From Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman going three-wide in a wreckers move for the checkers in the 2009 All-Star Race, to the same Busch triggering a massive wreck at Loudon in June of 2009 in one of the first Cup races to feature the double-file restart rule, the “shootout style” means of taking the green flag has certainly ruffled feathers and stirred a lot of dust in NASCAR competition.
Sunday at Sonoma was no different. Though the twisty wine country road course certainly saw its share of banged up sheetmetal under green well after restarts, the early part of green-flag runs left a number of drivers fuming by race’s end.
Greg Biffle remarked, “Everyone is running everybody off track, and you either have to check out of the gas or you go for a ride.” Teammate David Ragan observed that, “Everyone from 15th on back drives like idiots those… few laps.”
Martin Truex Jr. saw a top-five run eliminated after Jeff Gordon‘s bumper put him in the back of the pack… and right in the middle of a lap 67 Big One that occurred at the start-finish line – Shootout style.
Naturally, Truex was none too happy about the events of the day, drawing the conclusion in an interview with TNT that his fellow drivers didn’t seem to know how to show respect during green-flag restarts. “The guys running 10th suddenly think they’re going to win the race,” he quipped.
While Truex certainly had every right to be upset after having perhaps his finest run of the 2010 season end in a pile of wreckage, it seems a bit misguided to conclude that the never-ending parade of carnage that the double-file restarts have brought with them is the product of a lack of respect. If anything, there’s arguably more “respect” between drivers than ever in an era that has brought with it the Chase-influenced culture of points racing, multiple teammates, the almighty corporate dollar seeking polished spokespeople… and, of course, the Hendrick Motorsports camp.
Instead, what seems to be transpiring late in Cup races, and for that matter during every double-file restart, is that the drivers on track are being painted in a box that could well be equated to “go or go home”… except they’ve already made the race. Restarts have become a case of “go now or not at all,” the lone chance to make passes they can’t perform 15, even 10 laps into a green-flag run. And there’s nothing to thank for that but NASCAR’s binding rulebook, a combination of restrictions and regulations that have rendered 500-mile and comparable events nothing more than parades – laps run to justify ticket prices when everyone in the grandstands knows that the few laps after each restart are the only time that the business on track is going to get done.
Let’s face it. Testing is closed, meaning the haves have what they’ve got… and the have nots are still wanting. The CoT is still a brick, meaning that while the driver can still make some difference on road courses like Sonoma this weekend, most weekends passing is at a premium, regardless of who’s behind the wheel. And as Denny Hamlin has steadfastly asserted, the drivers know that there’s no real point in pushing things. After all, another caution’s coming. Especially late in the race, what with phantom debris saturating NASCAR tracks much like crude in the Gulf.
Add it all up, and restarts mark pretty much the only time on race day that the 43 drivers in the field can really do their job and pass other cars. No matter how much respect is there, when everyone in the field is trying to do a day’s work in the span of the few laps where they’re all within several feet of each other, wrecks are going to happen. Madness will ensue. Drivers like Truex Jr. will see their good days evaporate.
There’s no cultural or respectful deficiency to blame for this. It’s all on NASCAR. The fact is, NASCAR has boxed their competitors into this Demolition Derby sort of exhibition week after week. It’s not like the same corps of drivers that for years saw fans in decline not only because of asinine leadership by the sanctioning body, but also because of just how corporate they had become – how much they’d settled into this once-proud sport being an industry – suddenly flipped a switch and decided not to play nice anymore.
Just look at Gordon’s remarks after a race that saw him both on restarts and under green resemble less a four-time champion and more a battering ram. Gordon was none too happy about having trapped Truex in a situation where his day ended early, acknowledging that he expected payback, and deserved it to boot. Chances are, should Gordon find himself the victim of NAPA know-how in the weeks to come, he’ll brush it off as deserved and move forward. Just like he would have in the years prior to 2010, the year of “boys, have at it.”
Truex Jr. had every right to be upset about how a restart wreck deprived his team of a much needed top-five run on Sunday. But the circus that restarts have become from the road courses to the superspeedways has nothing to do with the drivers. It’s not even a product of going to the “shootout-style” format that, in all essence, has always been present in NASCAR racing.
It’s NASCAR’s sandbox that’s to blame. Unlike the IRL’s proposed box, and the attitude of “just make sure it fits,” NASCAR continues to stick with their old adage of fit to our box… and stay in it.
That box is what is reducing what used to be marathon workdays into a series of short sprints. Anyone that’s been to their local short track in the last decade knows full well that equals beating, banging and spoiled days for many.
Which begs the question: if this is what Cup racing is going to be, why not save some money and stay at the local short track? Jimmie Johnson won’t run away with that one.