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2-Headed Monster: NASCAR Lapped Traffic Etiquette

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?

(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)
Kyle Busch endured a frustrating day at Martinsville. (Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

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.

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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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kb

I call this article “The Kyle Busch Effect” which seems to be prevalent of late based on his hypocritical rants to the contrary of the said subject matter. Things are not going his way lately so it is Goodyear tires or racing that should just not be, etc! His list of complaints is rather extensive and shameful (should be shameful but obviously never is, as his tune NEVER CHANGES)

Why does this deserve any time or keystrokes, the purpose seems to stroke the ego and double standard, double speak of an spoiled, frightfully unreasonable child. Maybe you get to hang out with the “pay attention to me wife” and the… gasp…MINI ME! Gotta ask…seems Kyle whines and then “racing” is not racing, and the whole system is questioned by writers who I guess, gotta write about somethin’ regardless of the validity or not! Noticing yet another pattern…

DoninAjax

Kyle still is infected with the afflenza disease (not the only one).

“Why is that that guy racing me? Doesn’t he know who I am?”

“Why is that guy giving me a speeding ticket? Doesn’t he know who I am?”

kb

BINGO, that is my take too…well said!

Bill B

Only cars already a lap down should be mindful of the lead lap cars. Those trying to keep from going a lap down should do everything in their power to stay on the lead lap.

Brian

First off the title and basic tennet behind the article is faulty and misleading. Both cases at Martinsville were true racing. Cindric while being a chicane has every right to try and maintain position for his team, fans and sponsors plus earning his place in the race. The 45 truck got impatient and over drove into the corner and got loose and into the Cindric truck and as such lost the race all on his own. The leaders had no real choice in that situation as traffic was around and Bell losing the lead was doubtful until he goofed.

If memory serves from the race didn’t Busch rub and bump Stenhouse to get him a lap down in the first place?
Now here’s the true deal Stenhouse was doing what he needed to do to get his best finish possible. Look at what happened to the 88 in the Hamlin caused wreck. It is doubtful and has higher probability that if Stenhouse just waits for the free pass his race finish is substantially different. Likely does not end up in the top 10 and thus lose exposure for his sponsors and team.

Now if you would be talking about truly lapped down cars and sometimes two or three laps down and this would happen different issue. Those cars should be much more considerate of the leaders and the entire field of lead lap cars.

Also here is the rub that bothers me with articles or notions such as this. Fans and media have been clamoring and demanding better racing, more action, etc. for years now. NASCAR’s brain trust finally has come up with something, while still being figured out, seems to have the intended consequence or result.
Now however people are calling foul for actually doing what fans have been wanting, being aggressive, not racing just logging laps, fighting of position (yes Stenhouse was fighting for position just not directly with the leader), effort and more effort. We cannot have it both ways just depending on who the characters are in certain situations. Team A does not have exclusivity over team H just because of who owns or drives the car.
Busch’s comment about him letting Stenhouse back by is 20-20 hindsight yeah sure type stuff. How is Stenhouse supposed to know this? Also if the 3 car get way loose off 4 the 18 might have been able to pass him so again look at the circumstance through the lens of the future not through the lens or what we know ended up happening.

JDinNC

Well Brian, I was going to comment, but you basically said everything I was thinking!

kb

Brian I have said it for a few years now..people whine they want actual racing..and MOST can tell a “racing deal” from a not racing deal…and the idiots whine and whine…drivers and fans! I don’t get it, I really don’t. It apparently is not about racing, but who you hate or like..which seems to be more important these days.! I would love for these Snowflakes to say flat out they don’t like so and so..or love so and so..and JUST ADMIT IT WAS RACING!

Sol Shine

Well, there’s smart racing and dumb racing. What Stenhouse and Cindric did is dumb racing. Neither of them gained a thing and for sure sometime down the road they will get paid back. And when that payback comes, it’s probably going to cost them a lot, for sure more than the nothing they gained with these boneheaded moves. Totally small minded short term thinking, aka dumb racing.

Race fans don’t race, they just want to see exciting stuff, so they don’t understand smart from dumb racing. But smart racers sure know the difference.

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