Blockers beware as Tony Stewart sticks by promise to retaliate
Tony Stewart stands by his declaration of wrecking fellow drivers who block him
Jeff Burton doesn't feel drivers demonstrate high caliber racing at road courses
Daytona's pairs style racing continues to frustrate drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"I was happy to bring him back out,'' Vickers said. "I miss him as well.''
No doubt NASCAR has more zest when Stewart's blood boils. As one who recognizes his role as a caretaker of the sport, the two-time series champion isn't afraid to speak out on particular issues. His anger lately has centered on excessive blocking. He's not alone with his feelings; he's just the most vocal about it.
As fewer races remain until the field for the Chase is set, every position becomes critical. Already, the value of track position has proven invaluable. With NASCAR content, for now, to allow drivers to handle blocking issues, Stewart has made it known that he'll serve as judge, jury and executioner on such matters, just as he did to Vickers at Infineon Raceway.
"I've drawn my line in the sand and the next guy that blocks me, he is going to also suffer the same fate,'' Stewart said. "It doesn't matter who it is. That's what it's going to be."
Yet, this Rambo-style justice could hurt Stewart. After he wrecked Vickers for what he believed was blocking, Vickers got him back, leaving the rear of Stewart's car sitting atop a tire barrier. Stewart finished a season-worst 39th at Infineon, costing him several points.
He heads into this weekend's race at Kentucky Speedway 12th in the point standings and winless. Yet, even with his declaration, can Stewart afford to follow through as he fights for one of the last Chase spots?
"I'm just to the point where I'm fed up with some of the ways some of these guys are racing each other,'' Stewart said. "If we miss the Chase because of it then so be it and that's not what the team is going to want to hear. That's not what our sponsors are going to want to hear, but so be it.
"There's 42 guys out there and they know how I race and they know what I expect and I don't race them that way and I don't block guys and I'm not going to block guys. If they block me then they will suffer the consequences of it."
While some fans will brush Stewart's complaints off as someone wanting what is best for him, Jeff Burton disagrees.
"Tony's like the most respectful person on the race track,'' Burton said. "Tony is one of those guys that is old school. You catch him and are faster than he is, he doesn't race you at all, he just gets out of the way.
"I think Tony expects the same and he should expect the same and when he doesn't get it, he really gets upset about it. The way we race at Watkins Glen and Sonoma, and Sonoma in particular, is borderline embarrassing to be quite honest. We're supposed to be some of the world's best drivers and we sure don't look like it.
"I know it's competitive and it's all those things, but at some point we have to have respect for each other. I think it's really gotten out of hand at those race tracks. It's almost like it's acceptable to knock somebody around there. If you really go back and watch those races and watch what we do, it's not very high caliber racing.''
Respect, or lack of it, is a key issue to what is happening on the track.
"Of all the things that we work on, [respect is] probably the last thing and the most underdeveloped thing that we have as a group in our garage,'' Ryan Newman said.
"We can have great racing and great passing there without the blocking.''
Newman acknowledges, though, that blocking has been a part of the sport for years, citing the finish of the 1979 Daytona 500 where Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison crashed while going for the lead on the last lap.
Of course, that was the last lap where that type of racing is expected. Some would say blocking much earlier in the race isn't necessary.
"Every lap is like a last lap,'' Newman said. "There are times when it does slow down a little bit, California and Michigan ... Pocono, where you can only do so much, [and] there comes a point where you have to save your race car and save your tires and save your brakes.
"But on restarts, especially with the double-file restart, it's definitely added to the excitement and definitely added to us drivers having to have a little bit more demand for respect because of the hard racing that we do. We're literally going for everything we possibly can; and if that means somebody else's throat, that's part of it sometimes. Going for their throat and ripping their throat out are two different things."
That's part of the point Stewart is trying to get across. While there could be some issues at Kentucky this week, blocking likely will be a bigger topic the following week when the series races on New Hampshire Motor Speedway's tight 1-mile oval. With another road course remaining and a couple of short tracks until the Chase field is set, it's likely that blocking could lead to further confrontations and maybe even determine who makes the Chase.
New style better or worse?: While two races might be too early to judge the new style of racing at Daytona International Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. stressed again after Saturday's race he likes the old style.
"I don't like this kind of racing and you know it,'' Earnhardt said after the race.
Then he challenged the media.
"You guys need to get your own frickin' opinions and write what you all think about it because I think it's probably pretty damn close to mine,'' he said.
Since the track was repaved last year, it's created a new style of restrictor-plate racing where drivers divide into pairs with one car pushing the other instead of riding around in a 30-car pack.
According to NASCAR's race reports, 30 cars were involved in accidents in Saturday night's race, and 29 cars were involved in accidents in this year's Daytona 500 with this new style of racing. Last year, with the old track surface, there were 28 cars listed in accidents in the July race and 18 listed in accidents in the Daytona 500.
What remains the same is that accidents often happen toward the end of the race when desperation and daring replace patience and respect.
How the racing can be changed to avoid such situations remains to be seen.
"It's just normal plate stuff,'' Jimmie Johnson said. "At the end we're in a big pack and it's still restrictor-plate racing. It's so hard to see how many hours these guys put into these cars to have it torn up in the blink of an eye like that.''
Dustin Long covers NASCAR for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., The Roanoke (Va.) Times and the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C. His blog can be found here.
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