This week’s Frontstretch debate question: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. moved race leader Kyle Busch out of the way at the end of stage two at Martinsville this past weekend in order to get his lap back. Austin Cindric also held up Christopher Bell in the Truck Series race on Saturday, ultimately altering the outcome of the race.
Should lapped traffic be aware and share the track with the rest of the field, or hold nothing back when racing others, regardless of which stage the race is in?
Share the Road, People
Yes, I know the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is not the same as your casual Sunday drive downtown or a road trip across interstates. But the same thought process must be accepted by drivers while competing for real estate: share the race track.
Especially at a place like Martinsville, the shortest track on the NASCAR circuit. I’m all for beating and banging and putting on a good show for the fans who bought the ticket and team who prepared the race car, but there has to be somewhere to draw the line.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s bump and run on Kyle Busch at the end of stage two was surprising to many, including Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon in the FOX broadcast booth, as the inflection of their voices changed as soon as the No. 17 moved the No. 18. Did Stenhouse Jr. have a right to move Busch? I would probably lean towards the “yes” camp. But should he have?
No. In fact, he didn’t have to.
Stenhouse Jr.’s reasoning for moving Busch was that he needed to get his lap back before the caution for the end of the stage came out. He also mentioned he owed it to his team, sponsors and fans. Which is all fine. But Busch was on the outside of Austin Dillon at the time, who was fighting to stay on the lead lap. He was far enough behind that he wasn’t going to catch the No. 3, meaning Stenhouse Jr. would have been awarded the free pass and gotten his lap back regardless.
“When you’ve got the leader to your outside and you just keep banging him off the corner, that’s pretty disrespectful,” Busch said in his post-race press conference. “You’ve just got to always remember race car drivers are like elephants — they remember everything. Every time they see a mouse, they remember.” Looks like Busch now has two drivers to pay back. Plus, the stage was won by Chase Elliott. We’ve seen one point mean all the difference before, so it could come back to haunt Busch.
That incident was rather tame compared to what occurred on Saturday. Austin Cindric, who was running 19th at the time, moved down two lanes to block the leader, Christopher Bell, from putting the No. 19 truck one lap down. This move ultimately cost Bell the race lead, and possibly the win.
To sum up, lapped traffic should have respect and be aware of what’s happening around them. If Busch and Stenhouse Jr. were in the same position at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the No. 18 was in the championship four, I’ll bet you a whole lotta cash that Stenhouse Jr. doesn’t move him. Same with Cindric on Bell. But I get it, that’s Martinsville, and that’s short-track racing.
But just because you’re “allowed” to hit somebody at a certain track doesn’t mean you should treat the leader with reckless disregard. Race the way you’d want to be raced, and in my opinion, Stenhouse Jr. and Cindric both made poor choices. After all, sharing is caring, right? Davey Segal
Not Here to Make Friends
Lapped traffic has just as much right to the racetrack as the leaders.
I firmly believe that the cars on the verge of being lapped can and must fight like hell to stay on their respective laps for almost the entirety of the race.
They aren’t out there to make friends. They are out there to win or get the best possible finish for their team.
Until the white flag is shown or the leader crosses the overtime line, it is theoretically possible for any car within three laps of the leader to win the race. No one knows what is going to happen. There could be a huge pileup that takes out all of the race’s contenders and makes way for the “lapped cars” to win.
Anyone more than three laps down should pull over and give all competitors plenty of room because they are no longer a factor, but anyone less than that has every reason for fighting for their lap.
Joey Logano was two laps down at one point on Sunday. He kept racing hard and was rewarded with a top-five finish.
In the 2015 Southern 500, Carl Edwards recovered from two laps down to win. In the 2004 fall race at Charlotte, Jeff Gordon brought a damaged race car from three laps down to come home in second place.
The way Austin Cindric and Rickey Stenhouse Jr. raced the leaders this past weekend was entirely acceptable. There were still a lot of laps left in both situations and who is to say both could not have recovered and used some type of strategy to steal a win.
Stenhouse finished in the top 10 on Sunday. Would he have finished that high had he not punted Kyle Busch at the end of Stage 2? Maybe, but had he not done that, then he would have gotten the free pass position and had to restart behind the lapped traffic. At Martinsville Speedway, the car at the tail end of the field is already nearly half a lap down on restarts. He likely would have been lapped again quickly.
There have been so many occasions where a driver at the tail end of the lead lap moves out of the way for the leader and then the first lapped car jumps in behind the leader and steals the free pass position from that driver.
There is no guarantee that a caution will come out while you are in the free pass position. The only guarantee is that if you stay in front of the leader, then you will still be on the lead lap.[poll id=”4″]
Therefore, a driver with the leader on their tail should do everything short of intentionally wrecking the leader to stay in front. The leader has a bumper. If lapped traffic is blocking him up and down the track, then he has every right to knock them out of the way.
It’s a race––a competition, not a parade or a smooth Sunday drive. Sometimes it seems that the folks on the highway in a traffic jam fight harder for every inch of space than the race leader has to fight lapped traffic.
The defiance towards the leader shown by Cindric and Stenhouse made those races exciting for the fans. NASCAR should send Stenhouse a thank you note because his incident was the best thing to happen for stage racing this season. Michael Massie
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