The topic of what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of contact between race cars on the last lap or during green/white/checkered finishes has been a hot topic of debate over the last two weekends. The wild endings in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race as well as NASCAR Cup Series event at the Circuit of the Americas along with the battle coming to the checkered flag in the NASCAR Xfinity Series show at the Richmond Raceway have stirred a good deal of conversation.
And as is usually the case, it seems as if fans are deciding what is right and wrong based on who was involved.
Fans and media often say they want to see more intense racing as the finish draws near and typically react favorably when contact is made between the competitors. That is, of course, until that contact results in an outcome they don’t like. If a fan favorite or a media darling is the driver who does the punting, it is often label as “good, hard racing” but when it is the fan favorite or media darling who gets punted the offender is called out for “dirty, rough driving”.
Well, you can’t have it both ways.
The three-way fight at the end of the Truck Series race at COTA between Kyle Busch, Stewart Friesen and Alex Bowman was simply a case of three drivers who very much wanted to win a NASCAR-sanctioned race for themselves, their teams and their sponsors. While it might have been unfortunate for all of them that the contact between them following a green/white/checkered restart resulted in none of that trio winning the race, they were doing what they are supposed to do- going all out.
That said, Kyle Busch haters can’t say that was great simply because the driver who is the object of their scorn was denied a win if they aren’t willing to proclaim that such racing is equally as good if “Rowdy” comes out on top. The opposite would be true for those who might have been rooting for series regular Friesen as he raced against two Cup Series stars in that it can’t be said that the racing was dirty since the No. 52 was shuffled back but then claim it’s good the next time when the regular comes out on top against the Cup invaders.
The final lap of the Cup Series race at COTA has definitely been a topic of recent NASCAR-based conversation. Like in the Truck Series race, there were three drivers who were racing hard at the finish of a race just as they are paid to do and are expected to do. Ross Chastain, A.J. Allmendinger and Alex Bowman put on quite a show over the last few turns of the event with Chastain ultimately banging his way by both of his rivals to score his first Cup victory.
And again, opinions on the way things played out seem to be based on who was involved. Those who enjoyed the fact that the watermelon farmer turned racer got the win were fine with how things played out while those hoping for a Bowman or Allmendinger triumph cried foul. In the end, it was just hard racing whether the guy you were rooting for won or lost.
Even former drivers Clint Bowyer and Tony Stewart, who were commentating for Fox, were okay with the way things played out especially considering that there had been contact among the drivers leading up to the race-deciding moment.
“I don’t mind that,” Bowyer said as Chastain took the checkered flag. “He got moved and moved him back.” Stewart agreed saying, “Absolutely”.
And finally, the move that has been debated over this past weekend came on the last lap of the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at the Richmond Raceway when Joe Gibbs Racing full-time driver Ty Gibbs muscled his way by JGR part-timer John Hunter Nemechek to claim the win.
There are some who, for lack of a better term, resent the fact that Gibbs drives for the team his famous grandfather owns and will always claim that he has been given the opportunities he has because of who he is. Those observers aren’t going to take his side either way. So when he bullied his way by Nemechek they immediately decried the move as dirty.
Aren’t those kinds of moves what people really want? NASCAR’s television partners apparently want that kind of action. That is obvious from the use of footage from those late-race run-ins in the promos as well as the pre-race segments dedicated to those very things.
In the end, no matter who comes out on top this is the sort of racing fans pay to see.
Whether fans or people inside the industry want to admit it or not, racing is as much about entertainment as it is about sport. And each of these recent finishes was entertaining as long as, of course, safety was not compromised, and it was not in either case.
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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