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Do NASCAR Drivers Have a Respect Problem?
According to Kyle Busch, hell yes, they do.
As a corrosive wave of driver hostility simmers in NASCAR, two-time Cup Series champion Kyle Busch now knows all too well the harsh truth behind Rodney Dangerfield’s iconic catchphrase, “I get no respect.”
“We have completely lost any sense of respect in the garage between the drivers at all,” Busch stated at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday, according to NBC Sports. “That’s where the problem lies. Nobody gives two [expletive] about anybody else. It’s just a problem where everybody takes advantage of everybody as much as they can. We’re all selfish, granted. But there was an etiquette that once did live here… That’s gone.”
Driver respect has been a salient issue of late as Denny Hamlin recently stated on his Actions Detrimental podcast that he intentionally took out Ross Chastain when he fenced him at Phoenix Speedway last weekend. The two racers have a long history of trading paint that has often ended with Hamlin enduring the worst.
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“It wasn’t a mistake,” Hamlin revealed in the podcast episode. “I let the wheel go, and I said, ‘He’s coming with me.’ I saw that we were the only people up top, so I said I’m gonna send him in the fence and door him.”
The blunt honesty about his payback on the Melon Man to a public audience left NASCAR with no other recourse but to slap him with a stiff penalty that includes a $50,000 fine and 25 crucial driver points. Had he not vocalized his revenge, Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Hamlin’s incident with Chastain on the last lap of Phoenix would’ve been deemed a “racing incident.”
When Busch was asked if he could delineate between hard racing and taking someone out, he referenced Chastain and Hamlin’s feud that spilled over at Gateway last year in June.
“No, [I don’t] because last year at Gateway was a pretty good representation of cat and mouse, and nothing was done,” Busch noted, according to NBC Sports. “What do we do in those situations?”
Chastain made contact with Hamlin that wrecked him, so 15 laps later, Hamlin drove Chastain down to the apron on the backstretch, then further impeded him several times throughout the race. After several altercations, NASCAR intervened and instructed Hamlin’s team to convey to him that enough was enough, and Hamlin had made his point.
When heated situations like that arise in the future, Busch – a driver whose two nicknames are Rowdy and Wild Thing for a reason – says he hopes drivers can be “ethical and take responsibility for their actions.”
“If you make a mistake, okay fine, I get it,” Busch reasoned. “When you intentionally drive over somebody because they made a move on you or something you didn’t like, then you get punched in the face afterward.”
The issue of driver respect in the league hits close to home for Busch because he’s lamented about it before in the Cup Series and now, after enduring contact with Chandler Smith, he’s had to stomach it in the Xfinity Series.
“I’ve tried to talk to guys,” Busch said. “They don’t listen, so I’ve lost interest in talking to them. I had a teammate that I talked to, a kid that raced for me two years in the Truck Series real recently who I got into it last week with and tried to talk to him about those exact same issues. Lo and behold, it happened to me three races into a new year somewhere else, so I’m done taking to them.”
In looking for ways to how NASCAR might solve the problem, Busch thinks the league could handle incidents the same way officials do at small tracks like the one where his son Brexton races. If a driver instigates an incident, that driver is penalized by being sent to the back of the pack.
“He already knows that he can’t run somebody over because he gets sent to the back,” Busch mentioned. “I think that’s something else, there’s no repercussions for running somebody over. If you want to do that, you get sent to the back, you get held a lap, something. But if you spin somebody out — and I’m guilty of it, I spun somebody out for the lead before or the win before or something like that on accident racing — but if it happens, then you get sent to the back.”
“Caution comes out, you go to the back,” Busch added. “There’s repercussions for that right now. That’s the short track adage and how these kids learn when they’re growing up. Maybe we need to implement that here.”
With so much on the line every lap, week after week, it’s no wonder that driver altercations and razor thin margins for success are spiraling into what appears to be a systemic issue of disrespect, but as Busch has asked, when and how should NASCAR squash the beef, and when should league brass allow the drivers to deal with their own matters?
“It’s a simple as what does NASCAR want,” NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte noted. “If they want cleaner racing, if they want more respect, then I feel they now have an opportunity to now jump into the ring of refereeing these races. Whether they want to do that or not, we will see.”
Now in his seventh Cup Series season, Daniel Suarez says that there’s been a paradigm shift in how drivers treat one another.
“I remember my first year in Cup,” Suarez recalled, according to NBC Sports. “I remember drivers, we used to give the finger — not the middle finger — but the finger of, ‘Hey, you go ahead, you’re better than me right now.’ You don’t see that anymore. Track position is so important. It’s so difficult to pass. I feel like it’s a combination of all those things, and I think that has made people not to respect each other.”
“If you are a couple of tenths [of a second] faster than me and you’re catching me, I’m going to block you instead of letting you go,” he continued. “Those are things that we look like a**holes out there, but that’s what we have to do to keep track position and try to get some stage points.”
Like Busch and Suarez, Erik Jones too is fed up with the lack of driver respect in the collective of Cup Series wheelmen.
“I see the frustration from some guys who probably race similar to me and feel like they get run over, there’s a handful of guys in the field that feel like that,” Jones said. “It’s tough. It’s a tough balance. At some point, you’ve got to stand your ground and say you’re not going to take it anymore.”
While Harvick would like to see NASCAR play a more supportive role in helping drivers hash things out, Letarte believes the ethos currently gnawing away at the league needs to be immediately stopped before things go too far.
“The drivers aren’t going to change,” declared Letarte. “You can throw that out. If you think this is going to be changed from behind the steering wheel, you haven’t met enough race car drivers… Some outside source, in my opinion, is going to have to change this mantra or opinion of what is acceptable on the racetrack.”
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