Drivers say that the reckless wrecking at close of Friday's Craftsman Truck race has given NASCAR another black eye.
Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. were among those critical of irresponsible driving and the lack of accountability.
Xfinity Series reacts by emphasizing respect among drivers, goes off without a hitch Saturday.
Drivers call for establishing, enforcing rules to curb aggressive driving.
Justin Allgaier’s dinner went cold when he saw the hot mess at the end of Friday’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season finale: “I'm sorry – we were sitting at dinner, and I wanted to turn it off because it didn't show what I know that our sport is capable of.”
The Xfinity Series Championship 4 finalist saw it coming: the selfish, cavalier driving that caused seven of the race’s 12 cautions in the final stage and added 29 laps to a scheduled 150-lapper.
Ben Rhodes emerged as the 2023 champion and Christian Eckes the event winner.
“There's a lot of young, talented race car drivers that are coming up, and they're fast. Having speed is really important in this game. The respect level amongst the guys coming in is zero, because they're trying to prove a point, trying to earn a name,” Allgaier said.
Allgaier said fellow finalist Sam Mayer has acknowledged that early in his career he, in Allgaier’s words, “pushed and took and banged and wrecked and did all these things. When it finally clicked, it was like a light switch. Now all of a sudden you put yourself in good position. You put yourself in the front. You don't get wiped out, because you've earned that respect. You don't get put in three-, four-, five-wide bad positions, because you've earned that respect.”
Allgaier knew his Xfinity Series was on deck for Saturday night, and he insisted that “our teams deserve us to lay it on the line without being stupid.”
That was just part of the backlash directed at the Truck Series championship contenders for what was roundly described as “chaos” and “a wreck fest” that spawned post-race sniping. Most egregious was the retaliatory move Corey Heim put on Carson Hocevar with two laps left. It cost leader Grant Enfinger his first Truck title and epitomized what Cup and Xfinity series racers criticized Saturday.
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Heim said after Hocevar spun him on Lap 120, “I've got a lot of respect for everybody in the field, but clearly not him anymore.”
Hocevar accepted blame for the accident and its domino effect, but Heim wasn’t having any of it, considering it insincere.
Heim said, “Yeah, he obviously screwed up, just wrecked me. I've been racing Carson for a long time, racing him since I was eight or nine years old, and that's just kind of what he does. He'll wreck you and apologize, and then he'll do it again the next week. It's not going to be the last time he does it, and it's certainly not the first time he's done it. Known him for a long time, and I know a lot of guys have only known him for four years as far as his racing career, but it's been a decade on top of that. I completely expected it. I actually drove into [Turn] 1 way past my lifting point to avoid that contact, because I literally saw it coming, but he went that extra yard and got us.”
Enfinger said, “I think that kind of started a chain reaction to just chaos, which is, I guess, entertaining. It’s frustrating (when you’re) running for a championship.”
For Cup Series headliner Denny Hamlin, the next course of action is simple.
“I don’t know why we can’t do something about it,” he said. “I’m on a soapbox right now, but I hate seeing our sport look as bad as it did (Friday) night. No one (from NASCAR) even said a word about it (in the Saturday drivers meeting). It’s like it never even happened.”
He said he asked an official, who responded with, “Well, where’s the line?” Hamlin said he replied, “Well, I don’t know. Just make a line.”
Hamlin offered a solution: “Just send people to the back (of the field, to a position) that they’ll never recover from. It’ll get their attention.” He said The Clash at The Coliseum, NASCAR’s hyped Los Angeles exhibition next February 4, “could be a good opportunity to start doing that, because The Clash, that was a joke, as well.”
He said he’s “open to having those conversations” with top NASCAR executives Steve Phelps and Steve O’Donnell, “but they know where I stand.
“It’s hard to take it seriously,” Hamlin said of “the show.” He said, “Wait a minute – I can just knock the other guy out of the way and there’s not a penalty?” He likened it to a hypothetical scenario in which the NFL would be “taking all the rules out of football, where you can do whatever you want to do. It’s just gotten a little out of hand. If you deem that it’s not pushing our sport forward, then I think you should do something about it. And I don’t think last night pushed our sport forward.”
Kyle Busch called for personal responsibility: “There’s aggressive racing... but as a driver, you have to know your surroundings and understand what you’re doing and where you’re at. Just a lot of mistakes, a lot of dumb stuff. It’s the nature of how everything is nowadays. We’re teaching kids at eight years old to go out there and run wide open and go as fast as you can and slam into the guy next to you and try to get by him. They’re all taught that way now, where there’s no repercussions. The sanctioning body, I think, needs to step in more and penalize.”
Martin Truex said, “It gets pretty old, watching that every single weekend, the same guys doing the same things, and there’s never any repercussions. They keep going up the ranks, because maybe they have money behind them or whatever. But the level of respect has been going down and down in the lower series for years.”
Hamlin said, “It trickles down, because the younger generation is watching us.” And following Saturday night’s Xfinity Series event – which Cole Custer won to clinch the title – Custer’s boss, Tony Stewart, agreed.
“You go to go-kart races and kids’ parents are fighting because one kid’s dumping another kid because that's what they see on TV,” Stewart said. “Tonight was a great example that that's not how you have to race. You can race clean. You can race door-to-door. You can race hard. But you can race each other with respect.”
Enfinger said, “Obviously, our truckers got a bad rap [Friday]. We're better than that. I don't know how many green-white-checkereds that was, but it was entirely too many.”
Allgaier put it in perspective: “Now, those moments, they're going to learn from them. Carson (Hocevar) last night was highly critical of himself when he walked out of there. That's fine. The next opportunity is ‘How do you fix it?’ I think that he got a really difficult life lesson, but something that I think a lot more people need to learn. I think the more guys learn it, the better it is.”
In his State of the Sport conversation with the media Friday, O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief operating officer, said, “I think there's an understanding that we are not always going to get things right, but we're open-minded. We're going to look at things and react quickly where we need to. I put our officials up against any sport in the world. I'd also put our officials from an integrity standpoint up against anyone in the world. When they make a mistake, they don't hide. They go to the media. They go to a race team and they correct it. Doesn't happen in all sports.
“Do we want to get everything right? We do. But I would remind everyone there's no timeouts, there's no going back to New York to review something. You're racing. Every second of every race you got to make a call. You got to be able to defend that. They're able to come in and defend the call they made. If we made a mistake, we're going to address it,” O’Donnell said.
This would be an excellent time to follow through on that.