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Lack of Respect? Road Course Ringers Have Their Say on COTA

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Cody Williams

Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
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Road course ringers are nothing new to the world of NASCAR. For decades upon decades, they were quite common not only in the lower series (where it still seems to be the norm, even through today) but in the Cup series as well.

If a NASCAR team had a fulltime driver who wasn’t too hot on road courses, they’d call up a ringer to slide into the seat for a one-off. The practice was far from unheard of and, since there were only a handful of NASCAR regulars who were passable at turning right, they would often run near the front, even snagging a win here and there.

But as time marched on, NASCAR drivers became more and more competitive at these types of tracks. The performances of the ringers suffered as a result and the need for them sort of just tapered off. That changed in 2023 with not only COTA but the addition of the Chicago street course to the schedule. This peaked the interest of many drivers from outside of the NASCAR world, including INDYCAR driver, Conor Daly and Formula 1 World Champions, Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button.

But the NASCAR landscape had changed significantly since serious road course ringers graced the sport with their presence. With a total of 7 road course races on the NASCAR schedule, drivers have gotten a lot better at turning right…and maybe more importantly, driver etiquette seems to have been ditched altogether and overall attitudes in the garage area have soured significantly.

Lack of Respect: A Common Complaint

It’s a problem in any sport when the athletes overall morale issues outshine the actual play-of-game or the on-track product. In NASCAR we’ve been seeing a deterioration in driver morale for the last several years.

Older drivers such as Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin are complaining about the sheer lack of respect and mindful driving among the younger drivers- and it has led to a thick bitterness in the air of the garage area. Drivers aren’t liking each other very much. Even when it comes to teammates.

At COTA, Daniel Suarez was livid with the way his teammate, Ross Chastain, raced him in the closing laps. Suarez was having a solid race and most likely would have finished in the top-5 but, due to drivers essentially running over top of one another, he got spun out and finished an undeserved 27th. And he wasn’t the only casualty of what many would call overly aggressive driving.

Stewart-Haas Racing driver, Ryan Preece, called for an “ass-kicking” as he got wrecked and wound up 32nd with destroyed front end of his No. 41 Ford.

JettMDK commented on the lack of respect amongst the drivers as well in his race recap and review. What was shaping up to be a pretty damn-good race petered out as drivers just couldn’t stop collecting one another in numerous on-track incidents – leading to 3 overtime attempts.

But it’s one thing to hear the same old complains from the same old drivers and fans week after week. After a while, it just becomes stale and it loses its impact.

What was unique about this weekend’s race at COTA, though, was that there were a handful of “outsiders” in the race–professional racing drivers from other disciplines who can now also comment add their takes on this growing issue. How did they do yesterday? And, more importantly, what to they have to say about NASCAR drivers blatant lack of respect? Here’s the lowdown:

Jenson Button

2009 Formula 1 World Champion made his NASCAR debut during Sunday’s race at COTA. He was driving the 51 Mobile 1 Ford Mustang for Rick Ware Racing with the car being prepared by Stewart-Haas Racing.

There was a lot of excitement about his inclusion in the race specifically and while he didn’t really have a great performance (he came home 18th due to some last-lap calamity), he did have some interesting words regarding the beating and banging nature of today’s NASCAR racing.

The part of the interview that really stood out to me was when the interviewer asked about respecting the NASCAR drivers. Button stated that he respects some of their abilities but was disappointed in other ways, insinuating their noted lack of respect for speed, the cars, and other drivers.

He also made the very interesting point that this sort of aggressiveness is going to continue…until the drivers are penalized for it, which is something Kyle Busch, who raced Tyler Reddick very cleanly and fairly at the end of the race, has mentioned as well.

Towards the end of the clip, he was asked about the Chicago street course, which he will also be running. To me, he didn’t see too excited for it, noting that he needed a breather.

Jordan Taylor

There were a lot of eyes on IMSA Champion, Jordan Taylor, heading into this weekend at COTA. I mean, he was filling in for NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver in Chase Elliott. Of course, there was a lot of attention around him. Add into the fact that he qualified 4th and it’s safe to say that expectations were pretty high.

This was Taylor’s first NASCAR race and, like Jenson Button, he struggled early on. However, he did manage to crack back into the top-10 just before that last restart. But, as the field fanned out heading into turn 1, Taylor was hit from behind and spun out. He finished 24th. A disappointing finish for sure.

But I’d like to highlight his comments from his post-race interview provided by the Front Stretch YouTube channel. There he said that the aggression caught him off guard and even compared the racing to “target practice.”

Fan reaction would certainly seem to echo Taylor’s concerns, one of them in Kylewagoner even describing the racing as “embarrassing”.

Kimi Raikkonen

Kimi Raikkonen, having raced in NASCAR a little more than the other ringers, was able to anticipate the aggressiveness a little more. While he ran significantly better than he did at Walkins Glen last year in his Project 91 Chevy, a late race spin caused by everyone aggressively fighting for space had him come home in the 29th position.

His descriptions of the day were “wrong place, wrong time” offered with a shoulder shrug.

Ross Chastain

The catalyst for a lot of this negativity regarding driver etiquette is none other than Ross Chastain. He even got into an incident with his teammate, Daniel Suarez which ultimately led to a pit road confrontation. Regardless, he feels like he put on a great “show.” An entertaining “show.” Not race, “show.”

For all his flaws when it comes to the driver etiquette debate, he also seems to be the one at the center of the racing vs. sports entertainment debate.

A Solution?

The big question coming out of COTA is this: Was the showing, especially towards the end of the race, and embarrassment for NASCAR? For the first time in history, we had two F1 Champions in the field, a 7-time Cup Series Champion, and an IMSA Champion all competing in the same race. This attracted a lot of eyes to the sport, some of them from the outside.

Maybe there are F1 fans tuning in because they want to see how their boys do against the “greatest stock car drivers in the world.” With that in mind, was this race something to be proud of? Was the way these drivers raced one another admirable and attractive fans of other forms of racing?

It takes no skill to simply run somebody over. Any moron can do that. To race Tyler Reddick as hard as Kyle Busch did on the last lap and just get bested, yeah, that takes some talent and car control. So, is this just the way NASCAR’s going to be from now on? Is NASCAR just destined to fuel the stereotype of being a glorified demolition derby? I don’t know. I certainly hope not.

Jenson Button was right when he said in his interview above that it would continue to happen unless the governing body steps in and does something. Kyle Busch agrees. Here he calls for repercussions. What should those repercussions be? That’s debatable. W

hat isn’t debatable is that something needs to be done and by the drivers. The Denny Hamlin penalty proves that when drivers police it themselves, they get penalized for it.

But that’s just our take. What’s yours? Let us know.

NASCAR 75th Anniversary Commemorative Magazine

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Cody Williams

Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
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