Craig Murto

Craig Murto

With only five regular season Monster Energy NASCAR Cup races remaining before the playoffs, this is not the time for drivers in championship contention to be making enemies.

But Kyle Busch apparently hasn’t gotten the memo.

Busch doesn’t care what other competitors or fans think of him. But following Sunday’s race on the road course in Watkins Glen, New York, there are at least two drivers he needs to watch out for on the track.

Early in Stage One, Busch made an inside move in Turn 1 to pass William Byron. It appeared that Busch spun due to his own mistake, getting his right tires on the inside curb and unbalancing the car. But it was obvious he felt he wasn’t given enough room, as when he caught Byron heading into the Bus Stop Chicane section, he gave Byron a bump and sent him off the track.

Once the stage ended, Byron’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, got on the radio and told his driver that if his car came back around without damage to prove he showed Kyle Busch he wasn’t happy, “We’re going to have a problem.”

Well, that just created more problems for Byron, because after ramming into the rear of Busch’s car, Byron’s machine suffered all the damage. Maybe the next time Knaus will let his driver handle it without egging him on. Regardless, that’s one competitor not happy with Kyle Busch.

Later in the race, Bubba Wallace went off track and into the wall. TV cameras didn’t catch the beginning of the incident, but Wallace obviously blamed Kyle Busch. Later in the race, front-stretch fans were given the spectacle of watching Wallace and Busch beat and bang down the straight until Wallace spun Busch off course entering Turn 1. After the race, Wallace was very vocal about the fact that he will not take any rough driving from Busch in the future.

The problem for Busch is that you don’t want enemies entering into the playoffs. The last thing he needs if he’s going to contend for the championship is a couple of drivers who do all they can to make his life difficult on the racetrack. Byron and Wallace can make themselves very hard to pass, while at the same time practically pull over for Busch’s competition. Or, worst-case scenario, one or the other could wait for just the right time to exact some revenge and destroy Busch’s title hopes.

Entering the playoffs is not the time to make enemies on the track.

There are always similar controversies at local racetracks as well. And racing incidents are dealt with a number of different ways at different local tracks.

Some tracks don’t penalize on-track incidents; they leave it to drivers to work out their problems after the race. Other tracks put all drivers involved to the rear of the field, no questions asked. Some tracks make judgment calls and assign blame to one driver or another.

But there’s another way to deal with on-track incidents that’s popular in the Midwest, and it’s called the tap rule.

Let’s say I’m racing you for position and I try an inside pass that goes wrong. I spin you out, or both of us spin.

Under the tap rule, we’re both automatically going to the rear of the field, unless one of us takes responsibility. Yes, I know, it’s rare that people take responsibility for their own actions these days, but that’s how the tap rule works.

If I feel that I got in the corner too hard and our contact was my fault, I simply stop at the starting line and tap my roof. That lets officials know that I took the blame and you get to keep your position. Likewise, if you feel the contact was your fault because you didn’t leave me enough racing room, you can “tap out” at the starting line and officials will allow me to keep my position.

Granted, this is a type of honor system that may not catch on right away. But in places it is utilized, it prevents a lot of fighting in the pits and fosters more respect among the racers involved.

Of course, tap rules work for local racing. On the national scene, the only tap rule is the one Bubba Wallace used to send Kyle Busch spinning. And that’s a good reason not to make enemies as we get closer to the playoffs.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.