Several NASCAR Cup Series drivers took aim at the quality of racing following the conclusion of the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday.
The opening race for the Round of 8 delivered another victory for Kyle Larson, which locked him into the Championship 4, however it also showcased some unusually tight racing between playoff and non-playoff drivers. Fenders were touched, feelings were hurt, and in some circumstances led to an outcome that could have ramifications for the eight remaining playoff contenders.
On lap 321 of 334, Martin Truex Jr. was trying to maintain position in front of Daniel Suarez when the two made contact in Turn 4, sending the latter hard into the wall and retiring the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Truex went from six points above the cutline to 22 points below it, and now sits seventh in the standings.
Suarez was unapologetic afterwards on the radio over the incident.
“I don’t know what the f*** he was trying to do, man,” Suarez said. “I was right there all the time. I feel bad for him. I’m sorry, but I was there, man. I just can’t lift anymore. We’ve got to go.”
Martin Truex Jr. hits the wall!
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 17, 2021
When asked by RACER about the intensity level between playoff and non-playoff drivers, Kyle Busch, who sustained slight damage to the left rear early in the race before winning the opening stage, weighed in.
“There’s a complete lack of respect everywhere all over the place,” said Busch, a two-time series champion. “So it doesn’t matter if it’s a playoff driver or a non-playoff driver. The way all this has gone on the last four or five years, with a newer generation coming in, has completely ruined it from what it used to be. Now it might be exciting for the fans, but all you get is more torn-up stuff. And next year, these car owners are not going to enjoy paying the bills on that new car. I guarantee it.”
Busch sits eight points above the playoff cutline in fourth after an eighth-place finish on Sunday.
Hamlin, who won the opening races in both of the previous rounds but currently sits nine points above the playoff cutline in third, was in agreement with his JGR teammate.
“I would agree a little bit,” Hamlin said. “But everyone’s got their own agenda; nobody really gives a s*** about who’s doing what. They just care about themselves. It’s just different now than it used to be.”
The three-time Daytona 500 champion, who had a close call of his own with Chase Briscoe early at Texas before being collected in two other incidents, noted that part of that mentality is potentially adopted out of circumstances.
“I don’t necessarily fault anyone for it,” Hamlin said. “I mean, that’s why I don’t really condone it, right? I don’t like it, but it doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong. Everyone’s got their own, you know, some of the guys that I thought were kind of raced interestingly, maybe they’re in their seat next year, maybe they’re not. They’re all racing for something. So I don’t fault anyone really.”
The current low horsepower/high downforce package at various tracks further adds to the final product.
“It’s just a bunching them up and these cars not having any power, it’s all about bump drafting,” Hamlin said. “Can you get clear? Can you dive into the corner and clear yourself and slide up in front of them? Sometimes you’re clear. Sometimes you’re not, like the situation with Joey (Logano). It’s just part of this type of racing. I was riding around there wide open there for awhile and I was like, ‘Wow, this is the new NASCAR.’”
One of the drivers that might be considered among the ‘new generation’ is Ryan Blaney, who didn’t begin racing full-time in the Cup Series until 2016. The second-generation driver watched his dad, Dave, contest 473 races in NASCAR’s premier level, the majority of which came from the late 90s to 2013.
“Yeah, I mean it’s different,” said Blaney, currently 17 points above the cutline in second. “I think from watching Dad race back in the day, if we’re talking like the early 2000s, ’90s, whatever… before then, there was no stages. There’s no spoiler this big [demonstrates about a foot length with hands] on the race cars and 550 horsepower to where you all run in a pack. You have to be an a****** now. I mean, that’s just what it is. I mean, whether it’s on restarts, on the racetrack, you have to be that because if you’re not – to an extent, I mean, you just can’t go run into everybody – but if you’re not on the aggressive side, as far as calculated aggressiveness, you’re just going to get taken advantage of. That’s just how you got to do it. You’re not going to go out there and you know, just absolutely drive through somebody, but you’re going to try to put them in bad spots to make it lift.
“I mean, you see all day us slowing people down, down the back(stretch) and just driving right in front of ‘em in (Turns) 3 and 4 just because you want to get up, and that just hurts the guy behind you. You just have to do that nowadays, because if you don’t clear them, you’re not gonna get that pass done (and) you got to start your work all over again. So, I think it’s different because from back then, the cars were maybe a little bit easier and fast for them than what these are now. And it just calls for being super aggressive because you have to take every inch you can, because you’re not going to get back if you don’t make the moves on them.”
Perhaps the best summation came courtesy of 2012 Cup champion Brad Keselowski.
“Yeah, there’s no respect out there at all,” said Keselowski, currently 15 points below the cutline in sixth. “No, we’re all outlaws. So you just shut up and deal with it.”