Sunday at Talladega, we saw the fourth flip at that track of the 2009 NASCAR season. We saw hardly anything but single-file racing until the end of the race. And, once again, we saw drivers complain about the safety of NASCAR’s largest track.
The question now is, what should NASCAR do about Talladega?
The answer is simple. NASCAR should do nothing about Talladega.
I’ve been a die-hard NASCAR fan since 2001. I know, that isn’t a really long time. But it’s long enough to really get it. I check on the major NASCAR websites every day, so I’m up-to-date with everything. I’m not the most experienced NASCAR fan, nor am I the most passionate.
I don’t know everything about NASCAR, but I do know this.
I have watched 18 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega. The best races I ever saw? The races I saw in 2001.
That was back before NASCAR went all Commie on their rules. Back when bump-drafting wasn’t such an issue. Back when the drivers were, not only allowed to pass each other, but were allowed to race each other. The only restrictions about the racing were the plates, and the yellow line.
Back then, the drivers weren’t policed like they are today. They were allowed to race as they wished, barring they didn’t pass below the yellow line. Sure, they could hit each other. But they chose not to. Why? Because of a little thing called “respect”.
The drivers of that time had it. Guys like Sterling Marlin, Terry Labonte, and Bill Elliott knew how to give and take. And if a guy like Kevin Harvick or Kurt Busch started rattling some cages, they likely would find themselves in the wall before very long.
Because of this respect level, drivers could race three and four-wide for long periods of time without wrecking, because they were careful. The drivers respected NASCAR enough to where they raced clean, and NASCAR respected the drivers enough to where they let them race.
And you know what? For the first 375-and-a-half laps at Talladega that year, there was no big crash. Just lots of racing.
Today, you don’t see that mutual respect. I believe Ryan Newman said it best on Sunday when he said, “I guess NASCAR just doesn’t think that much of us anymore.”
But who’s to blame, NASCAR or the drivers?
It’s no secret that the drivers of today are far different from those of 8 years ago. Sure, you still have the Matt Kenseths and the Jeff Gordons, who were the young guns of the sport back then, in the sport today. But along with them, you have the even younger, whinier generation of drivers. The Kyle Busches, the Jimmie Johnsons, and such.
What else is different are today’s veterans. In 2001, you had the Bill Elliotts and the Dale Jarretts to help guide the younger generation into a more respectful thought process. Who do you have today? Tony Stewart? Jeff Gordon? Dale Earnhardt Jr? Sure, they may not be the most disrespectful racers on the track today. But they wouldn’t have likely passed the respectful veteran test 8 years ago, either.
So these are the guys who are mentoring the younger generation. And the younger generation is a large group of racers who don’t seem to respect their competitors. Guys like Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, and some of the even younger guys like Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have a hard time sharing a mutual respect with their competitors at times.
So is the lack of mutual respect among drivers forcing NASCAR to take matters into its own hands? Maybe. But NASCAR should not panic.
Instead, NASCAR should let the drivers earn and share respect with each other on the track, like they did 8 years ago. That’s how guys like Kurt Busch learned to be respectful. If you wanted to race a veteran dirty, you could expect to be put in the wall, like Jimmy Spencer did to Busch on a few occasions.
Let the racers race. It’s the only way they’ll learn respect. If NASCAR shows that they respect the drivers, the drivers will show that they respect NASCAR. And in turn, they will respect each other.
Topics: Bill Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Dale Jarrett, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Jimmy Spencer, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Sterling Marlin, Terry Labonte, Tony Stewart