INDIANAPOLIS — How far do we go with this? How far out of control do we let things get?
These are reasonable questions to ask in the wake of the silliest finish in the history of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the September wingding at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. It ended with Cole Custer’s Chevy grinding along the retaining wall, John Hunter Nemechek’s Chevy doing victory donuts and, ultimately, both drivers rolling around in the grass.
Social media exploded, which, sadly, is how a lot of sanctioning bodies keep score. As long as Facebook hits pile up, questionable on-track hits are excused.
So Robert Towne wins again and stock car racing, once a sport with unspoken but ironclad codes of conduct, slides a bit closer toward becoming motorized roller derby.
Towne is the screenwriter who drafted “Days of Thunder” and convinced thousands of impressionable kids that the phrase “rubbin’ is racin’” was law rather than homespun philosophy. In the space of a generation, rubbing — once a forgivable byproduct of hard racing — became an acceptable offensive tool. That’s what entitled Nemechek to shove Custer out of the lead on the final corner, triggering the wreck and the wrestling match.
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All bets are off these days, at least when two drivers are — here comes another corrupted phrase — “going for the win.”
Because I’m the curious type, I’ll ask again: How far does this go? If Nemechek’s move was OK, what is not OK?
Call me old-fashioned. I grew up believing that a dirty move was a dirty move, whether it occurred on lap six or, as was the case in Canada, on lap 66. Where I came from, any driver who couldn’t cleanly pass the leader settled for second, climbed from the cockpit with head held high and and tried again the following week. If you roughed up a guy for the win, you earned scorn, not the applause we hear from post-Cole Trickle fans, or the cheerleading of broadcasters who get as lathered as prom-night teens when they tell us to expect the unexpected — a winking tease for contact — as the laps wind down.