Martin a wreck over bad behavior

Driver advocates fewer collisions after tempers flared last week

Auto Racing

September 25, 2005|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun reporter

DOVER, DEL. — Nextel Cup driver Mark Martin has long been a voice of reason in the fast-paced, highly emotional world of stock car racing. And if you think Martin's voice is beginning to sound a little hoarse, you may be right.

This weekend at Dover International Speedway, where the Nextel Cup Series has come for the MBNA RacePoints 400, the second race in The Chase for the Championship, there likely will be ample opportunity for drivers and their teams to again demonstrate the self-control of juveniles.

"We can all speculate on what might happen going forward," Martin said. "But first and foremost, we need as a group to stop wrecking all the time. There's no point in that and, hopefully, maybe we'll make some headway with that."

It is like a mantra with Martin, and it hits home after a weekend like the one the sport just experienced in New Hampshire. There, wrecks said to be unintentional were judged to be otherwise by those receiving the blows. Drivers responded with payback hits and obscene gestures and, in an incident between Michael Waltrip and Robby Gordon, Gordon got out of his car and walked onto the track in the midst of moving race cars to throw his helmet at Waltrip.

Others have been furious enough to wait alongside the road to hurl their helmets, but it is difficult to recall anyone else actually walking up two lanes of moving traffic to mark his fury. It was a move that could have had disastrous repercussions, as the flying helmet bounced off the Waltrip car toward that of points leader Tony Stewart, who just missed it, and other cars swerved to avoid hitting Gordon.

"There's a lot of pressure in this business," Martin said. "I think people are feeling the pressure and think the risk on wrecking is worth the reward. As a fan, I would like to see more racing and less wrecking."

But it appears NASCAR is not sure that's how most race fans feel. NASCAR president Mike Helton has said officials will do "whatever is necessary" to stop such incidents.

Last weekend, the sanctioning body handed out penalties ranging from $15,000 to $35,000, took away from 25 to 50 points in the drivers' standings and notified some drivers that they are on "probation" through the final nine races.

Certainly the past several years have proven the fines and point deductions such as those just levied have had little impact.

The last time NASCAR actually suspended a driver was 2003, when Sterling Marlin was told to stay home after putting his fist in Kurt Busch's face in Michigan.

But such penalties are difficult in a sport that lists an infield brawl between brothers Bobby and Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough in the infield on the last lap of the 1979 Daytona 500 among the most important moments in the sport's history.

"Everywhere I have been this week, everyone is talking about that [New Hampshire] race," said Jeff Gordon, NASCAR's four-time Cup champion. "I think the controversy draws a lot more attention, typically. I think you're probably going to see a spike in viewership this weekend just based on what happened last weekend."

Gordon said he thought those involved in last week's incidents should have faced "severe" penalties but added it isn't easy to impose those penalties.

"I feel when a lot of these situations happen, NASCAR would probably like to sit somebody at home for a weekend," Gordon said. "But you've got to think of sponsors, too. That plays a big role and what they are getting out of the sport and whether they want to continue to invest in the sport.

"When you're making those calls, you've got to think of everything. You can't just think of what that driver did or what that crew chief did. You've got to think of the big picture as well."

But seeing the big picture means drivers who are concentrated on their own picture feel almost compelled to deliver a kind of cowboy justice.

About a month ago, Dale Jarrett retaliated after he felt Ryan Newman had intentionally hit his car. After Kasey Kahne responded to being wrecked by Kyle Busch by rear-ending Busch under caution, he said he saw how Jarrett reacted against Newman and did the same.

Yesterday, Jarrett said he'd like to be admired for some other quality but explained how incidents get out of control.

"Until you sit in our seat, you have no idea what goes on," he said. "You see time and again people run over people for no reason. I can't say for no reason. Obviously they're racing, and that's been a part of the sport, but you find yourself in that position time and again, and you don't see anything happening there [to the perpetrator]."

Jarrett said there are no easy solutions.

"It's a competitive sport," he said. "Most of the time - 98 percent of the time - we handle it very professionally, and then that other two percent, yeah, we get a little out of control. But that's also what fills these stands up, too. So don't think they're [NASCAR] totally upset about everything going on out there."

smm2me@aol.com

NASCAR

Nextel Cup

POINT LEADERS

Driver Points Wins Top 5s Top 10s

Tony Stewart 5,230 5 13 19

Greg Biffle 5,210 5 11 16

Ryan Newman 5,190 1 6 11

Rusty Wallace 5,190 0 7 15

Matt Kenseth 5,180 1 7 12

Jimmie Johnson 5,177 2 9 16

Mark Martin 5,176 0 6 13

Jeremy Mayfield 5,135 1 4 7

Carl Edwards 5,121 2 8 10

Kurt Busch 5,088 3 8 14

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