NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Racing to the Point: Balancing NASCAR Trash Talk With Credibility

There’s nothing better than sticking a microphone in front of a wrecked driver just moments after he or she exits the car. The quicker the interview happens, the higher the likelihood somebody is going to say something they might later regret. Just ask Kurt Busch, who spent two years of his prime in obscurity with mediocre teams because of one interview gone horribly wrong at the 2011 season finale in Homestead.

The television crews know this phenomenon — that’s why they pounce like lions after an injured gazelle when a driver climbs from a wrecked car inside the garage.

Every driver handles the situation differently. Some compose themselves, choosing not to rush to judgment or put on a smile and seem to immediately forget about it. The others? They spew out sponsors like the public relation machines that they are and we don’t learn anything or, in some cases a driver immediately points blame elsewhere. Occasionally, those who pass the guilt also use that time to take a cheap shot at whomever they feel is responsible.

Tony Stewart used sarcasm to make us all laugh after being the victim of Elliott Sadler’s accident at Dover in 2008.

“I take 100 percent responsibility,” Stewart said. “It’s my fault for being anywhere close to Elliott. If I’m within half a lap of him, I expect that to happen.”

Jeff Gordon was also clever in his 2003 jab at Robby Gordon after the latter passed a bunch of cars during yellow flag conditions at Sonoma. “Robby’s got a little problem,” he said, “going faster under caution than he does under green.”

Aric Almirola may have been coming off a third-place finish at Bristol, but Brett Poirier says that’s no excuse for his comments about Brian Scott.
Aric Almirola may have been coming off a third-place finish at Bristol, but Brett Poirier says that’s no excuse for his comments about Brian Scott.

There was something a little awkward about the way Aric Almirola trashed Brian Scott on Sunday, though. Scott slid up the track coming off Turn 4 at Auto Club Speedway and crashed into the left rear of Almirola, sending both drivers to the infield grass. Whether or not Scott blew a tire or simply got loose, Almirola didn’t seem to care — he was going to hit Scott where it hurts for ruining his 20th-place run.

“The 33 [Scott] was obviously a dart without feathers and coming across the racetrack,” Almirola said. “He ran right into me. It’s a shame for our Farmland team; our Ford Fusion was getting a lot better. We didn’t start off the race like we had wanted to but got it a lot better.

“Man, he came from all the way at the bottom of the racetrack and ran into me. He’s not even racing this series for points. He’s out there having fun because his daddy gets to pay for it and he wrecked us. That’s frustrating.”

Almirola, a driver with zero wins and four top 5s in 112 Cup starts, made it a point to say that Scott didn’t belong, and for a second time during a heated post-race interview, threw Scott’s father’s money in his rant.

Maybe the Richard Petty Motorsports driver was feeling high and mighty, fresh off his career-best third-place finish at Bristol the week before. Maybe Almirola thought he was Scott’s boss, or maybe he’s been hanging around Petty too much, and that’s why he thought it was acceptable to bash drivers (right, Danica?).

Here’s what Almirola forgot: he doesn’t have a leg to stand on, because his performance on track looks a lot more like Kyle Petty. Stewart and Gordon are multi-time champions and two of the best of their generation; their words, when angry simply mean more. Like almost anything else, there is a certain credibility that comes with trash talk. If you are going to minimize the talents of others, well, you better back it up. Stewart and Gordon could, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick can when they lose their tempers, but a mild-mannered, mildly successful Almirola can’t.

Scott undoubtedly was given his Nationwide and Cup opportunities through his father’s money . But he’s not the first, and he won’t be the last. If you ask Scott, he makes no qualms about it and just says he’s trying to make the most of his opportunity. Who wouldn’t?

Almirola did the same, only in a slightly different manner. He hit NASCAR through the Drive for Diversity program with Joe Gibbs Racing, in the mid-2000s and I’d argue he was elevated to Cup not on his performance but marketability. He’s no Danica Patrick, but he’s a young, fit, normally well-spoken guy — paired with an on-track performance that’s underwhelming. Here are Scott’s and Almirola’s Nationwide and Truck statistics side-by-side. Can you tell which is which?

Nationwide Starts Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Driver A 147 0 8 37
Driver B 74 1 10 29

Trucks Starts Wins Top 5s Top 10s
Driver A 62 2 11 23
Driver B 78 2 19 38

The only marker that might have given this away is the “1” in the Nationwide win column under Driver B, which is Almirola. That’s from the 2007 race at Milwaukee that Almirola started but Denny Hamlin won.

That’s still Almirola’s claim to fame, and that’s the problem with his attempt to bash Scott on Sunday: he had no credibility to lean on. If Almirola blows a tire, gets loose and crashes in the side of about half the drivers in the Cup field next Sunday, what’s to stop that driver from bashing him? How does he belong anymore than Scott?

I’m sure the other Cup drivers got a good laugh at Almirola’s comments last weekend. He didn’t do his reputation any favors, and for his sponsors, how marketable is the guy bashing others, because the results certainly haven’t been there? That’s four top 5s in 112 career Cup starts, in case you missed it.

So the next time Almirola finds himself in this situation, the direction should be clear. He should thank his sponsors, thank his team and simply walk into his motor coach.

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