April 16, 2012
By Matthew Pizzolato
Once upon a time, drivers would do whatever it took to win a race and weren't ashamed to admit it. It's that mentality that made NASCAR what it is today.
The finish of the 1979 Daytona 500 launched NASCAR into the mainstream.
It was the first 500 mile stock car race to be broadcast live on national television. The entire country was watching the final lap when Cale Yarborough tried to draft past Donnie Allison. Allison moved to block him and the two cars slammed into each other and spun into the grass. Richard Petty won the race, while Yarborough and the Allison brothers brawled in the infield.
The race made the front page of The New York Times Sports section and stock car racing officially arrived. What happened to those kinds of drivers with an overpowering desire to win?
Perhaps the last driver with that mentality was The Intimidator Dale Earnhardt. How many times did he move another car out of the way in order to win a race? Fans loved him and some hated him because of it. Yet he drove with aggression and a desire to win.
The reason that Dale Earnhardt is a legend of the sport and the reason that he won seven Championships is because he wanted to win every time he climbed into a racecar. He never settled for second place. If victory was within his grasp, he seized it with both hands.
A few weeks ago at Martinsville, A.J. Allmendinger was in a position to win the first race of his career. All he had to do was move the No. 39 car of Ryan Newman out of the way. It was short track racing at Martinsville, a place where the bump and run is expected. Yet he chose to settle for second.
Even Newman was mentally prepared for Allmendinger to try something.
"The relief was when we got the white flag, and I saw A.J. on the outside," Newman was quoted as saying in a press conference at Martinsville. "I didn't know how A.J. was going to race me, if he'd try to take me out or anything. You never know. You can never anticipate that emotion."
What is the reasoning behind climbing into a racecar and not trying to win? That's like pressing the buttons harder on a remote control when you know the batteries are dead. It just doesn’t make sense.
Western writer Louis L'Amour once wrote, "Opportunities didn't come knocking around, you had to hunt them down and hog-tie them."
With a field of 43 drivers, opportunities to win a Cup race don't present themselves very often. How long will it be before Allmendinger gets another chance at a victory? He later said that he doesn't want to win a race that way.
A win is a win. It doesn't matter if a driver wrecks another car to get to Victory Lane, it doesn't matter if the race is shortened by weather, or extended by a green-white-checkered finish.
In NASCAR, nice guys finish second.
If you would like to learn more about Matthew, please check out his web site at matthew-pizzolato.com.
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.