Ingram: Paybacks Hell, Dangerous At Any Speed
By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer
From the Monday Morning Crew Chief™:
Motor racing always rides the ragged edge between thrill show and sport. Witness the fender-banging between Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman in Richmond.
Will the events that went down in Richmond on Saturday night come around again at Darlington this weekend?
There was a time when Richmond followed Darlington in the fall instead of preceding it in the spring. Former competition director Dick Beaty used to counsel drivers in the pre-racing meetings at Darlington, where tempers often ran hotter than any other track, to “save your paybacks for the short tracks.” At the Southern 500 in September, that meant the following weekend at Richmond.
Since what might be called the beginning of the Beaty era, NASCAR’s top series has gone through three new generations. The first big change was led by Dale Earnhardt Sr., who subscribed to the idea that rubbin’ is racing on the bigger speedways, too, not just the short tracks. Next came the NASCAR-mandated era of rubbin’ is not racing on the speedways nor on the short tracks after Earnhardt’s death at Daytona. Since the 2010 season began, this has given way to the COT era and the current “Have at it, boys.”
On a Saturday night of fighting with fenders, JPM and Newman had at it. As usual, the intentions were clear of the driver who retaliated, in this case Montoya, versus the less-than-clear intent in the first incident when Newman either got reckless, careless or vengeful when tagging the Target Chevy of Chip Ganassi Racing. It’s always a little hard to say what might have preceded the first coming together – and whether there was a disagreement in preceding races.
NASCAR, I expect, will intervene in terms of preventing an all-out feud at Darlington, where tempers
still often run hot, and continuation of the bad blood between the two drivers. An ongoing wreckfest between the two would be perilously close to a carnival spectacle, not to mention more dangerous due to higher speeds. As it was, the issue of safety reared its head at the 0.75-mile Richmond oval, (a true short track of less than 1.0 miles in length).
Just as he did by accident at Las Vegas, Jeff Gordon again found a spot without a SAFER Barrier when he spun during a multi-car incident in the late stages. It was a reminder that even paybacks on short tracks can be dangerous.
Along these lines, I recall a race at Darlington back in the days of Beaty. Early in the Southern 500, the STP-backed Pontiac of Richard Petty got clipped in the original Turn 4, where the sight lines from the press box were quite clear at a time when replays weren’t always available. It seems another blue car came through the corner behind Petty and clipped his left rear corner just enough to put “The King” into the wall early and out of one of the sport’s biggest races.
The inevitable question: what happened? “Any time you get close to Earnhardt, you have to watch out,” said Petty, “and I didn’t watch out.”
The following week at the Richmond Fairgrounds’ original half-mile, Petty was trying to keep the Chevy of Tim Richmond a lap down in a season when the Hendrick Motorsports driver seemed to be winning everything in sight. A caution flew, signaling a race back to the flagstand.
As leader Petty came through Turns 3 and 4 with Richmond barrelling along on the inside, Earnhardt was on the outside, vying for the lead. Midway in the corner, Petty deliberately hit Earnhardt, banking off the Wrangler Jeans Chevy in hopes of beating it and the Folger’s Chevy of Richmond back to the flagstand.
Petty failed to keep Richmond, who beat him back to the start/finish, a lap down. In fact, the Hendrick Motorsports driver went on to win the race once he got back on the lead lap.
Nor did Petty wreck the Chevy of Earnhardt, who was in a points championship race with Richmond at the time and finished second. But ‘The King,’ who finished fourth, certainly got his revenge and made his point.
Sorry Earnhardt, ol’ buddy. Coming through. Remember Darlington!
The two drivers currently in question have a history that goes back to Montoya’s first Cup race at
Homestead. They probably never have agreed on how to go racing and likely never will. It’s like a bad marriage, except they’re stuck on the same series instead of in the same house. Maybe it’s over, at least temporarily, between them. If nothing else, the sponsors are likely to weigh in against bounty hunting in the name of revenge – as will the team owners, one hopes, and NASCAR.
At a time when every victory or point, literally, means making or missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup, it’s difficult to expect drivers not to retaliate. Also, it’s nigh impossible for NASCAR officials to judge intent when it comes to the first incident. If they start penalizing drivers after every contact, that could be worse than a carny thrill show and turn stock car racing into a minor, minor league sport.
Do paybacks make sense to people outside the sport? No. But is there a better way to get the message across when it comes to driver conduct? No. Is there still an issue of safety for both drivers and fans when it comes to deliberately crashing other drivers during paybacks? Yes. Is it always necessary to crash an opponent as a payback? No.
What to do? Remember the words of Dick Beaty and the actions of Richard Petty.
Quote of the Week: “I’m not trying to teach anybody anything. I really am not. I think it’s pretty well known we need SAFER Barriers everywhere. You think it’s a short track and everything. But man, I hit a ton and hit right on the corner where you don’t want to hit. It definitely got my attention. That’s for sure. It rang my bell.” — Jeff Gordon after his accident at the Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night.
See ya! …At the races.
– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments