One thing drivers have to ask themselves going into the NASCAR All-Star Race on Wednesday night at the Bristol Motor Speedway is which they would rather have- the big money paid out for winning the All-Star Race or the risk of making an enemy that might cost a points-paying race win or even a championship at a later date. Sure, $1 million is a great prize but as a driver, what is the real goal for you and your team?
If a team’s real goal is to simply win races and make money while letting the chips fall where they may then the answer to the question above is an easy one. No matter who might get upset over your late race tactics, go for it and worry about the aftermath later. $1 million is $1 million and this might be the only shot you have at making that kind of money on a single night.
But on the other hand, if we were to poll most team owners, and probably most drivers and crew chiefs, they would likely say that the real goal for their team is to win the NASCAR Cup Series championship at the end of the campaign. And if that is indeed the case, running over someone in order to be the first to the checkered flag and a $1 million payout could have far reaching implications that could prevent the achievement of that ultimate goal.
Keep in mind that this year’s version of the All-Star Race has changed venues. The traditional home for this event has been the Charlotte Motor Speedway. However, the craziness of coronavirus restrictions and scheduling around those for NASCAR has landed this race in the upper northeastern corner of Tennessee in 2020. And while it was certainly possible for drivers to run afoul of each other on the 1.5-mile CMS quad-oval, the chances are far greater that tempers will flare on the high-banked half-mile in Bristol.
Refer back only a few weeks when Joey Logano and Chase Elliott were racing for the win at BMS in the closing laps of the Food City Presents the Supermarket Heroes 500 for an example of discord between two drivers in ‘The Last Great Colosseum’. Elliott’s car slid up the banking and made contact with that of Logano sending both up against the outside wall and breaking their momentum. That mishap opened the door for Brad Keselowski to nab the win and left Logano and Elliott involved in a post-race discussion about who was to blame for their loss.
Being involved in such an incident on Wednesday night in Bristol might not only cost a driver and team $1 million but it could also create an enemy who could do them harm later, perhaps even with a championship on the line.
Look no further than a few weeks past the Bristol dust-up between Logano and Elliott for proof that $1 million gained on one night might result in a race or even a championship lost later on another. With Elliott leading in the late stages of the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he began to close on the already lapped car of Logano. At the same time, Denny Hamlin was gaining on the race leader. Logano just happened to drive his car in the line where Elliott’s No. 9 car had been running. That forced Elliott to steer his ride to a place on the track where it felt less comfortable. That, in turn, allowed Hamlin to not only catch Elliott but to pass him. Logano then allowed Hamlin to pass by much more easily.
A potential win for Elliott went away that quickly.
A driver who finds himself in the same situation as Elliott late in one of the playoff races or even the championship-deciding event might receive similar treatment from someone who he offended on his way to an All-Star victory.
Racers are racers and they will likely only be thinking about winning the All-Star Race on Wednesday if they go into that final segment with a chance to come out on top. However, running another driver off the track in order to do so could have implications further down the line. And those implications could be very costly in terms of keeping a driver and team from reaching the ultimate goal of a championship.
So, is All-Star money worth making a season-long enemy?
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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