It’s funny to me how fans, media, and competitors are acting like the late race contact we have seen this year as drivers race for wins is something new. I know I’m showing my age here but I was there when Dale Earnhardt wrecked Terry Labonte on the last lap at Bristol Motor Speedway … twice. I was there when Jeff Gordon executed the bump-and-run on Rusty Wallace to claim a win also at Bristol… and also twice.
Drivers have moved other drivers out of the way for wins, or even just for position, since NASCAR began. It’s just part of the sport.
When Joey Logano got into the back of William Byron with just over a lap remaining in Sunday’s Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway and then drove around and on to the checkered flag he was just carrying on a NASCAR tradition. This is not buttoned-up Formula 1 or IndyCar, it’s NASCAR. It’s supposed to be gritty, blue-collar racing.
You can argue the right and wrong all you want but the bottom line is that Logano won at Darlington by doing what NASCAR drivers have always done, and for that matter have been encouraged to do. To quote a frequently used line in the Disney show ‘Mandalorian’, “This is the way”. And not only is it “the way” but it is celebrated and even praised.
As this video shows, there are plenty more examples than those I mentioned above:
It is virtually impossible to go to a motorsports event at Bristol and not see a highlight of Earnhardt spinning Labonte on Colossus(giant video screen). Television promo ads run by Fox and NBC frequently use old bump-and-run highlights to sell an upcoming race. Showing a 30-second clip of two cars racing each other cleanly for position isn’t going to lure many viewers but a clip showing a bump-and-run followed by a post-race confrontation between the drivers involved is promotional gold.
While these late-race incidents are not new, there is perhaps more reason for them now than there ever has been. Put yourself in a driver’s position. They know that the measure of success for a season is now determined by whether or not they make the NASCAR Playoffs. A win all but guarantees that. Wins are not easy to come by as a look at a list of prominent drivers who have yet to find victory lane in 2022 demonstrates.
When winning a race is the ultimate measure of success, drivers are highly likely to use whatever measures necessary to take that checkered flag. The consequences are worth the actions. So what if boos rain down from the grandstands or a confrontation with another driver ensues as long as a trophy and a Playoff spot is the reward?
Not only do the sport’s TV partners promote with and profit from racing incidents, especially those at the end of races, but NASCAR does as well. The sanctioning body uses photos and videos of such mishaps on its websites and in its own promos. And when there are post-race confrontations, as in the case of Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott last year at Bristol, we don’t typically see officials racing to the scene to keep things from escalating.
Joey Logano did get into the back of William Byron pretty hard at the end of the Darlington race but Logano felt as though it was fair game because Byron had crowded him into the outside wall earlier. Byron was upset, but he had forced Stephen Nasse out of the racing groove and drove around to take the lead late in a Super Late Model race just one night earlier at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.
Ross Chastain, A.J. Allmendinger and Alex Bowman engaged in a bumper cars match on the final lap at the Circuit of the Americas. Feelings may have been hurt but attention for the sport was amped up and a new Playoff contender emerged.
Chase Briscoe went ‘full send’ on Tyler Reddick on the last lap of the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol ultimately costing both drivers a chance at the win. NASCAR was not unhappy about that. Truth be known, they probably hoped that instead of shaking hands after the race the two young drivers had wrestled around in the dirt … on camera, of course.
But the reality is, it’s not just the NASCAR Playoffs system that is bringing about these incidents. As was pointed out earlier in the piece, this stuff has been going on for decades. Some of the sport’s biggest legends earned fame by doing exactly that. This is the kind of thing that will just naturally happen when competitors are being competitive.
These are the kinds of things that cause people to love racing in full bodied stock cars. And no, it’s not new.
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