Race Weekend Central

Full Throttle – The line in the sand

Almost two weeks ago the NASCAR world was set on its ear by Kyle Busch losing his mind and pile-driving Ron Hornaday into the turn three wall at Texas Motor Speedway. As a result, Busch was parked for the rest of the event. The next day he was parked for the rest of the weekend and NASCAR President Mike Helton sat in the media center at Texas proclaiming that there was always a line with “Boys Have at it” and that NASCAR would know when it was crossed, claiming Busch’s actions crossed that line.

Fast forward a week and Matt Kenseth was having a bad day at Phoenix, his brakes failing and his championship hopes–already in shambles–completely flying out the window. As Brian Vickers approached him on the back straight Kenseth lifted early to let Vickers have the preferred line into turn three. Instead of taking the line, Vickers planted his front bumper squarely in the center of Kenseth’s back bumper and never lifted until just before Kenseth’s car, all four tires locked up and smoking, slammed passenger side first into the turn three wall. NASCAR’s response, after just telling everyone who was listening that the line had been crossed the week before with the same kind of action, didn’t penalize Vickers at all. It would appear that the supposed line was written in the sand.

Interestingly enough, there has been no outcry from the fans or handwringing by sponsors over Vickers’ actions at Phoenix. For some reason it is being treated as just another one of them racin’ payback deals and not the attempted murder of a beloved racing icon like the previous week’s incident. There are certainly some differences that deserve to be explored but there is no question that the actions on the track, while not identical, were very close to the same and were treated entirely differently.

While it hasn’t been stated as the biggest difference between the two events, the action at Phoenix was under a green flag while the contact at Texas was after the caution flag had flown. The trucks at Texas had just seen the caution flag and begun to slow down so they were still travelling over 100 miles per hour, but the caution lights were on. Vickers caught Kenseth during green flag conditions and was the cause for the caution flag coming out. While the powers that be have never said doing things under the green flag makes a difference, there is no doubt that their actions say that is the case.

Remember that when Carl Edwards flipped Brad Keselowski at Atlanta, he was parked but no other fines or suspensions resulted and that retaliation took place under green. When Edwards wrecked Keselowski at Gateway in the Nationwide series, it was under green and going for the win, so no penalties were issued. Just this year Vickers wrecked Stewart under green after Stewart had spun Vickers–no penalties were issued. There have been other cases this year but they all took place under green and resulted in no disciplinary action.

The suits in Daytona also made the statement that Busch’s past actions played a role in his being benched for the rest of the weekend at Texas. There is no denying that Busch has been involved in several incidents in his career and at least four of them this season, so it would certainly make sense, if past actions were considered, that his penalty should be severe. However, Vickers has not been without stain on his hands just this year either. Prior to Phoenix he attempted to wreck Kenseth at Martinsville and failed miserably. That was part of a weekend when he was involved in one third of the 18 caution flags that flew during the day. There was also the previously mentioned tete-a-tete with Stewart at Infineon. Don’t forget that Vickers wrecked Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to claim his victory at Talladega a few years ago. There must be a line somewhere for past actions too–we just haven’t been told where that is.

Finally there is the act of retaliation. Vickers felt he had been wronged by Kenseth at Martinsville which is why he tried to wreck him that day and then finally put him in the fence at Phoenix. Busch on the other hand did not seem to have a beef with Hornaday, but rather with his truck owner Kevin Harvick. Ironically Busch’s actions actually handed the Truck Series owners’ championship to Harvick. It seems as though, if a driver has a beef with a driver for on track action, then wrecking them is acceptable.

The discussion about “Boys Have at it” has revolved around just how far the drivers can push the limits. NASCAR said all along that there would be a line and they’d know it when it was crossed. As the national touring series left Texas it seemed as though we finally knew what that line was. Pushing a driver, against his will, into the outside wall, at high speed looked like the line. However, two weeks later, after the Vickers/Kenseth incident at Phoenix, that line does not appear to be as clear as we all thought it was. It looks like we’re going to have to have some more drivers snap like twigs and go Cole Trickle on their fellow competitors before we can figure out exactly what is and is not acceptable under “Boys Have at it”.

One thing is for sure, though–the line that was drawn at Texas was obviously drawn in sand.

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