Repercussions of the NASCAR “Nudge” June 29, 2010Posted by claireblang in 2010 Season.
Tags: claire b lang, claireblang.com, NASCAR, Sirius NASCAR Radio, Sprint Cup Series
NASCAR’s Drivers Reevaluate How They Race Each Other
Imagine the choices that Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch had to make in the final moments of the Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire. There were milliseconds to decide what to do and anger involved as the two were fighting for the lead, for the money, for the points, for the pride, for the win.
Kurt Busch saw that he had a “last chance” opportunity to pass Johnson. He got in the corner deeper than Jimmie. He didn’t flat out wreck him, he didn’t drive over him. It was, as Busch called it, a “nice nudge.”
Meanwhile, the pilot of the 48 was red faced and, as he described it, was “livid” inside of his race car. That road rage, in which Johnson had “great visions” of causing a “spectacular crash,” almost had Johnson loose any opportunity to later pull off the win.
What is also at stake is that Jimmie does not want Kurt to think that he is soft, or that his peers can “Knock the 48 out of the way,” If Busch, “slipped and accidentally got into him,” Johnson says that’s one thing. But, if it was Bush’s intention, then that’s the first time in nine years of racing with Busch that Johnson has experienced that from Busch and then, Johnson says, it would have “definitely changed the way I race with him.”
In the end, Busch did not wreck Johnson, so Johnson reconsidered. He filtered all sides in his brain, which holds a very specific racers’ Rolodex. Did Busch intend the move ? Heck yes. He “nudged” Johnson. Did he slip? No. But did he wreck him? No. So Johnson chose to “nudge” him back, pulled it off cleanly and won the race. No foul.
Now what? Does his view of Kurt change? Does he race him differently? Does he know next time that Kurt will “nudge” him and, if so, how does that change how they race together. How would this race end up if it was re-run with the two in the very same position in the fall during the chase?
Does Johnson now race everyone differently because of the nudge he got from Kurt? Everyone’s more aggressive now.
Was it a test Kurt applied to Jimmie and now that he knows how Jimmie will respond, coming back at him with a “nudge” does he still deliver the move. Or, knowing what he knows now, does Busch deliver the “nudge” differently or maybe not at all.
How to Race Each Other?
What happened with Jimmie Johnson was at the end of the race and was for the win. But drivers are racing each other differently early in the races as well. These drivers now have a choice to make.
After Pocono, Tony Stewart said that the “restarts were idiotic,” and chastised his fellow drivers. “For anybody who is looking for drama for the next couple of races start looking -cause I can promise I’m going to start making the highlight reel the next couple of weeks,” Stewart told us.
Stewart’s Crew Chief, Darian Grubb, says, of Tony’s comment, ” I’m pretty excited. That means that he’s just going to step up his game that much more every lap. He’s realizing now,” Grubb told me, “that you have to race that hard every lap. The other guys are going to do it and they are going to be idiots and wreck each other and stuff on lap one. Sooner or later, you are gong to do that too or you are going to be behind them before its over with.”
Grubb says he doesn’t want his driver to tear up equipment doing it but added, “Everybody’s starting to loose a lot of respect for each other as drivers and be in it early in the race because they realize how much track position depends on that. You have to decide how you’re going to run for the day, so they are starting to be idiots right on lap one. So, he’s just basically saying he’s going to be one of the idiots as well,” Grubb said.
Bobby Hutchins, Competition Director at Stewart Haas Racing told me, “We talked about it (after Pocono). I think the drivers will (change their style). If you’re going to be here to win races and stay up front – then you are going to try to change the thought process.”
As to the highlight reel comments – Hutchins says, “I’m hoping he will be a more little aggressive because if we give up anything it’s been on restarts this year. and we’ve been in a position a couple times in the top five, six or seven and we’ve lost six to seven spots on a restart and by the time you get it sorted back out you pass those six or seven cars back and then it’s time for a pit stop and you have a caution then you are in the same spot you were in or worse, so it’s a big part of racing and, hopefully, he figured that out.”
Stewart has begun to apply his new theory.
In the end
In the end – things have changed in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing. The new rules and related intensity have been forcing drivers to decide how much they will change and to reevaluate their style and the way they race each other.
Was Jimmie Johnson saying that after racing Kurt Busch for nine years, this is the first time Busch has raced him this hard, with a “nudge”. Or was he thinking the “nudge” was more than a “nudge.” Since Kurt pulled it off – Kurt does not get put into the fence. But – if he had messed up what would have happened? Would Johnson have destroyed his race car, being tested for the New Hampshire chase race to show that he can’t be pushed around. Likely not. Idle threat?
Are drivers just frustrated seeing Jimmie win all the time. So, if Johnson wins the title this year will it be the hardest won title he’s earned? No one will leave Johnson have a position on the track much less a win – they are not above nudging him out of the way. What about when others try it -and don’t pull it off like Busch did? Then what.
What about when we get to the end of the chase….when typically the drivers don’t take a guy in the chase out or drive “like idiots,” to coin a Stewart phrase, on the restarts early? What about when they now do drive ” like idiots” during the chase and everyone is doing it?
Drivers now don’t care about being so cautious and neither does NASCAR. The drivers have been unleashed. Things have changed.
It’s going to get interesting.