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Road rage sparks fireworks among drivers

Nothing makes tempers flare more than putting oval racers onto a road course: Villeneuve at Road America and Vickers vs Stewart, Montoya vs the World at Infineon, it was a fiery weekend.
It used to be that the short ovals were the places that sent tempers in NASCAR into overdrive - the half-mile at Bristol Motor Speedway was notorious for its fiery on- and off-track fireworks and confrontations.

But in a season that has been rather tame for such matters (outside of the ongoing Richard Childress Racing vs Kyle Busch smackdown) it seems that in 2011, if you want road rage then you need a road course, as both Infineon Raceway and Road America proved this weekend for Cup and Nationwide races respectively.

The Nationwide event over in Wisconsin had looked to be quite a calm, straightforward affair - until the last few laps exploded into something of a demolition derby and resulted in three attempts to finish under green/white/chequered (GWC) conditions.

Jacques Villeneuve - who had already been given a mid-race penalty for changing lanes too early at one restart - made a rash lunge down the inside into turn 1 from fifth position at the first GWC restart, only to find third place man Brian Scott taking up the space he needed. The ensuing collision not only put Scott into the gravel but also caught up Max Papis as well.

"A little bit aggressive," Villeneuve admitted about the restart. "The track narrows before turn one and I just ran out of road, put the wheels in the grass, played bowling there, took the two cars out and made a few people unhappy ... When I put two wheels on the grass, I really didn't want to be there.

The next GWC saw leader Michael McDowell spin and trigger a multi-car wreck, and the third and final restart attempt saw McDowell and Aric Amirola spin and mean the race did finally finish under caution after all, by which time Villeneuve had managed to recover to third place once NASCAR had spent a long time trying to determine exactly who was ahead of whom when the yellow came out from the mountain of data and video footage.

It all proved to be something of a premonition and a warning for what was to come the following day in California.

At Infineon, one of the first signs of fraying tempers came from polesitter Joey Logano, who had been involved in an increasingly physical and bad-tempered mid-race battle with Robby Gordon. Finally on lap 53 he had had enough, lined up the #7 in his sights, and piled straight into the back of Gordon on the approach to turn 11 until the car spun off and dropped to the back of the lead lap.

"He was running me all over the race track," explained Logano afterwards. "He knocked my fender in for no reason. We were a lot, lot faster than him. I just had enough. I wasn't going to get pushed around. He pushed around before and I was sick of it. I think that's a small story. That's not a big deal."

No doubt Logano's crew chief, two-time championship winner Greg Zipadelli will be applauding his driver's action. Zipadelli has reportedly been frustrated in the past by his young driver's lack of assertiveness on the track, and insisted that the 21-year-old "man up" and make sure he got some respect from the other drivers. This weekend at Infineon surely achieved at least a little in that direction.




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