News & Media

Rough Martinsville race brings calls for change

October 31, 2011, Mark Aumann,

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Hamlin displeased with payback; Stewart says times have changed, not for better

Blame it on a hangover from tandem drafting. Blame it on the weather. Or maybe, in Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s opinion, blame it on too many energy drinks. Or blame it on typical Martinsville short-track racing.

But right from the start of Sunday's Tums Fast Relief 500, it seemed patience would be in short supply and paybacks would be plentiful. There were 18 cautions for 108 laps. More than half of the cars in the field were involved at least once, with Brian Vickers accounting for six yellows.

"Let them get their butt kicked. That's what used to happen in the old days. You didn't have guys dumping each other and taking cheap shots like that."


Junior dumped Kurt Busch. Juan Montoya dumped Marcos Ambrose. Jamie McMurray felt like he got dumped by Vickers and tried to wreck him under caution. Jeff Burton went around when Ryan Newman got into Busch. Kyle Busch's day ended when Matt Kenseth got into him, seven laps after Kenseth turned Vickers. And when Kenseth returned after lengthy repairs, Vickers retaliated.

All the beating and banging may have cost Jimmie Johnson a win. Denny Hamlin felt it was out of control. And it certainly was on Tony Stewart's mind in his post-race media conference.

"I certainly understand that if you're unfairly wrecked, regardless of who that person is, there's a chance retaliation is going to happen," Johnson said. "After a fourth, fifth time with the same car in the crash, you start thinking about maybe you're the problem.

"Something is going on. You're having a bad day. You need to stop crashing for whatever reason. When you're on the race track and someone wrongs you, you have some decisions to make in how you want to handle that."

Hamlin's biggest concern deals with how retaliation seems to lead to an escalation of aggressive driving.

"Eventually someone's going to get hurt in this whole thing because we keep sending guys in the corner, in the wall," Hamlin said. "These are deadly machines, and everyone who gets run into then pounds the guy that runs into him. And eventually, there's nothing that's going to come from everyone retaliating like that.

"For Martinsville, people have no regard. I get into guys and I know it's coming. I'm going to get slammed in the next corner. It's just one of those things where it's frustrating to watch, because you see some of these cars getting torn up on accidents. Accidents happen, and some of these drivers don't realize that."

Martinsville is the oldest track on the circuit, so Stewart said perhaps it's time to bring back a bit of how drivers settled things before "boys, have at it."

"NASCAR is going to have to at some point make these drivers be responsible for their actions amongst each other and not baby sit and not protect these guys," Stewart said. "Let them get their butt kicked. That's what used to happen in the old days. You didn't have guys dumping each other and taking cheap shots like that."

When Stewart broke into the sport more than a decade ago, he said veterans did more than have a conversation with a driver who was too aggressive behind the wheel.

"When Dale Sr. was here and Dale Jarrett, you just didn't do that because that guy would come grab you, pull you out of the car at the end of the practice session, rip your head off talking to you about it, [and] intimidate you into understanding why you didn't do that," Stewart said.

"Now there's nothing. You can go yell at a guy. We watched [Greg] Biffle and Kevin Harvick yell at each other [after Saturday's practice]. What did they accomplish? Did it make anybody understand what the other guy was thinking or saying? They yelled at each other, walked away, nothing was different than before it happened. There's nothing different to make these guys do anything other than what's in their head. There's always two sides to a story."

Stewart said it was team owner Joe Gibbs who sat him down to explain the fine points of why you don't use your car as a weapon.

"I used to be as guilty of it and bad as anybody about taking a cheap shot at guys early," Stewart said. "But you realize that it's not about the two guys driving the cars out there as much as it's there's a bunch of guys that go back to the shop.

"There's a car owner that spends a lot of money. There's a bunch of crew guys that spend a lot of hours and put a lot of heart and soul into what we have as a product each week with these race cars. I think at times we all forget about that."

Stewart admitted he ran into A.J. Allmendinger by accident. But he tried to make amends -- and it paid off later.

"I got underneath him in a spot where he was already coming down," Stewart said. "I screwed up, he got sideways. I just checked up and let him have his spot back. I never saw anybody give anybody a spot back in a situation like that today. It wasn't his fault.

"I think later after that I got back by [Allmendinger] and instead of dumping me like the other guys were doing to each other, I think he knew I gave him that spot back because I knew I made a mistake."

Guys like Stewart, Johnson and Jeff Burton were racing for the win -- and doing it cleanly.

"You race these guys with respect and they're going to race you back with respect," Stewart said. "Could Jimmie [have] just hauled it off in the corner, blown the corner to try to take us down? Absolutely.

"He could have done that to anybody. He didn't do that to us. I think he knows we respect him and have that level of respect."

And that respect, Stewart said, is what seems to be missing in today's "no give and all take" way of short-track racing.

But Stewart did offer a solution, perhaps only slightly tongue in cheek.

"I think they ought to get a portable boxing ring," Stewart said. "As soon as they get done with the victory celebration, set the boxing ring on the frontstretch, give the fans a real show they paid for.

"If you want to boost the attendance at Martinsville, have a boxing match with each of the guys that had a beef with each other."