Toni Montgomery · Thursday September 1, 2005
What a furor going on this week because of a little bump during the Cup race at Bristol. Newman did it on purpose. Newman didn’t do it on purpose. Jarrett was justified. Jarrett was wrong to retaliate. On and on, round and round it goes. And yet, the same sort of incident in the Craftsman Truck Series wouldn’t cause this kind of backlash. The same sort of incident in the Craftsman Truck Series is the status quo.
The truck series is legendary for the use of the chrome horn. It is a move that is expected on the short tracks the series frequently competes on. Within reason, it is even expected on the larger tracks. Drivers known for employing it are readily accepted in trucks while the same drivers could be vilified for it if they attempt it in Busch or Cup.
Perhaps it is because of the very nature of the trucks. Their larger size sometimes makes moving a slower competitor the only option to get by on a smaller track where space is at a premium. They are also the least aerodynamic vehicles in the higher realms of NASCAR, making it incredibly easy to get right up behind a guy and get him a little loose.
As for retaliation, while NASCAR surely keeps an eye out to make sure no one gets hurt, it is also accepted within reason. If your driver gets moved by a faster truck early in the race, makes improvements that speed his truck up throughout, and comes across the same driver later in the race, I assure you all of his fans are fully expecting him to repay the favor and move that guy out of the way.
Drivers like Jack Sprague, Ron Hornaday, and Mike Bliss have made very successful careers in the truck series by not being shy about moving the competition around if they need to. It is expected of these drivers. Fans and non-fans of these drivers see no problem with that style. Yet each has run into problems in Cup or Busch thanks to employing the strategy they used so successfully in trucks.
It’s logical to assume that the majority of fans watching the truck race will also watch the Cup race at least. There will, of course, be many more Cup race viewers that did not watch the truck race. That is easily assumed by the difference in the ratings of the two series. So what I wonder about is are the fans who watch both series more accepting of those kind of actions in Cup or are they part of the big debate? Maybe they are the ones making up the crowd that feels Jarrett’s retaliation was justified. After all, that’s the way it’s done in the truck series.
Or maybe I’m comparing apples and oranges. While competitors move each other around in the trucks constantly, they don’t always spin each other out in the process. Sometimes, sure, but not always. Maybe some truck series fans don’t like it any more than Cup fans do but there’s simply less of them so the fuss isn’t as loud.
I have to think though that the majority of Craftsman Truck Series fans see no problem with the racing getting a little physical. The arrival of aggressive drivers like Jimmy Spencer or Mike Skinner in the series is always eagerly anticipated. Fans not only know what the reputations of drivers like Mr. Excitement mean, but they also fully expect to see the kind of action that earned them the nicknames and status as a hard charger. The style that got Skinner dubbed Mike "Spinner" (Go on, admit it. The television announcers have let this one slip on more than one occasion.) as a not so endearing term in Cup is the same style that produces what are seen as exciting finishes with competitors ending up backward and sliding through the infield in trucks. The actions that spark debate in the Cup Series are what the Craftsman Truck Series is all about.
But then since when isn’t Bristol known for beating and banging and tempers in any series that’s racing there? Why is it such a big deal now for Cup? The answer that’s usually given is that things have changed in Cup and that type of behavior is no longer accepted in that series. Well maybe the Craftsman Truck Series is not only a home for veteran Cup drivers, but maybe it’s the place for veteran NASCAR fans as well. Maybe it’s the series where things can still be the way we know and remember and enjoy. Maybe it’s the place drivers can still do at Bristol what drivers are supposed to do at Bristol.
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