Saturday, April 07, 2007

How to win a NASCAR race

Greg Biffle is confused. He’s not by himself.

“I don’t know what etiquette is,” Biffle said this week when asked about the finish of the past two Nextel Cup races.

At Bristol, Jeff Burton got the nose of his car to the inside of Kyle Busch’s bumper off Turn 4 on the last lap. Burton, however, chose not to turn right to take Busch out and take the win away.

Then, at Martinsville a week ago today, Jeff Gordon rapped on teammate Jimmie Johnson’s rear bumper around a dozen times in the final five laps. But Johnson managed to keep from wrecking and held off his Hendrick Motorsports teammate to win.

Instead of offering applause for the relatively clean racing that still resulted in breathlessly dramatic finishes, however, some people have reacted with derision and accusations that Burton and Gordon displayed nothing more than a lack of willingness to do what it took to get the job done.

Such bloodlust, frankly, is not all that surprising from some NASCAR fans. Until six cars crash across the finish line upside down and on fire one day, there’s a group out there who’ll never quite be satisfied.

What’s troubling, though, is that in the past two weeks I’ve heard criticism of Burton and Gordon from people who, quite frankly, I thought knew better.

One person with a very prominent job in the sport called after the Martinsville race and suggested that I needed to write a column reminding drivers that each victory in the season’s first 26 races is now worth an extra 10 points they’ll carry forward with them into the Chase for the Nextel Cup.

The implication, of course, is that the cost of wrecking Busch and Johnson and potentially doing them actual harm needs to be weighed against the potential value of 10 extra points when a championship is on the line.

Has the sport sunk that low?

“If you can just get to his rear bumper do you just boot him and take the win?” Biffle asked. “I don’t know what we’re supposed to do. I’ll do whatever. If you can…catch him and just wreck him and go, that’s what I’ll do. But there are going to be a lot of people outraged about that, I think.”

Last year at Talladega, Brian Vickers was vilified for winning after he wrecked the two cars leading him on the final lap. Was that because it was at Talladega, a track where the cars go faster than they do at Bristol or Martinsville and therefore perceive it to be more dangerous there? Or was it because one of the cars that got wrecked was being driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr.?

There has to be a standard, one that applies no matter what track you’re at or who you’re wrecking. That standard ought to be that if you have to wreck the guy to beat him, you don’t deserve to win.

“It doesn’t take any ability to crash the guy in front of you,” Biffle said. “That takes no skill whatsoever.”

It takes no class, either.


Bruce E Simmons said...

Some of the fans seem to be there for the anticipation of a wreck. Wrecks make the most media. But then again, driver altercations also bring about incredible media coverage. Is this the same mentality that keeps the WWF, WWE or whatever it is called on the airwaves these days?

Popular,.. I'm sorry, the more successful drivers seem to attract derision from the fans and I understand some of it, but I don't get the public displays we see at the track during driver intro's or the shameful demonstrations like at Talladega when Gordon won to the rain of crowd paraphernalia.

I think it takes a strong character set to not be drawn into the easy way to win by dumping the car in front of them, and yet, Gordon collapsed his front end on the back of Johnson's car at Martinsville trying to win the race, and he got out of his car saying these cars are harder to move out of the way.

Additionally, the change called the COT coming about is taking us off our comfort zone and some aren't sure what to think about it.

The change of the sport itself as it tries to grow itself, and the casualties being left behind hurt the long time fans too.

The human nature to complain can be fed, regardless of the scenario, because people now have a medium to express themselves these days called the internet. I don't think it's a new mindset, we just have an opportunity to experience all our different perspectives these days. That's the beauty of it.

Anonymous said...

Etiquette is the key word.

Some of us ole timers grew up on the local short tracks and became NASCAR fans as s result.

Etiquette in both meant if an overtaking car got his right front even with the rear edge of the drivers door the leading driver would give up that spot. That was the common "etiquette."

The common thinking now is any portion of the overtaking car inside the lead car is enough. That's created problems for both fans and drivers.

Anonymous said...

Marc's comment, I believe, is spot on. He describes racing etiquette as I perceived it to be in my short-track racing days. One important point is the risk factor for the driver who's attempting to overtake.

The bump-and-run is a cowardly tactic because there's absolutely no risk for the bumper. Trying to work your way alongside, on the other hand, puts your own right-side tires at risk and puts you in jeopardy of being part of the incident if the car being overtaken loses control. That's aggressive, not dirty.

It's too bad Greg Biffle is confused by the fan reaction to Jeff Burton, who did not try to wreck his opponent and finished second, and Jeff Gordon, who tried and failed. It's simple, Greg -- if you think (as Gordon does) that anything goes, then wreck away -- or try to. If you feel you should race with more respect for your competitors (as Burton clearly does), then don't let fans' expression of a moronic opinion influence you.

The COT seems to have rendered the bump-and-run irrelevant, and if that's the only change it brings to Nextel Cup racing, that's good enough for me.

Anonymous said...

When it's all said and done, no one will remember who came in second.

People will remember someone who pulls the bump and run to win...and they'll remember HOW they won. Whether they respect that way to win will be based on whether you subscribe to the Burton school of racing or the Gordon school.

I think anyone who believes Gordon raced Johnson the same way he'd have raced Kenseth given the same situation, is being disingenuous. Gordon basically couldn't move Johnson without wrecking him. I don't think he'd have had any qualms wrecking anyone else in the same situation, including Kyle B.

Anonymous said...

there are always a segment of people that you can't please.. couple this with the change in attitude amongst fans which has definitely become the glass is half_empty instead of half full..means not matter what happens someone is unhappy..I have friends who constantly gripe about this happened and that happened and why didn't Nascar do answer why watch if all your going to do is gripe everey Monday morning

Anonymous said...

I find myself wondering if the people who are vilifying Jeff gordon for not wrecking Jimmy johnson for the win are the very same people who crucified Juan pablo Montoya for the wreck at Mexico City?

Anonymous said...

Call me old-fashioned, call me antiquated, call me whatever, but I long for the days when driver's cared about winning enough to race for the win, even if it meant bumping a slower car out of the way...the days when driver's cared enough to fight...the days when driver's voiced their own opinions...the days when a race leader knew he'd better be the faster car if he wanted to block an oncoming competitor on a short-track...when drivers cared enough about winning to wreck themseves trying...
Bloodlust? Hardly. Just an appreciation for NASCAR's forgotton past.

Anonymous said...

Although there was indeed many fans who wanted to see both busch and johnson booted a large number of fans reacting to gordon after the race. Although he tried to be politically correct he was visibally upset that johnson didnt move over for him giving him the win.

Monkeesfan said...

Brusimm is right that some of these fans are there in anticipation of a wreck. Overall, though, I think the consensus view of those critical of Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon is the feeling that they were too satisfied with finishing second - that the killer instinct was not there.

To some extent that's true; it's been especially true of Burton, who has given away at least one other race (the 1997 Southern 500) by not forcing the issue when he had the chance.

Some note how they watched short track racing; even there, though, there is some standard of etiquette. The whole "rubbing is racing" nonsense ignores this.

In the case of Gordon at Martinsville, I noticed Johnson was giving him the bottom lane every lap; it looked like Gordon was too tight to get a run.

But David, you are correct about the absurdity of hammering someone into a spin or a wall (or both) to win a race. It's one thing to have killer instinct, but it's another to just wreck someone. The only time you should ever hit another car is to speed both of you up, to physically push a car forward.

"There has to be a standard...if you have to wreck the guy to beat him, you don't deserve to win." Not only that, the standard needs to be that you don't honor those who have to wreck the guy to beat him, you hold him in contempt as a bully - and you hold this contempt regardless of whether he won 76 races and seven championships or 75 races and four championships.

Anonymous said...

If you don't care enough about winning to risk wrecking another competitor or yourself, perhaps you should find another line of work. Choosing to run second, to be known as a clean racer, to avoid the possibility of wrecking runs contrary to prize racing at any level. Come on Jeff Burton and David Poole, racing sometimes causes wrecks and the last lap of a short track race is time to go or get out of the way. Nobody says that you wreck a guy on purpose, but drivers can do better than than riding lamely to second place without trying to move the leader...The last two weeks have left me with less respect for Burton, more for Gordon...places I never thought I'd go.

Anonymous said...

Wrecking someone to win a race is not winning. Jeff Burton racing to the line alongside Kyle Busch was a fantastic finish. The sport is called racing. If you need to wreck the other competitor, then it's a demolition derby. I admit, the wrecks are exciting to watch, but watching a driver get out of his car unhurt is a bigger thrill than the wreck. I used to tell my kids when they were younf that if I let them win, then they didn't really win. Kudos to Jeff Burton. His style of racing explains his recieving the SPortsmanship Award at Texas Motor Speedway.

Anonymous said...

SmokeFan...I assume you are a Tony Stewart that because of his "Sportsmanship"? Is there a bit of a double standard? Kudos to Jeff Burton? Any time a competitor says he's happy to see you in his rear-view mirror, it means he doesn't see you as a threat...thats worthy of a sportsmanship award, but is not indicative of a championship "racer" like Tony Stewart.

Anonymous said...

#3 wrecked 'em when he caught 'em.
that was his MO.

Anonymous said...

A somewhat related question I had after Martinsville:

After the race, Gordon complained about Johnson's blocking him in the final laps. Is there really some expectation that the lead driver won't block as the race winds down?

If it had been in the first half or even three quarters of the race, I would understand his point. There's no sense in risking wrecking both cars while there's still a lot of racing to do, and while there's a reasonable chance of getting a position back if someone quicker goes by. But in the final laps, is the leader supposed to give up a win just because the guy in second had a faster car and was on his tail?

I'm not asking this to knock Gordon - I would've liked to have seen him win that one. I simply don't know.

J Fitty said...

The driver posters in the Observer are terrible!