Pedley: Martinsville Sends Over-Heated Drivers To Talladega
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
The boys, it appears, are getting a bit testy.
Perhaps not a good thing heading to a race track where cars run at over 200 mph just inches apart and in cars that spend more time out of control than in – unless your a fan. But there they will be at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, fresh off one of the most contentious races in years.
How contentious was Sunday’s Tums Fast Relief 500 Sprint Cup race at Martinville Speedway? Check it out:
– Jeff Burton not only got angry, he got angry at his own Richard Childress Racing teammate, Kevin Harvick.
Burton, normally cool as an iPhone app, was up front clawing toward his first Sprint Cup victory since Charlotte in 2008 when Harvick started treating him like a party guest who wouldn’t leave. They sent angry messages back and forth over their radios through their crew chiefs.
Both obviously thought the other, out of respect, should get the hell out of the way: Burton was looking for his first victory in two years and Harvick was looking to move closer to his first Cup championship.
In post-race interviews, neither appeared ready to concede that giving into the other was in the best interest of the team.
Harvick was asked a convoluted, 30-some word question about he and Burton on the track and he responded with a curt, somber four-word answer: “We were just racing.”
Burton, who led a race-high 134 laps, was asked a couple of much shorter, more direct questions and issued much longer answers – answers which did not differ in tone from Harvick’s (both were pissed).
“I don’t know,” Burton said when asked if what went on was just typical Martinsville racing or something more. “I have yet to understand what he was upset about. I have no clue what he could be possibly upset about. I cleared him and turned to the bottom just like he cleared me when he passed me on the restart turning to the bottom. It’s Martinsville and that is what you do. I am sure its heat of the moment, I am sure he is racing for the championship and he is up on the edge and I am sure it’s all that because I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Told that Harvick thought he was chopping down on him, Burton said, “There will come a point when he realizes that everybody in the world is not against him. And every time it’s a conflict he is involved. And you would think over the amount of years that he has done it, that he would get the hint that he is always in the middle of it and maybe sometimes if he just backed up a little bit and caught his breath, he would be OK. I’m not out to harm him. I am a teammate of his and I am trying to help him and there comes a point where he needs to just catch his breath and realize that it’s my racetrack too. And I didn’t do anything wrong. If he thinks I did anything wrong, then we can’t race and there is nothing that I did that I regret and there is nothing I won’t do next week.”
– The Jeff Gordon vs. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson feud flared anew.
Kind of a similar circumstance to what was happening with the RCR drivers. Gordon is looking to end a long losing streak – he has not won since Texas in the spring of 2009. And Johnson is looking to win the championship – his fifth in a row.
Both, clearly, think the other owes them some grace and some space.
They rubbed cars at Martinsville and then got huffy on the radio. Neither cared to comment about the situation after the race.
– Gordon and Johnson did care to comment about run-ins they had with other drivers. Other Chase drivers.
Johnson traded discourtesies with Kyle Busch during the race. Busch, in the Chase but out of contention, got stuck behind Johnson on the track.
Busch, Johnson said, “Worked me over from time to time. Never really got inside of me. Then the contact started. That’s fine. I get it. Especially in the center of the corner off the turn, that’s not a problem. Then I got hit a couple times going into the turn. That’s when I thought it was uncool. Showed him the one finger salute a few times. It was more me letting him know I was pissed. He mellowed out.”
Gordon did not mellow out. His hopes for victory and sneaking back into the Chase were mashed against the wall at Martinsville after Kurt Busch sent him there.
“Kurt Busch doesn’t have a very long fuse so either it was pay-back or he just got angry really quick and decided to wreck us,” Gordon said. “We just did what we could do to come home with the best finish we could.”
Busch said Gordon had it coming.
“Look, there was good racing all day amongst a lot of guys. There was respect given for guys when they were getting back to the inside. (Gordon) was on the outside lane on restarts and so yeah, he shoved me in there and I shoved him back in Turn 4. I didn’t mean to get into him that hard, but over the years with (Jeff) Gordon here, back in the 97 (car), wrecking the 2 car, whether you’re a current Kurt fan or ex-Rusty (Wallace) fan, he’s wrecked the 2 car a lot here.
“His chicken move afterward wasn’t called for, but that shows the game we’re gonna play. One bump versus another bump, it still seems like the scorecard isn’t even.”
Chicken move? Consider the source, Gordon said of that accusation.
This Chase this year is as close in terms of points as a NASCAR playoff has ever been. Three teams within 62 points with four races left to go. Six points separate Johnson and second-place Denny Hamlin.
Hard economic times have led to sponsorship uncertainties and that has led to a mood of desperate self-preservation in the garages.
Older drivers seem frustrated with an increased level of competition that has made victories all that much harder to get. Young drivers know they have to win now or they may not have a chance to win ever.
It should all be great news for NASCAR and fans, but, well, attendance and TV numbers say they don’t care.
Perhaps that will change next Sunday because. It certainly should – unless those critics who charge that NASCAR really has never had good fans, just those who like sampling new flavors every month, are right – because as Gordon said late Sunday after a day of trench warfare at Martinsville, “It’s going to make Talladega very interesting.”
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment