28 June 2011
Road rage sparks fireworks among drivers
"He made his bed at that moment [on lap 39], and he had to sleep in it," Vickers said bluntly. "He wrecked me, and I dealt with it."
"I dumped him earlier for blocking and he got me back later on," said Stewart, sounding less less angry than resigned about the payback. He was also resolute about his initial actions: "If they block, they are going to get dumped. It is real simple. I mean, I don't blame him. I don't blame him for dumping us back.
"I don't race guys that way. I never have. If guys want to block. then they are going to wrecked every time. Until NASCAR makes a rule against it, I am going to dump them every time for it. He did what he had to do and I don't blame him. There is nothing wrong with it."
As for NASCAR, they seem content that this lies firmly under the auspicies of "Boys, have it" - their philosophy that the drivers will police themselves and keep each other in line with at times tough love when called for. As a result they didn't intervene at Infineon and gave no sign of any post-race penalties either: what happens on the track, stays on the track is their current mantra.
That even seems to apply when one driver's deliberate enforcement action against another - such as Stewart's against Vickers - then ends up involving innocent bystanders in the process. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was involved in the ensuing multi-car incident on lap 39, a hole in the radiator causing his engine to blow and causing him a costly DNF in 41st position. At least when Vickers and Logano sought their own 'retribution' they made sure they did it when no one else was around to get caught up in the mess.
NASCAR asking drivers to be law enforcement, judge and jury may be asking too much of the drivers, even of Stewart who is one of the most senior and respected of them as both a former champion and now as a team owner/driver. While he feels justified in his actions, acting as NASCAR's top cop on track proved very costly to him - the final encounter with Vickers causing him to retire in 39th place, a huge hit to his Cup chances as it means he drops to 12th place and out of the Chase qualifiers: he has only missed the Chase once since its introduction in 2004.
Wouldn't the sensible approach be to play it safe, hang back, and get a reasonable finish? Not according to Stewart: "It didn't make sense to [block] and I'm not going to tolerate it. I don't race guys that way and I'm not going to let anybody race me that way," he insisted. "If they block they get dumped. Plain and simple."
Will it mean drivers now give Stewart more room on the track and stop the blocking - or will it make the #14 a marked car instead? Whether his new "take no prisoners" attitude will help Stewart on track or hinder him remains to be seen. His peers in the sport, championship leader Carl Edwards and four-time Cup winner Jeff Gordon, had their own views.
"I don't think I've ever gone out and tried to get somebody back," said Edwards, but he was broadly supportive of NASCAR's line on such matters. "I think NASCAR has this 'have at it' mentality, the statement they made. I think in the end it will be better and safer for all of us. You know when you're out there, if NASCAR is going to let things be settled on the racetrack, I think people will respect each other a little bit more on the racetrack, and that's good."
Gordon was more mindful of the Championship implications for drivers like Stewart who took on the role of teaching others the hard rules of on-track life.
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