It has been rather transparent over the last few years that the overall vibe in the NASCAR garage (seemingly for all three national touring series) has darkened quite a bit from the days of old.
That’s not to say there weren’t some pretty heated rivalries in the past. One of the more intense ones to immediately come to my mind is the Geoffory Bodine vs. Dale Earnhardt rivalry. It didn’t matter if they were racing in Cup on Sundays, the Xfinity Series on Saturdays, or the occasional one-offs at the local short track, those two always seemed to find one another.
As a matter of fact, it got so bad at one point that a young Dale Earnhardt Jr. even questioned “what are we doing?” as it seemed like the elder Earnhardt would sometimes go out of his way to wreck the No. 5 Hendrick driver, even if it meant taking himself out.
The closest thing in today’s NASCAR world that could compare is the Hamlin vs. Chastain saga, which we got the latest chapter of as recently as two weeks ago at Phoenix, where Hamlin doored Chastain and pinned him in the wall, costing not only Chastain but himself several positions.
The primary difference between the era in which the Bodine/Earnhardt feud occurred and today’s modern NASCAR is that when the former pair were constantly and consistently running into each other, they were, more or less, isolated incidents. While there is an argument to be made that the Hamlin/Chastain run ins are also isolated to just the two of them, I think the stronger argument lies in the fact that it has affected the NASCAR garage as a whole, with many more drivers speaking out on the issue and putting their two cents in.
It would seem that the morale in the garage dipping is a direct side effect of this. So, we at the Daily Downforce wanted to ask: “Why is this happening?” NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series superstar, Hailie Deegan, gives her thoughts in this very in-depth interview posted on Monster Energy’s YouTube channel.
Let’s break it down.
In the earlier parts of this interview, Hailie Deegan goes into her background in racing and transitioning from two wheels to four wheels in the dirt and then, ultimately, to NASCAR. In this portion of the interview, Hailie mentions the stark differences between the dirt/short track world and the NASCAR garage, describing a lot of the drivers as “stuck up.”
She goes on to say that when she was racing at a local dirt track and/or short track, she felt like almost all the drivers there were her friends. They raced each other hard, yes, but they were still able to revert back to the friendship mentality and it’s simply not that way in the NASCAR garage.
By all accounts, it used to be that way. Sure, some drivers were bound to dislike one another due to their personalities clashing, but there was still a general sense of respect throughout the garage.
Going back to Earnhardt, he had a huge rivalry with Rusty Wallace and even had a handful of run ins with him. However, the two of them were also really good friends and would communicate with one another frequently.
That’s not happening as much these days as the competition is continuing to become much harder. Perhaps this has led to less give and take on the track. With the gap between competition shrinking, drivers are less willing to pull aside and let another go to save their tires as it is so difficult to race back to the front. That leads to harder racing and hurt feelings.
When there is no friendly bond between drivers, it isn’t hard to see how that might affect the overall vibe in the garage. 2-time Cup Series Champion, Kyle Busch, said similar comments on Saturday in Phoenix.
Take a look.
Here in this video posted by DDF ally, DannyB Talks from YouTube, Kyle Busch points the finger at younger drivers, commenting that the level of respect and driver etiquette that was there even as recently as 10-15 years ago just isn’t there anymore. He compared talking to them to talking to a brick wall, comments which Deegan echoed in the interview above.
Many NASCAR fans have also been vocal about the lack of respect drivers seem to show one another:
This is a relatively new phenomenon for NASCAR but has existed for decades in other sports disciplines. It’s not uncommon for players in the NFL, NHL, NBA, etc. to dislike one another. Even teammates can often find their personalities clashing.
Sometimes this can lead to a trade, as with what happened to Dallas Cowboy-turned Philadelphia Eagle, Terrell Owens, or the team can continue on, winning and losing together. For them, when all is said and done, they can pack up and go home, no need to be the best of friends.
So, I beg you this question: Does it even matter if NASCAR drivers aren’t getting along? Does it even matter if the overall feel within the garage is at a heightened level NASCAR has never seen before? It hasn’t affected the aforementioned sports leagues in any significant way. The world of sports keeps turning. Why should NASCAR be any different? Just because something is new and unusual doesn’t necessarily mean it’s unique to NASCAR.