Nascar News and Notes for the Week of 4/3/08
by Virginia Vroom of Predictem.com
I want to spend a little time this week talking about rookies and their rights on the track. This may sound a little dumb to some and even downright absurd to others to talk about a rookie like he’s any less than those who are considered the veterans like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Matt Kenseth. While I have no problem whatsoever with rookies racing on the track with the big guns, I DO have a problem when they start to interfere with leaders and they do not understand how to conduct themselves on and off the track.
The first example that I have is that of Michael McDowell this past weekend at Martinsville. I was there at the track and watched every bit of him being in the way in his inaugural Cup start. The problem was not that he had a slow car or had damage. The problem was that he was racing the lead pack and holding up the leaders. In my opinion he cost BOTH Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton a chance at the win. Denny Hamlin had a heck of a time getting around McDowell once the race restarted. Once he got around, Burton and Gordon had to fight their way around as well. Burton spent WAY too many laps trying to get around a lap car, all the while watching Hamlin leave him in the dust. The same thing happened to Gordon. Although he eventually got around, there were not enough laps to matter or to give him enough time to catch Hamlin.
Another example would be the year that Juan Pablo Montoya entered the Cup series as a rookie. Coming from a different racing league altogether evidently left Montoya without the ability to control his ego. As an Indy 500 winner, there is no doubt that Montoya can drive a racecar, but he certainly did not understand that the NASCAR series is a different breed altogether. The guys work TOGETHER as a team to get their cars to victory lane. Montoya was stuck with the mentality of, “Just get my car to where it’s supposed to be, and I will drive it when you’re through.”
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Unfortunately, both drivers have suffered from rookie status. Michael McDowell should have listened to Jeff Burton’s radio after the race. I hope he did because he’s in for a surprise if he didn’t. The rule that needs to be learned from rookies doing what McDowell did is that once the lead car passes, it’s time to stop racing the lead pack. You should race those lap cars to maintain your position as the lucky dog, but you should never interfere with the top five cars racing as close as they were for a win at Martinsville. It’s okay to race the leader for a while if you fear losing your lap, but that should be the extent of it. I mean, for goodness sakes, even Kyle Busch moved out of the way for the guys to pass him. Like I said, I truly believe that McDowell changed the outcome of that race by racing the number two, three, and four position cars.
As far as Montoya’s issues are concerned, he has definitely changed his attitude, although it could still use some work. He came into NASCAR with the attitude that he had already earned his right to be in victory lane and came in his rookie year bumping cars, putting drivers like Tony Stewart in the wall, and believing that he was in the right for doing so. In NASCAR, you have to earn your respect from the other 42 drivers that are out there. They have paid their dues. The rookies have to pay theirs as well. Montoya ran his mouth to the media outlets and left the other drivers speechless. He said things that drivers who have been doing this for 20 years would never even think of saying!
What it comes down to is that these new guys need to learn their place. They have to understand that they do NOT know it all and that they have a lot to learn from the veterans. There are just some drivers whose buttons you do not push, like Stewart, and some drivers who are nice enough to let you get away with it, like Burton, but that only lasts for so long. Before you know it, these drivers will go ahead and let you know how they really feel, kind of like what happened when Kevin Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya got in each other’s faces last year. Tempers will fly and cars will be crashed, but that is all part of the learning process. The rookies have to show some caution instead of throwin’ it to the wind. Y’all aren’t that good yet. Give it some time. Go make some laps and take a year to learn the ropes. There’s a lot more to being a great NASCAR driver than driving. THAT, my friend, is what the rookies need to learn.