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Tony Stewart on Driver Etiquette: Has It Changed Out of Necessity?

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NASCAR driver etiquette has been under scrutiny in recent years because of the increase in driver aggression. Tony Stewart offered some interesting comments regarding driver etiquette. He feels that the reason why there has been such an increase in aggressiveness is not necessarily because of drivers not wanting to race clean, but out of necessity.

Is there merit to some of what Tony Stewart said? Is the radical increase in parity the reason why drivers have been forced to drive more aggressively in years past?

Analyzing Tony Stewart’s Comments

Tony Stewart has an interesting perspective on this. He came into the sport in the late 1990s, and he is now a team owner in the Gen-7 Cup Series car era. He has closer inside knowledge on the sport than others may have.

If anyone would know how much racing has changed in recent years, it’s Tony Stewart. The crux of his comments is that the recent shift in aggressiveness amongst NASCAR Cup Series drivers is because they have to be more aggressive due to the card being so close together.

Now, everybody’s got the same stuff, and everybody’s super close. So, where before you had comers and goers…you don’t have that anymore. Now, when guys are fighting for position, it’s not a ‘we’ll give it away early in this run because we’ll get it back on the end of the run.’ The etiquette, I guess, so to speak, has gone out the window, but circumstances have changed that etiquette…that’s the hand [the drivers] are forced.

Tony Stewart via Sirius XM NASCAR Radio

It’s no secret that driver aggression has ramped up in recent years. Multiple incidents such as the ones Ross Chastain has been involved in, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson at Pocono or even the late race restart at Richmond show that.

It’s also no secret that the field has tightened up significantly and the cars are far more durable than in recent years. Stewart brought up the durability of the tires and equipment as a reason that aggressive driving is incentivized.

Richmond this past weekend did show that tire wear still matters on some race tracks, so, that’s not a totally fair comment. However, all 36 cars also finished that race, and you have to go all the way back to Gateway in June to find a race with more than four cars failing to finish. These cars are durable, and they can be raced aggressively.

Tony Stewart is not the only driver to make these comments either.

What Other Drivers Have Had to Say

The most recent controversial aggressive driving move in NASCAR came at Pocono a couple of races ago. Denny Hamlin put Kyle Larson in the wall, either by aero or by contact, in order to take the lead. Hamlin went on to win the race.

Hamlin defended the move after the race, and he even echoed some of the same thoughts that Stewart had in “Actions Detrimental” following Pocono. He made these comments when trying to describe what he was thinking heading into the restart.

At that track all day, there was no clean pass to be had…These next-gen cars are so draggy that when you get side-by-side the outside guy can just hold you, hold you, hold you…I needed [Larson] to miss a corner for me to have a shot.

Denny Hamlin

Hamlin mentions there how his aggression was necessitated by the situation. It’s not an apples to apples comparison to what Stewart was talking about, but Hamlin genuinely felt he was left no choice but to be aggressive in that moment. If he was not, he was not going to win, and he felt he could not make a clean pass.

Hamlin also expressed that he agreed with what Stewart had to say on Twitter.

Now, this is just one isolated incident, but it does highlight some of what Stewart was trying to say. Aggressive drivers also tend to have great success in NASCAR.

For as many incidents as he was involved in, Ross Chastain was in the Championship Four last year thanks to the “Hail Melon.” However, does this apply to everyone in every situation?

The Other Side of the Coin

The current Cup Series points leader is Martin Truex Jr. He has won three races this season, and he has gained a bit of a reputation as NASCAR’s “most boring winner.” How often do you hear about Martin Truex Jr. making somebody else upset on the race track?

He’s very rarely at the center of an on-track controversy because of aggressive driving. In an era where aggression seems to be an absolute necessity to win a Championship, Truex Jr. currently sits as the points leader, not to mention a Championship in 2017.

He’s the exact opposite of what Stewart is talking about. While, yes, maybe some people feel that aggression is a necessity, Truex Jr. is proving the opposite. Even drivers like William Byron who, aside from some over-aggressive retaliation of Denny Hamlin at Texas last fall, seem to race clean and race well. Byron leads the circuit in wins this season with four.

Maybe Tony Stewart’s comments have some truth to them, but are they all-encompassing? The current Cup Series standings paint a more complicated picture.

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Picture of Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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