Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, William Byron, Darrell ‘Bubba’ Wallace, and Ryan Blaney are just a few of the drivers who left Watkins Glen International on Sunday evening either mad at someone, with someone mad at them, or both. Tempers were running a bit on the hot side during and after the Go Bowling at the Glen Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race with on-track confrontations and post-race interviews and discussions serving as the primary means for demonstrating displeasure.
For some of the drivers who have angered others, there could be some very serious ramifications later on in the season. Kyle Busch will certainly make it to the NASCAR Playoffs when the so-called regular season ends following the race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in September. Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson and William Byron are not guaranteed playoff spots yet but are certainly in the mix to get in if they can finish well over these next four races. Bubba Wallace would have to earn a victory in the near future to be eligible for a run at the MENCS title.
The problem with making other drivers angry is that it can come back to haunt the championship contenders later and when it matters most. That is particularly true for those who anger a driver who does not make the playoff or who gets eliminated in one of the earlier rounds.
This is not necessarily to say that Bubba Wallace will just flat-out wreck Kyle Busch at Las Vegas or that Jimmie Johnson will openly exact his revenge on Ryan Blaney at Richmond. It doesn’t have to be that obvious to achieve the goal of paying another driver back for a perceived wrong.
Instead, the offended driver can simply force his rival up the track and out of the groove on a late race restart at Dover that could cause a loss of several positions. Or the offended driver could choose to draft with anyone else other than the one with whom he bears a grudge at Talladega. Or the offended driver could roll down pit road on the inside of the guy he owes and force him to lose time getting into his pit stall at Texas, and thus, lose time and positions on the track.
Revenge doesn’t have to be blatantly obvious. It can be subtle and almost unseen, yet still very effective.
And as we have seen in previous years, a position lost here or there can make the difference in moving to the next round or elimination.
Still, competitors have to race whether they are contenders for a title or not. Their teams, sponsors, and fans expect nothing less. Simply going on track and tip-toeing around in hopes of not making anyone mad will serve no one well. It is probably best, however, to not seek out further confrontation for the sake of one event when a much bigger picture looms ahead.
There is no way any driver can get through a 36-race schedule and not make someone else mad or have someone else get angry with him. But the interesting part for those of us who watch is seeing what the consequences those hurt feelings might bring at a later date and with a championship hanging in the balance.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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