NASCAR Could Be Headed For Rougher Times
Loudon, N.H. – Kurt Busch drew a big laugh Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway when he referred to Jeff Gordon as “Bulldozer.’’
Busch went on to say there are a lot of people in the garage area who want to talk with Gordon after his uncharacteristic demolition derby style of racing during last week’s race on the road course at Sonoma.
But Gordon is hardly the only the poster boy for rough driving as the 2010 season nears its halfway point. It seems that NASCAR’s preseason “Have at it, boys’’ pronouncement is having its effect, desired or otherwise.
There is definitely more beating and banging going on out on the racetracks, but it doesn’t appear that it’s doing much besides raising tempers and adding to payback lists. Television ratings continue to sink and seats remain available at every track.
Gordon admitted Friday he made some mistakes and did some damage at Sonoma, particularly to Martin Truex Jr. The four-time Cup champion said he called Truex to apologize and left a voicemail message. But he doesn’t expect to hear back from Truex.
“I did my part, and that’s all I can do,’’ Gordon said.
Truex’s chances of making the 12-man Chase for the championship took a hit at Sonoma when he slipped all the way from 13th to 19th in the points after being taken out by Gordon and finishing 42nd. He was still simmering Friday.
“I accept his apology, yes, but things are going to change between me and him,’’ Truex said. “That’s just the bottom line.”
“The nice guy seems to always get pushed around and I’m tired of being the nice guy. I’m tired of getting pushed around. I’m not going to stand here and say that I’m going to go out and wreck Jeff because that’s not me and that’s not how I do things. I’m not going to take it anymore. I’m going to race him the way he races me. I’m going to race everyone else on the track the way they race me. If they don’t respect me, they’re not going to get anything back.
“I know Jeff understands that,’’ Truex continued. “He told me when he apologized that he understands I’m mad. He understands that he’s got one coming. I’m sure he’s been in this position before too.”
Gordon defending himself, insisted his Sonoma drive was an aberration.
“I race clean. I do,’’ Gordon said. “Has intensity gone up for me? Yes. That’s what the sport demands now. Under the new format, with double-file restarts and so forth, you’ve got to be more aggressive.’’
Mark Martin, who also took a beating from Gordon and several other drivers last week, looked bemused when asked about the new driving style.
“It happens all the time,’’ Martin said. “I agree it is getting worse, mostly because of the nature of our racing and the growth of the sport. … The racing today is about the thrill of watching it on TV, and the racing 20 years ago, or 25 years ago, was about the sport. It was about being part of something you loved and it was a lot smaller, less entertainment oriented.’’
But the veteran racer said people shouldn’t “over-dramatize’’ what’s is happening on track.
“It’s been this way all year long and it was this way last year as well,’’ the veteran racer said. “As we go forward, the kind of racing that we had at the end of Pocono and at Sonoma will not be every three weeks in the future. It will be every week, everywhere. .. That is what equal cars, double-file restarts and all that stuff, that is what it brings, which is fun to watch.’’
Jeff Burton, another driver who has been around the sport for a long time, hated seeing last week’s mean-spirited showing by the Cup drivers.
“I thought the behavior shown last week from driver to driver was completely unacceptable,’’ Burton said. “If our sport is going to become that, then we need to change it from racing to demolition cars because that wasn’t racing last week.
“Ultimately, it’s the drivers’ responsibility to have some respect for each other. The last 10 laps of that race didn’t look like we were the best drivers in this country; it looked like we were some of the worst drivers in this country.’’
Burton added that, even with all the pressure on drivers to be successful and give their sponsors full value for their millions of dollars invested in the sport, there is no excuse for turning races into demolition derbies.
“Everybody in this garage knows how to use the brake pedal and the throttle and use the steering wheels,’’ Burton said. “Yet people chose not to use them correctly because it was either in their best interest to run over the guy in front of them, or they were trying really hard to keep from getting run over from behind.
“There is nothing wrong with hard racing; I don’t want to get letters from fans saying, `Oh you don’t want to race hard.’ I don’t want to hear it. I race as hard as anybody wants to race. It takes skill to race and not wreck somebody. It takes zero skill to run over top of anybody. On a restart on a road course, it takes no ability to wreck somebody, and what we saw last week wasn’t about ability. It was about a lack of willingness to do the right thing.”
Truex said he hasn’t seen much mutual respect on the racetracks all year.
“Guys take advantage of you every chance they get,’’ he said. “We get put in a difficult position because the field is so close. Every spot means so much … and there’s so much pressure on us to get everything we can get. I think guys just cross the line too much. I don’t know what the answers are to fix that, I just know how I am going to do it and I’m going to do what everybody else does to me every week.”
It should be an interesting show Sunday on the tight 1.058-mile New Hampshire track.
– Mike Harris can be reached at email@example.com Comments