After the announcement came down that Carl Edwards not only wasn’t being suspended, he wasn’t even being docked points or fined, the cell phone lit up, the inbox went crazy and the water cooler started boiling. Everybody and their brother said “Look out now, the boys are going to be crashing each other left and right because they know they can get away with it.” While at first blush that might seem like how the Cup drivers will handle this new found freedom to retaliate, if you think about it, the exact opposite could very well be true.
Driving a racecar is a risky business. There is no doubt that over the last 10 years, it has become hundreds of times safer than it used to be, but it is still strapping yourself into a metal box and hurtling yourself around a racetrack as fast as your engine and tires will allow you to go. When something happens to cause those tires to lose their traction, the car will lose control and there is no telling where it might go or what it might do. One thing is certain, no matter where it goes or what it does, the driver is going to go along for the ride. So, if the car turns upside down and slides driver side first into the end of the pit wall, the man behind the wheel is going to take a hell of an impact, whether there are SAFER barriers, sand barrels or ARMCO fencing in the way. When a car goes from 100-plus to zero, stuff inside the driver is getting shaken around and beaten up, and it takes quite some time for those aches, pains and broken bones to heal.
Cup drivers are a pretty courageous lot, and they’ll push their cars to the limit. However, whether they’ll admit it or not, they still get scared once in a while in a racecar. There are those times when the hands are flailing around inside the cockpit like picnickers who’ve been attacked by a swarm of bees, and when that happens their mind will tell them that if they don’t fix it, it is going to hurt. And getting hurt is not something any of us want to do. When the decision came down about Carl’s penalties, or lack thereof, the thought turned to the fact that drivers very well could get hurt, and there is no doubt that the drivers thought that too.
Forget about the next couple of races that are going to take place at short tracks, although Bristol is still fast for a short track, but look ahead to Phoenix. Suppose you’re heading down the backstretch into the kink and it is late in the race. The guy ahead of you in the standings is leaving a little space open at the bottom, although not really enough to stick your nose in there. The week after Phoenix is Texas, currently the fastest track on the schedule. NASCAR has made it clear that drivers can retaliate at Texas and expect nothing more than a gentle slap on the wrist. If you stick your nose in under that guy and spin him out to take that position, the next week he could do the same to you heading into turn 1 at Texas, where you’ll be doing about 205. How hard do you think it will hurt hitting the SAFER barrier outside of turn 1 at Texas Motor Speedway doing two bills?
You can bet it will hurt a whole bunch more than waiting for the next lap when the guy in front of you might leave you a little more room at the bottom or might slip up in turn one.
Is there going to be some more beating and banging going on at Bristol and Martinsville compared to the last few years? You can pretty much count on it. However, when it comes to flat-out wrecking somebody for position, or retaliating because he moved you up out of the groove, contrary to the popular opinion after this decision, we very well may see even fewer people hitting back.
Because the precedent has been set and it is now OK to dump anyone, anytime, anywhere.