Before the beginning of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season officials told the drivers to; ?Have at it, boys!? meaning they were no longer going to micro manage driver behavior, either on the track or off. The plan was to let the boys be boys and police their on track actions themselves and maybe provide a little more excitement for the fans. Up to now things have gone pretty smoothly. Last week, on the road course at Infineon Raceway, that all changed.
Jeff Burton referred to the race as more like a ?. . .demolition derby.? More than a couple drivers were angry after the race, most of them directing that anger toward Jeff Gordon. Most notable of those was Martin Truex who vowed to get Gordon back at some point in the future.
? There?s been times when Jeff?s caught me and never even gave me the chance to get out of the way.? Truex said, ?He just started running into me, and he?s the first guy to hang his middle finger out the window when he goes by you. Things are going to change, that?s all I?m saying.? Elliott Sadler, Greg Biffle, and Kurt Busch were also victims of Gordon?s bull-in-a-china-shop style of driving, leading Busch to remark.; ?There are a lot of guys in front of me that want to go talk to Jeff ?Bulldozer? Gordon.?
So when the circuit moved to the flat one mile oval at Loudon New Hampshire the following weekend, most people gave Jeff Gordon?s chances of surviving the race about the same as a stray cat turned loose at a dog show.
But instead of ?Gang Up On Gordon?, the race turned into ?Bang On Me, Bang On You?. Reed Sorensen, in his first week of sitting in for Brian Vickers in the Red Bull Toyota, had a wheel banging episode with Juan Pablo Montoya. A couple of laps later he intentionally turned hard right into Montoya?s quarter panel sending the Target Toyota crashing into the outside wall ending Montoya?s day and making a clear statement that he wasn?t going to be pushed around.
Late in the Loudon race Kurt Busch caught up to the leading Jimmie Johnson and gently nudged him out of the way. Johnson?s car slid high and Busch took the lead.
?I was livid,? Johnson said. ?I was so pissed off. At that point, I thought, ?I don?t care if I win this damn race. I?m going to run back into him.? My thought was to wreck him. I had great visions of a huge, spectacular crash. One way or the other, I was going to get to him.?
Fortunately, by the time Johnson caught back up to Busch, cooler thoughts prevailed and he merely repaid Busch with the same type of nudge Busch used on him. Busch then was the one who slid high and Johnson was gone.
This was much better than the wreck ?em type of racing we have been seeing all too much this year. Gently moving another guy out of the way to win the race, as opposed to knocking him out of the way and into the fence, has been used since the beginning of stock car racing. Even Kurt Busch, in post race interviews, admitted the fact that Johnson played fair and did what anybody else would?ve done in that situation.
But the retaliation for past transgressions is far from over. Drivers have long memories and are willing to wait for just the right opportunity. Plus, there are many ways for one driver to pay back another besides wrecking him. Just making yourself difficult to pass and holding the faster car up for a number of laps is one.
As the season wears on and the Chase for the Championship gets closer, drivers are going to become more aggressive. They will take more chances and do more to make things happen than they would earlier in the year. You can count on the fact that the boys are going to continue to ?have at it? every chance they get.
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