Bumping shoved by fans

Tapping fenders to gain late advantage crashes as NASCAR technique

Auto Racing

September 12, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison stood toe-to-toe swinging their fists at each other's heads.

Bobby Allison pulled up and started swinging at Yarborough's head.

Track workers and officials blew across the infield and toward the fracas, with purposes unclear. A procession of stock cars roared past the scene.

It was 1979, and chaos had a firm grip on the backstretch at Daytona International Speedway. All of it in front of the cameras of CBS, which was televising the 500 live for the first time.

Some say that the mass appeal that NASCAR enjoys took root that day.

America -- particularly folks in the Northeast, who were besieged by a snowstorm and in front of their television sets that day -- got its first big look at the rocking, rollicking sport of NASCAR. And loved it.

There was more rocking and rollicking two weeks ago at Bristol Motor Speedway. But apparently, not all of America loved it.

A very large portion of the 135,000 fans at Bristol stood, booed and gave thumbs down to one of the sport's most popular drivers -- Dale Earnhardt.

Earnhardt had just won the race by shoving Terry Labonte -- not one of the sport's most popular drivers -- into a wall on the last lap. A tactic that heretofore would have been applauded and written of as "just racing" was ripped by fans with their boos and drivers with their words.

Ricky Rudd, who was caught up in the wreck, fumed.

"All I know is I took the white flag figuring I had a great chance at winning the race," he said.

Sterling Marlin talked about a "neck-stretching" for Earnhardt if it were to happen again.

And Labonte threatened to retaliate, saying Earnhardt had better "tighten up" his seat belts.

NASCAR officials reviewed tapes. And did nothing.

Earlier this year, Casey Atwood bumped Jeff Green out of the way on the final lap at the Busch Grand National race in Milwaukee. Atwood, who secured his first Busch win with the tactic, defended himself.

"If he had had the better car, I wouldn't expect anything different [from him]," Atwood said. "The faster car should win the race."

Phil Parsons, who was on the Milwaukee Mile track that day, said that's nonsense.

"I guess I'm from a different school," Parsons said. "There was no question that Casey had the best car. But knocking somebody out of the way is not the way to do it."

Tony Roper, who also was in the Milwaukee race, said: "I wouldn't do it myself. A bump and run on the last lap is the wrong way to win a race."

So, is it dirty pool? Depends on who's holding the cue.

Earlier this year, Labonte himself was asked his reaction to an incident in which Jeff Gordon bumped Dale Jarrett from behind as the two were racing for third place at New Hampshire International Raceway.

Labonte responded, "I'm sure they were just racing."

He wasn't quite so understanding after the Bristol race.

After the finish, many in the stands and in the garages turned their eyes toward the Winston Cup hauler and waited for some kind of penalty to be meted out.

When there was none, many wondered why. After all, in the very same race, Jerry Nadeau was penalized two laps for bumping Jarrett from behind. Why not Earnhardt?

"I guess it depends on who you are," Bobby Labonte said.

And the circumstances.

"I think NASCAR wants to look at it is that if it's good racing, that's OK, but don't deliberately take anybody out," Bobby Labonte said. "There's a fine line on what that is."

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