Skip to main content
Original Issue

Bumper Cars

Angry drivers traded paint--and blistering words--in the first race of NASCAR's playoffs

As Darrell Waltrip watched the Sylvania 300 in the living room of his Franklin, Tenn., home on Sunday, he couldn't stop yelling at the TV. What the three-time NASCAR champ was seeing put his silver tongue into overdrive. "Guys were out of control," says Waltrip, 58. "I mean, drivers used to be able to police themselves, but now you've got a lot of young hotheads using race cars to settle scores. It's crazy."

Welcome to the 2005 Chase for the Nextel Cup, where the strategy of drivers can be summed up in two words: Anything goes. Ryan Newman won the first event of NASCAR's 10-race playoff, at New Hampshire International Speedway, but his victory wasn't the big story. On Lap 3 the nose of Scott Riggs's Chevy got into the back of Kurt Busch's Ford, which sent Busch, one of the 10 drivers in the Chase, into the wall and caused him to finish 35th. Busch claimed that Riggs, who is not in the Chase, was paying him back for an incident six weeks ago in Indianapolis. Moments after the wreck Busch climbed onto the Riggs pit box to unleash a few choice words on Riggs's crew chief, Rodney Childers. "There are guys you can race with; there are guys you can't," said Busch later. "And [Riggs] really doesn't know where he is most of the time." The fireworks continued on Lap 165, when Kasey Kahne was wrecked by Kyle Busch. The normally levelheaded Kahne waited on the track apron for Busch to come back around, then pulled in front of him, causing a collision. The biggest dustup of the day occurred 26 laps later. As the yellow flag came out, Robby Gordon and Michael Waltrip made contact battling for fourth place, sending Gordon into the wall. After trying to back his crumpled car into Waltrip's, Gordon got out, marched onto the backstretch and threw his helmet at Waltrip's Chevy as it cruised by. (Then, on live TV, Gordon called Waltrip "a piece of s---.")

Retribution has long been a fact of life in NASCAR, but Sunday's activity crossed the line between getting even and driving dangerously. (In trying to back into Waltrip, Gordon nearly took out points leader Tony Stewart, an innocent bystander.) NASCAR fined Kahne and Gordon $25,000 and docked them 25 points for their on-track actions, and sent a message that from here on out the only folks in the payback business will be NASCAR officials. "We're taking it into our hands and out of the drivers' hands," said VP Jim Hunter. "We're going to stop it." --Lars Anderson




After getting wrecked, Kurt Busch (above) threw a fit; Gordon threw a helmet.



[See caption above.]