After Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Kyle Busch had a difference of opinion regarding their crash a couple of weeks ago in Daytona, it became apparent from both that the feud may not be over just yet. NBC analyst and former driver Kyle Petty stated that he felt NASCAR should step in to end the conflict between the two before it escalates. That brings us to our question this week: Should NASCAR get involved in ending driver disagreements?
What happened to “Have at it, boys”?
When NASCAR Competition Director Robin Pemberton first uttered the phrase prior to the 2010 season, it instantly became a four-word description of the concept of allowing race car drivers to settle their disagreements on the racetrack. Now it seems that there’s a prominent former driver who feels that leadership of the sport needs to take a few steps in the opposite direction.
You’ve got to be kidding me!
After all the accusations of drivers being vanilla, whitewashed, corporate mouthpieces, suddenly there are rumblings that NASCAR should intervene when they start roughing each other up.
All because a couple drivers have been booted out of the way for a win.
If one were to try to look for a full Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season in history that featured a race without the leader being spun, they wouldnʻt find one. It doesn’t happen. These races mean too much. There’s 40 (give or take a few) ultra-competitive racecar drivers sharing a patch of pavement with the only goal being to finish in front the others. Feathers are bound to get ruffled. Honestly, I’m a little surprised we don’t see more frontrunning cars rubbing their logos against the SAFER barrier in the closing laps of a race. Particularly in this playoff era touting the “win and you’re in” refrain.
You can’t have the sanctioning body getting involved with every tussle. They tried that already. We had a different driver being fined and put on probation nearly every week. It didn’t curb the behavior either. Drivers would go after each other even knowing what was coming in terms of punishment, which clearly shows their level of concern.
The biggest problem that exists is where should NASCAR draw the line? Are we only regulating contact between leaders or should one of the two cars that are six laps down battling for 32nd position be penalized when one fences the other? What about timing of the incident? Does it only matter after a certain point in the race or are we policing it from green flag to checkered?
See the problem with this?
I’m not buying the idea that ongoing or obviously intentional incidents should be punished. Ongoing incidents create the type of rivalries that NASCAR was built on. If Dale Earnhardt had only spun one or two drivers in his career, there would be no Intimidator nickname associated with him. It has to be ongoing.
Besides, who’s to say what is intentional? Only the person holding the steering wheel knows for sure if it was done on purpose. At that point, you open up the possibility of everyone’s favorite situation: a NASCAR judgment call. I don’t think there is a bigger source of controversy in NASCAR today than instances that involve the sanctioning body making a judgment call. From penalties to cautions, nothing gets fans fired up quite like NASCAR brass altering the trajectory of the race based on their (ever-wavering) view of a certain situation. It’ll be much better if we can leave that element out of driver conflicts entirely.
The sport needs guys who give each other dirty looks during the drivers meeting. It needs drivers who bump shoulders during driver introductions and then go bump sheet metal on the race track.
It certainly doesn’t need the fun police to step in, either. – Frank Velat
Error on the Side of Caution
Having feuds in NASCAR is more dangerous than any other sport – because the sport of NASCAR is much more dangerous than the other sports. Yet, in every other sport, the decision makers always intervene in a feud. Why is it any different in NASCAR?
When I think of some of the best brawls in other sports, they usually end with a suspension. As a Mets fan, I remember back in Spring Training in 2003 when Mike Piazza got into a fight during a Spring Training game with Guillermo Mota of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mota hit Piazza with a pitch after missing with the first one. Piazza charged the mound after Mota and it instigated a bench-clearing brawl. When all was said and done, Piazza got a five-game suspension and Mota received four games due to the incident. The two never got into an altercation again even if they never saw eye to eye.
Baseball and other sports shy away from fighting or feuds, whatever you want to call it. They don’t need it to help sell tickets. There’s never a question there’s always some sort of penalty. Players and/or coaches will get suspended. Think about what NASCAR looks like to the fans of other sports. The drivers and teams are fighting without any repercussion.
At some racetracks, drivers are traveling at 200 MPH or faster. An accident at that speed is dangerous. The last thing I want to see is a driver trying to pay someone back going into turn one at Michigan and slamming the outside wall. Could you imagine if someone wound up hurt from that? It would be a big black eye to NASCAR especially if it was because NASCAR didn’t intervene in a previous incident.
One of the most famous ‘feuds’ in recent years is the one Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano had in 2015. It started at Kansas Speedway when Logano spun out Kenseth for the victory in the closing stages. Kenseth was understandably frustrated about the situation. The following week at Talladega, things escalated when Kenseth felt that Logano brake checked him coming into the pits.
After both incidents, neither driver reached out to each other to discuss the situation. Logano felt the incident at Kansas wasn’t a big deal and Kenseth felt Logano should have apologized. There was a difference in opinion. The ordeal at Talladega wasn’t a big deal but when you add it with the previous week, it added fuel to the fire.
Through it all, NASCAR stayed silent. They never spoke to either driver or addressed the situation at all until it was too late. Had both drivers been sat down by NASCAR officials after Kansas or even Talladega, I believe that the ugly situation that everyone remembers at Martinsville Speedway would have been prevented. After the ordeal at Martinsville, Kenseth was suspended for two races.
What made that situation worse was it was in the playoffs. It not only took one driver’s championship hopes away, it took two. It would have made the run for the championship that season that much more exciting.
Another situation where something could have been done was the situation between Ron Hornaday Jr and Kyle Busch a few years back in the Truck Series. Busch and Hornaday had been on each other’s nerves all year long and could never get on the same page. That all came to a head when Busch slammed Hornaday into the wall under caution at Texas Motor Speedway in one of the most infamous moves in NASCAR history. Again, I believe it could have been prevented had NASCAR sat down and addressed the situation with both drivers’ way before the incident happened at Texas.
This season, we could see something potentially brewing between Kyle Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Busch’s comments at Kentucky Speedway about Stenhouse’s racing at Daytona the previous week really bothered Stenhouse. So much so that Stenhouse stated that he was going to race Busch differently than he had before. Maybe NASCAR should jump in and remind these drivers that this is a dangerous sport and to not take it out on the racetrack. Plus, I’d hate to see Stenhouse take Busch out and ruin his championship hopes over something that could have been easily resolved with a simple conversation with NASCAR.
In the end, NASCAR needs to intervene because not all drivers agree on certain situations. To prevent injury and embarrassment for the sport, NASCAR as a sanctioning body needs to do something before it gets to a boiling point. – Clayton Caldwell