NASCAR needs to rein in aggressive driving

BY Darrell Waltrip • July 20, 2010

You know folks, the term “actions detrimental to the sport” is normally attached to a penalty that has been handed down from NASCAR. Just about every penalty that comes down will cite the infraction from the rulebook and it will include that term.

I believe what we saw Saturday night at the end of the Nationwide Series race with Carl Edwards were actions that are detrimental to the sport. To me, when you cheap-shot someone to win the race, well that cheapens the sport. There is supposed to be honor in victory. There’s no honor in wrecking someone to win a race.

There’s supposed to be pride in a victory. How can you be proud of what you have done by wrecking someone coming to the checkered flag so that you can win? It really bothers me the direction the sport has gone in the last year or so where the drivers don’t respect each other. It’s like the integrity is gone.

This “you wrecked me, so I am going to wreck you” mentality is something that happens on short tracks all over the country. You see that on your local tracks on Friday and Saturday nights where the same guys are racing together all the time. It just bothers me a lot to see things go in the direction they have gone in lately.

Now don’t get me wrong. Rivalries are great. Rivalries last forever. A feud is just temporary. A feud lasts a short period of time and then everyone moves on. Obviously this issue between Carl Edwards and Brad Kesolowski is a rivalry because it really has been going on since last year. This is a deeply embedded rivalry between these two drivers.

Rivalries in any sport are good. That creates interest, passion and excitement. There are all kind of rivalries. There’s the kind among car owners. There’s the kind among car manufacturers. Heck, nowadays we have rivalries between teammates. Those are all the kinds of rivalries you want to follow. You pick a side and you support your guy. It’s healthy when it’s done in a professional way.

I think that’s the thing that has been bothering me is what we have been seeing happening these last few months. I think the professionalism is being overlooked. I believe back at the start of the year when NASCAR came out and loosened the reins on the drivers, officials vision of “Have at it, boys” meant bumping and grinding and trading some paint. They wanted to see the drivers' personalities come out. They were willing to overlook some of the smaller detrimental things that might happen. They were going to stop micromanaging these drivers or slapping them with fines every time a four-letter word slipped out, for example.

You have heard me say many times there are unintended consequences and this might be one of those times. Naturally when you make a rule, you simply can’t foresee every affect that rule might create. I told NASCAR President Mike Helton back when the governing body came out with its new policy that they shouldn’t have announced it. Now I love the new policy, but I wouldn’t have made it that public. Just let it happen and that way if you have to step in, you don’t look bad.

Now NASCAR is painted into a corner. The drivers now pretty much realize they have carte blanche to go do whatever they want to. They have the belief that with this new policy, they probably are only facing a slap on the wrist and a lecture from NASCAR.

The kind of “Have at it” I want to see is two guys going off into the corner rubbin’ and bangin’ with smoke flying. I don’t want to see someone cheap-shotting a driver coming off the corner by hooking him and putting him in the wall. That’s just not professional. There’s nothing to be proud about when you do something like that.

When you take that “win at all costs” attitude, there definitely are costs involved. People are going to be critical of what you do. People will lose respect for you. I can look at this from all angles because I have “been there, done that.” What I don’t want to see happen is NASCAR racing turned into NASCAR demolition derbies.

You have to have lines in the sand. You have to determine how far is too far. It’s OK to take it right up to the limit, but don’t go over the limit. I just think we have exceeded that in some cases. Saturday night at Gateway International Raceway was a clear example of exceeding things. I just hate to see it get to this point. I think it’s time for NASCAR to sit down again with all the drivers and re-define what “Have at it" means.

Now most of you know I am a huge Carl Edwards fan. I always have been. I like his aggressiveness and intensity. Carl’s a smart guy. Saturday night hurt me as a friend and a fan of Carl’s to hear what he had to say after the race. I was disappointed in that and Carl’s a bigger man than that.

I hope when he reviews everything that has gone on, Carl realizes he and Brad Keselowski need to quit wrecking each other on purpose. Those two can put on a great show. They showed that for a number of laps Saturday night before it turned ugly.

Ugly hurts our sport. It hurts the image of our sport. It hurts the professionalism of the sport. When things turn unprofessional, people get turned off by that.


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