Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Stewart Steps Up

Tony Stewart seems to be taking his role as reigning NASCAR Nextel Cup Champion seriously. Voicing a very real concern about “bump drafting” getting out of hand, he declared “somebody is going to get killed.”
In making such a statement, he was exercising his ablility as Champion to act as a spokesperson for the NASCAR drivers, and utilizing his own personality trait of “telling it like it is.” It used to be that Tony would get out of his car after the race, and confront a driver he thought screwed up on the track, even fighting with him, if he felt he needed that to get his point across. That is the way race car drivers at all levels have always handled differences. But nowadays, with all the media attention on such incidents, NASCAR and the all-important sponsers frown on that kind of behavior, imposing heavy fines and sanctions.He knows, now, that as the reigning Champion, he can get his complaints out in the open by speaking to the media.

And his point is valid. Bump drafting is a natural technique in restrictor plate races, it is a way for two cars to help each other go faster; drivers have been doing it for a long time, and there is no harm in it if it is done on a straightaway. However, there are three or four drivers who don’t quite get it, and have modified bump drafting into something called “slam” drafting. Slam drafting is hitting the car in front with such force that it gets the car out of line, usually spinning it into the wall or into other cars. Often, the slam is commited on a turn, or on entering or exiting the turn, and this is a sure way to cause a wreck. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., speaking on the same subject, called bump drafting a “necessary evil.”
“If you don’t do it, there is no race. You just have a line of cars going around the track nose to tail.
“But,” he continued, “when you get turned coming off of a corner, the guys behind you don’t know you got turned, and that causes some real problems.”
There are actually only three or four drivers who are consistently guilty of slam drafting. I won’t mention any names, but two of them are brothers with the same last name as a popular brand of beer, who admit they don’t much care for restrictor plate racing. Another, who’s name rhymes with “Brian Vickers (oops),” seems to have to learn anew every season that he isn’t the only car on the track. Other drivers may take the practice up out of retaliation or just plain frustration. My point is, the the problem with slam drafting could be remedied simply by NASCAR being a little more liberal with using the black flag for rough driving. Not as liberal as they were during the Bud Shootout with Carl Edwards (who showed he isn’t always happy, after all), when he was penalized for going below the yellow line to avoid a wreck, but to let the drivers know that slam drafting, particularly in the corners, will not be tolerated.
While I’m still on the subject of Tony Stewart, here are some gems from his Speed Weeks Media Day press conference, courtesy of Motorsport.com network:

Q. Last year you changed a lot of things. You're
working with the team in a different way, getting
along better. Do you feel like you're a different
person now than you were before? Do you think that
has changed you?
TONY STEWART: Didn't we talk about that all year
last year?
Q. Yeah, but we're going into another year.
TONY STEWART: You think as soon as the calendar
year changed, all of a sudden the moon and the
stars were going to go a different direction?
Q. No.
TONY STEWART: Okay, there's your answer.

Q. Greg Biffle said during the media tour
qualifying at Daytona is the most boring thing we
do as race drivers. He said (inaudible) cell phone
for 40 minutes before he goes out. Do you view
qualifying as boring?
TONY STEWART: No, testing is boring -- the most
boring thing we do as a driver at Daytona. Yeah, I
mean, we spend -- it's kind of funny because we
spend two hours a weekend worrying about
qualifying and we spend two 45-minute sessions
working on race stuff, we spend two laps in the
qualifying, we spend three and a half hours in the
race. I think we spend way too much time and
effort for two laps of qualifying for sure.
Q. What do you do here sitting on pit road waiting
to go out to qualify? Talk on the cell phone?
TONY STEWART: I haven't figured out how to get a
cell phone inside my helmet yet.
Q. He said he keeps his helmet off.
TONY STEWART: The bad thing is NASCAR makes you
put your helmet on before you go on pit lane so we
can't do that any more. I normally am looking
through the net to see -- hopefully it's a hot day
and there are girls in tank tops out there. You
guys know me. You ask me an honest question, I'm
giving you an honest answer. I'm a single guy, I'm
looking for hot chicks on pit lane. That's all I'm
doing. If I can't see them, normally there's a
crew guy saying, you need to look at 11:00 to your
left, check it out.
Q. Far more interesting than talking on your cell
TONY STEWART: Yeah, who would you talk to? I don't
even like cell phones. I'm not the best at talking
on cell phones anyway. It's not a national pastime
of mine like it is most people.

Q. What's your opinion of restrictor plate racing?
How do you feel like you evolved as a driver over
the years?
TONY STEWART: Still a checkers player.
Q. You won, so.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, but it doesn't mean that you
got that confidence every week that you can go out
and win every week here. It's a chess match and
I'm a checkers player. Hopefully I make the right
move at the right time.

And this is what Smoke said at the end of the conference:

The rest of my day is going to suck. This is what
I was looking forward to because this is where you
have the most fun because everything else sucks.
You can put that on the record, too.

That’s actually a pretty nice thing to say, coming from a guy who supposedly doesn’t like the media.

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