Tony Stewart got so angry at Brian Vickers for blocking during the road course race at Sonoma, Calif., two years ago that he purposely used his bumper to knock him out of the way.
It took Vickers 49 laps, but he delivered a payback that sent Stewart’s car on top of a tire barrier.
Vickers finished 36th; Stewart was 39th.
Both drivers were outraged; neither backed down and it cost them both. Stewart expected retaliation from Vickers, so that may have been one reason why NASCAR actually lived up to its “Boys have at it,” policy and didn’t step in.
For the most part, road rage usually winds up with one or two cars crashed in the garage and both drivers in NASCAR’s hauler. But sometimes, anger can accelerate a driver’s determination better than 10 extra horsepower.
“At times I mean all drivers can be their own worst enemy,” Jimmie Johnson said.
Johnson lost control of his No. 48 Chevrolet two weeks ago at the Kentucky Speedway. Frustrated and angry, he spent the rest of the race driving like a wild man to get back in the top 10.
He not only saved the car without hitting anything in the first turn, he wound up ninth to catch the attention of others in the garage area.
“Of that was really impressive,” Danica Patrick said. “It doesn’t, by any means, make it easy. And him [Johnson] coming from the back of the field to ninth at the end was pretty impressive. But you do tend to find a little extra.”
Whether angry driving winds up good or bad at the end of a race, most believe the heightened attention that follows an incident is one reason why some can transform fury into a greater sense of urgency.
“Oddly enough, it does help you,” Patrick said. “When you’re mad, you just get extra aggressive and get on a mission. It can help. And you wonder to yourself, why can’t I just do that all the time?
“But every now and again, a certain emotion bubbles inside of you and it makes for a different result or different racing on some levels. And a lot of times it happens when you’re running better and you get taken out of that position. So, those are also days where you probably have better cars to do it, too.”
It would have been easy for Johnson to fall into line and ride out the close laps at Kentucky. He chose to turn his frustration into a motivating factor.
“It might seem that I’m real calm all the time, but I think all drivers leave the track frustrated with something,” he said. “A missed opportunity, car didn’t perform all weekend or car didn’t respond. There are pit calls, there are driver mistakes, speeding penalties.
“I rarely leave the track and not go home in deep thought thinking about what I could have done differently. They sting a bit more when you lead all those laps and don’t leave with the trophy there is no doubt about it. But I’ve been doing this long enough to know how to shrug that stuff off, focus on what is important and what I can learn from and then go to the next race.”
Racing rage can cost more than a race car, friendship or sanctions by NASCAR. A year ago Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon waged a year-long feud that culminated in a crash at the Phoenix International Raceway in November. Bowyer’s car as destroyed in the accident after he was hit by Gordon and it left Bowyer with a 28th-place finish.
A week later he finished second in the Chase for the Championship. If not for several run-ins, including a last-lap crash at Martinsville, Va., earlier in the season, Bowyer may have been able to catch Brad Keselowski for the championship.
While Vickers got some satisfaction for dumping Stewart at Sonoma, it came at a cost. He’s struggled to find full-time work in the Sprint Cup Series since, although he’s expected to wind up in Mark Martin’s Toyota next year at Michael Waltrip Racing.
And once he gets there, he won’t do anything different.
“You know, he wrecked me and I wrecked him,” Vickers said. “I could keep talking about it if you want. I could lie to you if you’d like. He made his move, and I addressed it. That’s the end of the discussion.
“The way I see it we’re all square.”
Until the next time.