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NO MORE MR. NICE GUYS.

Byline: TIM HADDOCK Motor Sports

There are certain unwritten rules in sports:

If a batter is crowding the plate, the pitcher brushes him back.

If a hockey player blindsides a goalie, the guilty party had better be ready for a hip check into the boards or at the very least a firm facewash in the crease.

And if a yellow caution flag flies during a NASCAR race, drivers aren't supposed to pass each other.

The no-passing-under-caution rule is referred to by drivers as the gentleman's agreement, an agreement that has been cast aside in recent races. The latest incident involved Richard Childress Racing teammates Robby Gordon and Kevin Harvick.

Gordon passed Harvick under caution at Infineon Raceay in Sonoma on Sunday. The pass gave Gordon the lead, one he never relinquished, and has been the root of debate among drivers for the last few days.

While Gordon won his first race of the season and his first in nearly two years, four-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon (for the last time, Jeff and Robby Gordon are not related) was the first to point out that the pass was dangerous, ill-advised and in complete disregard to the aforementioned gentleman's agreement.

Which has led several Winston Cup drivers to declare: To hell with the gentleman's agreement.

Jimmy Spencer and Ken Schrader, two drivers who have a hard time being silent on such tempestuous topics, have sided with Robby Gordon's decision, which put him in position to win a race.

``There's always gray area any time the green flag drops in a Winston Cup race as far as NASCAR explains to us a gentleman's agreement,'' said Spencer, driver of the No. 7 Dodge for Ultra Motorsports.

``When I first started in this sport, when you drove real, real hard, you'd always get in trouble and not finish races. Today, the equipment, the engines, the cars, the tires, the braking systems are so advanced over where they were 10 years ago that you have to drive as hard as you can once they drop the green flag to the checkered.''

The incident between the Gordon boys and Harvick is only the latest in a line of indiscretions and discourtesties drivers have been exchanging.

There was Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth racing to keep lapped cars down at Texas Motor Speedway. Tony Stewart has shown he won't give back laps under caution, either. Gone are the days of patience under pressure. The new breed of driver, as Robby Gordon proved Sunday, is willing to make enemies on his way to victory.

``We have come to take advantage of this gentleman's agreement,'' Spencer said. ``I heard a lot about what Robby did. I saw what Jeff Gordon did at Texas, and Jeff Gordon did the right thing at Texas. We as a bunch of drivers have to come up with something. I don't think it's NASCAR's rule because NASCAR can only police that caution line.

``Passing under the caution is a bad deal, but on the other side of it, you can gain a spot. You can win a race because of it. You win a Winston Cup race and you're set. Your sponsor is set for the rest of the year. The pressure is off. A lot of things put pressure on everybody. I think the pressure of the sport has caused drivers to say, `I agree, there is a gentleman's agreement.' We put our helmet on, we get in the car and say, `To hell with the gentleman's agreement. We try to gain everything we can.' ''

Schrader, driver of the No. 49 Dodge for BAM Racing, agrees with Spencer that the days of the gentleman's agreement between drivers have passed their time.

But he also said he believes NASCAR can do a better job of enforcing a rule to stop drivers from making risky moves under caution.

``I understand why the gentleman's agreement is in place, but I wonder if it hasn't outlived itself,'' Schrader said. ``Do we really need something like that or is it not time to take it one step further? Every other rule we have is in black and white in the rule book, so why not this one? I just think we need to take this to that point. If it's anything else, the rule is there. If something is supposed to be 33 inches, you pick up a rule book and see `33 inches.' That way if it's 34 inches, then you know it's wrong and there's not a lot of question about it.''

Times are definitely changing in NASCAR. First it's the Southern 500 becoming the Southern California 500, with the annual Darlington (S.C.) Raceway Labor Day weekend race moving to California Speedway in 2004. Now it appears that as the sport grows, the stakes are rising accordingly.

``It's not NASCAR's fault. It's the drivers' fault,'' Spencer said. ``Some guys push the limit and some guys don't. I think you have to realize that certain competitors out there are going to give under the caution. There are others that aren't. The drivers have to establish who they are. We know that Bill Elliott, Mark Martin, Terry Labonte, those guys aren't going to push that yellow light issue, but it's obvious that Robby did and other people are going to and you'll have to do the same thing to them, so it's a no-win situation. It's something that's tough and something for everybody to write about.''

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

Photo:

Robby Gordon disregarded a gentleman's agreement in racing when he passed a fellow driver during a yellow flag last week, then went on to win the race.

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

Box:

RACE WEEKEND

- Tim Haddock
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 27, 2003
Words:950
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