When contact racing goes too far
Normally, in the days following a NASCAR race weekend, the primary focus falls on the Sprint Cup Series, and normally, one would think that would be magnified in the days following a race weekend that included a historic race like the Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, especially now that the race is a “throwback” of days gone by. This time around, though, one of, if not the, most popular topic of conversation has been the finish of the Chevrolet Silverado 350 Camping World Truck Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. On the bright side, I guess, the Truck Series is in the spotlight.
Anyway, the photo finish in Sunday’s Truck Series race was controversial, to say the least. And John Hunter Nemechek’s move to claim the win in that race, his second win of the season over Cole Custer, a driver looking to claim his first win of the season in an effort to claim a spot in the series’ first chase.
Fans are falling on both sides of the issue. Some fans think Nemechek exhibited “dirty driving” and took the whole idea of “rubbing’s racing” too far. Others say that on the last lap, anything goes.
I fall into that “went too far” camp. I’m not at all against contact on the race track. Heck, I’m not even against a “bump and run” done properly on the final lap. But what began as a bump and run turned into Nemechek running Custer off the track and into a barrier. Shouldn’t there be a line not to cross somewhere before that point is reached? I think so.
Some in support of Nemechek defend him by pointing out that Custer still finished second, so minimal damage was done. Really!?! What if Custer misses out on getting into the chase on points, while that Canada win would’ve gotten him in and in contention for a championship. Looking at this from that perspective, the damage looks more than minimal, doesn’t it?
Then, there’s the argument that folks who are critical of the move have never driven a race car, and therefore, shouldn’t open their mouths. For one, I’m guessing that a lot of the supporters have never driven a race car, either, so shouldn’t the same apply to them? Just saying.
Secondly, a lot of drivers have chimed in, and some pretty accomplished one, at that. If only folks who have strapped into race cars should be listened to, here is what some racers had to say, and I’m sure you’ve heard of at least some of these guys:
“damn kids” — Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) [disclosure: Earnhardt owns Custer's truck]
“Winning should be honorable” — Jeff Burton (@JeffBurton)
“Hmmm, that was pretty dirty!” — Clint Bowyer (@ClintBowyer)
“Hey @JHNemechek that was not big picture racing there. Hope the 00 makes your life trouble in the chase….” — Kyle Larson (@KyleLarsonRacing)
“That was dirty racing at its best” — Elliott Sadler (@Elliott_Sadler)
“Not that hard to pass someone clean in that corner bud.” — Ryan Blaney (@Blaney)
It’s pretty telling that one would be hard-pressed to find a professional racer openly in support of Nemechek’s move. Don’t you think?
Here’s the closest thing to a tweet from a reputable racer in defense of Nemechek:
“Why is everyone upset about @JHNemechek win? Racing is entertainment. I was entertained. I loved the drama. This is what it’s about.” — Brennan Poole (@BrennanPoole)
Not sure I’d consider that a tweet in defense of Nemechek, though. It pretty much just points out that his move was entertaining. Frankly, I don’t think that’s the issue here. I’m not saying the move wasn’t entertaining, but entertainment value doesn’t always equate to what’s right.
For what it’s worth, here’s Justin Marks’ rebuttal of Poole’s tweet:
“@BrennanPoole When you’re leading the next race and I’m 2nd, I’m going to ‘entertain’ everyone”
I think Marks is on to something. I’m guessing Poole would think of this type of thing as more than entertainment if he’s ever in Custer’s shoes.
Meanwhile, Nemechek is referring to the whole thing as a “racing incident.” Isn’t anything that happens on the track during a race a “racing incident?” I think we already know it was an incident that happened during a race. That’s obvious; that’s not being debated, here. And on Sunday, the only defense Nemechek could come up with was that Custer would’ve done the same thing had the roles been reversed. I get the whole racing others the way they race you mentality, but has Custer ever raced him that way before?
And as for those folks comparing what happened in Sunday’s Truck Series race to the Ricky Craven/Kurt Busch Southern 500 finish from a few years ago — sure those two guys bounced off each other a few times coming to the checkered flag, but I sure don’t remember either of those drivers running the other up into the wall.