NASCAR Racing Etiquette 101
Veteran drivers recall the tough lessons every rookie must learn
By RICK MINTER / Cox Newspapers
The week off that followed the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski incident at Atlanta Motor Speedway meant that when the drivers arrived at Bristol Motor Speedway last Friday, it was the first chance for the media to quiz them about the incident and its aftermath.
Not surprisingly, a lot of the questioning centered on how young drivers learn the unwritten rules of the sport, especially when it comes to aggressive driving. Call it Racing Etiquette 101.
It didn’t take Jeff Gordon but a second to recall his introduction to class.
“Phoenix,1993. Dale Earnhardt Sr. and me backing into the wall,” Gordon said. “Yeah, I remember it well.
“At the time I was pretty mad, and didn’t think I was deserving of it. About six years later I was like, ‘Now I get it.’
“I was racing way too hard for 10th place, too early in the race, and I had it coming to me. It was the perfect time to teach me a lesson from the best guy to do it. I never forgot it, obviously, but I did learn from it.”
Kasey Kahne said he learned his first big lesson from Gordon, and apparently all Gordon had to do was point his finger out the window during a race.
“I’m not sure which finger I was pointing out the window at Kasey that day, but it worked,” Gordon said. “I think every rookie goes through that, and that’s what makes being a rookie so tough. You feel the pressure. You feel out of your element. You’re not sure if you belong there or if you have what it takes.
“You’re going though these lessons that you don’t want to go through, you don’t like going through them, but it’s necessary. It makes you a better driver, and it’s what everybody has to go through. If there’s a rookie that comes in and doesn’t go through that will you let me know so we can make sure he doesn’t get through the season clean?”
Denny Hamlin said Mark Martin schooled him at Martinsville.
“It was my only DNF [Did Not Finish] of my rookie season,” he said. “I was racing Mark Martin I think pretty hard, probably midway through the race, and he just ran right up into me and cut my left rear tire on purpose.
“I spun out, I tried to cause a caution and I ended up backing into the fence and ended our day.”
Hamlin said he was really mad at the time and talked to Martin the next day.
“He was like, ‘Why were you even running me that hard?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know to be honest with you.’ But I feel like all the mistakes I’ve made, I’ve at least made a conscious effort to try to correct them or learn from them.”
Sometimes class was even a little funny, or at least the stories are now.
Jimmie Johnson learned some lessons from both Burton brothers, Jeff and Ward.
It was Ward and his thick Virginia accent that Johnson remembers most.
It started with a crash at New Hampshire.
“We were coming from the back and coming up through there and we got together going into Turn 1, and I got into him and turned him around and he hit the fence,” Johnson said. “He got back on track and spent like four or five laps trying to crash me. So then I was pretty nervous about what went on and started tracking him down.
“I called his office but that didn’t work and somehow I got his home phone number. And I don’t know what made him more mad actually, whether it was me calling him on the phone or calling him at home. I think he was cussing at me because it was a little tough to understand him, but he went on for 30 seconds in just four-letter words and he finally calmed down and we talked it out from there.
“That’s just a part of it.”