Respect is a tough line to balance in NASCAR racing right now

Respect. It’s a noun. The definition of it is a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements. For most, that seven letter word means more than anything else in life. You want to feel respected from others, especially your peers. Without respect, you’re looked at differently. In this day and age as we get deeper and deeper in 2020, respect is talked about more now than ever before.

But, what about respect in a sport? Some athletes will say that how their peers look at them, well it sometimes means more than on the field greatness. It’s an honor to be respected by those competing against or even with you. Despite that, in order to be great at times, and after all, that’s the first goal in any athlete is to be great at their respective sport, you also have to made some hard choices on the way up.

With sports being so closely competitive now, especially in NASCAR, in order to be great, you have to be able to take some risks to get there and that may include ruffling some feathers.

Joey Logano was a lap down last Saturday night at the Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway and he was in the way of Kyle Busch at the end of the Bass Pro Shops Night Race. With Busch in the midst of an intense battle with Kevin Harvick for the win in the end, Logano impeded Busch’s progress which ultimately led to a second place finish instead of a win.

“He’s nobody’s friend for a reason,” Busch said of Logano after the race. He felt disrespected by his former teammate.

Busch, said that ever after he finally got by Logano, the thought never came into his head on getting up to Harvick and just moving him out of his way in order to earn his first win of the season. He doesn’t want to race that way anymore. He has respect for Harvick.

“It actually never crossed my mind,” Busch said on if he would have moved Harvick for the win. “You always try to win races clean.  You always try to race hard and race clean and get the job done right.”

Harvick and Denny Hamlin have been in an intense fight for race wins all season. They’ve run with each other all year and have had no animosity either. That’s because both have been vocal for their respect for one another.

The respect between Harvick and Hamlin is mutual

Chase Elliott agrees with that. The two-time defending Most Popular Driver in the sport feels like you have to race others for how you’d like to be raced. With competition being so tight, you don’t want to make too many enemies out there because that could ruin a chance to advance in the playoffs as a result.

“I honestly feel like there are times if it’s not your day it’s not your day,” Elliott said. “That’s how I see it. If I’m getting lapped, it’s not my day. I know for dang sure, if I’m getting lapped by the leaders and the race is coming to a close, I feel like I have strived to make sure that I’m out of the way for the simple fact that I want that returned to me if I was ever in the other position racing for the win and trying to get through lapped traffic, I feel like you need all the help that you can get.

“So, I just do it as I would want it done to me on the other end and kind of deal with it that way. It’s truly up to the individual. There’s not a written or unwritten rule for what is right and what is wrong. I think as a racer, you know when it’s your day or when you’re struggling or whatever it may be.”

While Elliott is a well liked driver in the garage and out of it, he doesn’t come to the track to make friends though. He said his closeness with several drivers actually dates back to when they were little and has nothing to do with becoming friends as competitors against each other. They were friends long before they became NASCAR drivers.

“I don’t necessarily go to the track to make friends,” Elliott continued. “I feel like my friendships around the track happened when I was a kid. It just so happened to be that way because of me being at the race track.

“I can’t say that I made many friends since I’ve been racing with the rest of them and I really don’t have a relationship with very many of the guys on the circuit. I can definitely understand the side of ‘no we’re not there to make friends.’ It’s really more of a respect thing than a friendship on the track. If you respect somebody, I think the right thing is to show them that. especially if it’s mutual. If it’s not, that’s typically where problems come in and there certainly are different views of things and guys have different ways to approaching and solving problems.”

Martin Truex Jr. also says that you have to have respect for your fellow competitors too in order to be in a position when needed to earn a championship. He felt disrespected by Logano too a couple of years ago in Martinsville in the playoffs. Logano, bumped Truex out of the way to win that year which propelled him to the Championship 4 and an eventual title.

“I think there is,” Truex said on giving respect on the race track. “That’s something I’ve always tried to do. At the end of the day, you have to get the best finish you can get. If that’s racing clean and giving guys a little bit of room and cutting guys some breaks, that’s worth doing.”

Still, it’s a fine line balancing act. You can’t be “Mr. Nice Guy” all the time either because you’ll just get walked all over. You can’t let everybody by just because they’re faster because you could be giving up crucial points that could also in turn keep you out of advancing into the next round of the playoffs.

So, how do you balance that?

Logano is at the center of a lot of this and he’s no stranger to confrontation in the sport. What’s weird about that is, he’s one of the nicest drivers in the garage too. He says he’s not here to make friends and it’s all about championships and success for him. That’s what he’s paid to do after all.

His teammate in Brad Keselowski said that he’s most impressed on how Dale Earnhardt was able to do what these drivers do now but still remain respected.

“There’s a lot of people who think that Dale Earnhardt was the best driver ever and I think he was really good, but one the things that he probably didn’t get a lot of credit for but I respect the most about him is that he had the ability to just go out and wreck someone on the race track and not that people didn’t get mad at him, but they forgot about it and moved on,” said Keselowski.

“He had it mastered. Absolutely mastered. I look at that all the time and think, ‘how did he do that?’ Keep in mind that was an era before social media and before the super big sponsors and maybe times have changed permanently forever. I certainly wonder about that and wonder how he can go out and wreck somebody and still remain friends.”

Keselowski, notes that this doesn’t exist in Cup right now and may not ever again. Now, with how close everyone is in terms of on track competition, he compares NASCAR drivers to wide receivers.

“That doesn’t exist in Cup right now,” Keselowski continued. “It’s because no one has or ever has the personality that Dale had. The reality is, unless you have the dominant car, you have to make bold moves and do things that make people pretty angry to win. It’s not a fun part of the process but you can’t win without it. In theory, the best way is to go out and have the best car. The reality is on any given weekend, it’s only one driver and any given season, it’s one car two or three times.

“I was thinking about this the other day, a lot of times when I hear from people are you a quarterback on the team? Honestly I’m not really the quarterback on the team. I’m probably the wide receiver skilled position because my job is very similar to a wide receiver because when I’m wide open I better catch the ball. That’s the same as having the fastest race car. You better make the most out of it. When I’m completely covered, I’ve got to find a way to come down with the ball and that’s when you don’t have the fastest race car and you’ve got to go out and find away to succeed. Trying to come down with the ball when you’re fully covered in a scrum, you have to throw a few elbows and people get upset. The position we’re in and we’ve been in is one that we’re not always the fastest car and we have to throw a few elbows. It’s not where we want to be, but it’s reality and the only other move is to just give up and that’s not who I am and not who Joey (Logano) is.

“It certainly is an art that Dale Earnhardt has done better than anyone else that’s led to a lot of success and it’s not one that exists in Cup today.”

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