Conflict on and off the track has gained attention the past two weekends in the sport and how NASCAR responds will help set the tone for the garage the rest of the season.
Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty, who will be on NASCAR America from 5:30 – 7 p.m. ET today on NBCSN, join Nate Ryan and Dustin Long in discussing that subject and more in this week’s Bump & Run.
In the last two weeks, NASCAR did not penalize Kyle Busch and Joey Logano for an altercation on pit road, and a series official suggested this week that there might not be any additional penalties to Austin Dillon (who was parked by NASCAR) for slowly cutting across Cole Custer’s car and making contact after an incident between them in the Xfinity race. What do you make of NASCAR’s reaction to these incidents and the message it sends to the garage?
Kyle Petty: First, I will never condone the use of a race car or physical force in settling a perceived injustice. Having said that … I think NASCAR is in a little bit of a box they’ve put themselves in. We can go back to “boys have at it.’’ The stage races are just another level of that. Stage racing was designed to make every lap mean more, for drivers to race “harder” and to bring the intensity level and anticipation of the event to another level.
If that’s what you’re looking for, you can’t penalize the drivers when they react the way they do to the position the rules put them in. We’ve begged for emotion and personality from drivers, and when they give it to us there’s an outcry to penalize them. We can’t have it both ways, and the middle ground is confusing to fans and drivers alike. I guess it’s like that old saying “be careful what you wish for’’ because when you have it you don’t know what to do with it.
Dale Jarrett: I like the idea that nothing was done as far as the Kyle Busch and Joey Logano incident. This business is difficult, especially in a situation where something happened on the last lap of the race. It’s hard to expect a driver not to react in some way, shape or form. I’d rather Kyle Busch have a conversation and then if he felt it needed to go further … but he felt like he needed to talk in a different manner. I’m not opposed to that. I think you need to protect your ground and show your displeasure.
I’m not a fan even though I’ve been there and pretty much every driver has been there as far as a retaliation on the race track with the race car. I think we need to be discouraging that way more than we need to be discouraging drivers having conversations. We don’t need fights every weekend by any stretch of the imagination, but if they want to have discussions and something breaks out from there, I’m much more in favor of that than using the race cars.
Nate Ryan: The Busch-Logano reaction doesn’t surprise me. No harm was done (aside from the lone aggressor’s forehead), and I think it’s understood where the line is on drivers settling it between themselves. They have great latitude to approach each other after races, and as long as it doesn’t result in a broken jaw, there won’t be severe consequences for heated altercations between drivers (and subsequently their team members).
The Custer-Dillon situation was slightly more surprising as NASCAR officials don’t want drivers employing their cars as weapons of revenge, particularly under caution. But some punishment was meted out in parking Dillon for the race and summoning him for a meeting. That officials will meet with Custer and Dillon together in Southern California this weekend also negates the need for further action.
I think the message being sent is that NASCAR proactively is ensuring feuds don’t escalate to being uncontrollable but also is being careful to avoid the perception of micromanaging emotions.
Dustin Long: The days of NASCAR overseeing the drivers with the strictness of a convent school are over. That doesn’t mean that they’ll allow a driver to wreck another — as Matt Kenseth did to Joey Logano in 2015 — but for a sport that has an edgy sponsor and looks to gain the attention of more fans, slapping wrists with a ruler are long gone. The question is how far will officials go? When they react? Will it be an overreaction to get the garage back in line?
In the last seven races, dating back to last season, there have been seven different winners: Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano and Carl Edwards. Does the streak of different winners continue this weekend at Auto Club Speedway and who might be that driver?
Kyle Petty: Yes. I believe the streak continues! Larson, Elliott, Harvick. The list of drivers who have been strong so far this year is diverse. Not the usual suspects! We know Michigan was Larson’s first win and California is a sister track. Chase will contend again and has been in position to win every race this season. Harvick is Harvick, any race, any time, anywhere he can win. I will say all I know for sure is Carl Edwards won’t win!
Dale Jarrett: Yes. I think the name that probably comes to mine and everybody else’s is Kyle Larson. He was in position to win every race we’ve had so far this year. Especially with that race track, he’s done well there and it’s his type of race track. I think these new rules with less amount of downforce are really only enhancing his driving abilities. I think he will have to outrun Chase Elliott to get the checkered flag.
Nate Ryan: Yes. Kyle Busch has this place sorted (three wins, including two of the past four races), and he drives well when motivated. Though “Everything Is Great,” it won’t diminish Busch’s drive to return to victory lane and take some smug satisfaction at reclaiming the spotlight for the right reason.
(P.S. I also reserve the right to change my mind for Sunday’s pre-race Staff Picks post on nbcsports.com/nascar.)
Dustin Long: Yes. After the millennials have finished second each of the first four races (Ryan Blaney at Daytona and Kyle Larson each of the past three weeks), one of them is due to win. That includes Chase Elliott, who has two top-five finishes this season.
Watch Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty on NASCAR America today from 5:30 – 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.