on the cool-down lap. It got heated, though no punches were thrown, and surprisingly enough it was Busch who was reserved while Stewart stormed away from the throng of reporters wanting to know his side of the story.
I was even more surprised when Busch had very little to say about Stewart personally, more so stressed about the fact that it was late in the race and he was just going for his spot. He used the term “free for all”, politely defending his right to race how he needed to race.
The most surprising part of the night though? I agreed with him. Wholeheartedly. As in, I was practically applauding while listening to his post-race interview. Never in my whole race-watching life did I think I would ever actually agree with one of the most hot-headed, unreasonable guys in the sport. I expected to disagree with Stewart, who has a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality when it comes to how he races on-track. Busch just has a tendency to blow up at everything, yet somehow he managed to hit the nail on the head with this one.
Look, I understand you can’t possibly expect drivers to be perfectly well behaved and impossibly happy after every single race, let alone on a track that offers very little racing room in the first place. It’s perfectly reasonable and acceptable for a driver to get out of the car frustrated and pissed off after a long night with little results. However, when I find mind-boggling is that one championship-caliber driver can walk up to another championship-caliber driver, point the finger, and say, “I can’t believe you raced me like that!”, “You didn’t show me respect!”, or “You didn’t give me enough room!”
Are you freaking kidding me?! You want respect? If you want respect, go to a local short track and let the wannabes revel in your greatness or something. When you’re racing against your peers, your competitors, your closest rivals, you don’t get respect. You aren’t required a certain amount of space on the racetrack. You don’t get that with 100 to go, let alone with 10, or even five. Why are you owed that? You aren’t!
Now, I’m sure there are plenty who agree and disagree with this point of view, though I’ll stand firm in the belief that these drivers whine way too much about all of these things.
There is one very significant problem with my complaint, though, and that is that this conflict, while Rodney Dangerfield-esque provides the backbone of our sport. Busch may be right in that racing is racing is racing, and no amount of championships or career laps led will ever change that. However, the rather inconvenient truth is that, well … the fans love it. It doesn’t matter if they are diehard, casual, or happen-to-be-tuning into SportsCenter fans. We revel in it. As a media member, it’s the first thing I write about when I sit down at my computer post-race. As a consumer, my guess is that you’ll click on that link, about the fight before you click on “Harvick Wins in Richmond” (unless you’re a Harvick fan, of course). You can deny it all you want to, but the statistics are there. Those links are clicked more than almost any other, and those videos have the most views on YouTube. It’s just cold, hard facts.
Think back to the pre-race analyzing; whether it was on this website, SPEED Channel, or whoever you pay attention to. Other than the Gibbs and Penske penalties, what did we hear the most about? What was predicted and picked apart more than any other storyline heading into the race? The fights. SPEED did several pieces on historic fights alone, whether Richmond or otherwise. People on Twitter (including myself) were essentially predicting who the fight would be with and if some of the hotheads up front would wind up butting heads.
Fights, tempers, and everything in between have been around racing since the very beginnings. Heck, the race that technically jumpstarted this sport in terms of public popularity was the 1979 Daytona 500 with the fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison.
That’s no coincidence; it’s a huge, huge part of the sport’s popularity. If you mess with emotion, you take NASCAR’s personality away, and that can’t be a good thing.
So while it still riles me up, listening to drivers telling each other how to race, especially at the top level, my opinion doesn’t really matter. The hard reality is that people love it. They might say they don’t — I might even say I don’t — but it’s what we pay more attention to than anything else. If you take that away, all we have left is the on-track product, and God knows that oftentimes that just isn’t good enough.
So while I would love to see smaller egos, I also realize that with those big ones comes a lot of passion that boils over. And, no matter what side of the issue you’re on, I think we’d all rather see passion and heart than a lackluster group of guys on track, anyway. It doesn’t mean I have to like it when petty little arguments over a few feet of real estate comes into play, but I’ll recognize its significance in NASCAR for the sake of the show.
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