It’s safer to be vague.
Let’s face it. Nobody wants to be the jerk to come out and say, “Yeah, I wrecked him once and I’ll wreck him again.” That’s a bad look, especially so for anyone competing for a NASCAR championship.
But with the gravity of Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, and the stakes up for grabs, it’s impossible not to consider it.
The situation is fairly straightforward, even if you’re not a NASCAR fan. Three drivers – Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick – have already clinched a spot in the Cup Series championship race next weekend at Homestead. Five others are vying for one more spot, guaranteed only by winning Sunday’s race. So, and it doesn’t take a mathematician to tell you, that means four unhappy drivers come Sunday night.
Now put yourself in their shoes. Knowing you need a win to keep your season alive, would you bump another driver to win the race? Would you outright wreck them?
Denny Hamlin, one of the five playoff drivers still competing for the fourth and final spot, faced a similar situation two weeks ago at Martinsville. With only a few laps to go, he rode up from behind on Chase Elliott, the leader at the time, and pushed him into the wall. Elliott wrecked, naturally, but after the race Hamlin said he hadn’t meant to intentionally wreck Elliott.
But if he were in a similar situation now?
“I mean, you do everything you can,” Hamlin said Friday. “I sensed how important it was in the first race of this round, much less the last race of this round. I don’t know how much different you would do.”
Even Elliott said he anticipates Sunday’s race getting aggressive, especially in those closing laps.
And if things fall a certain way, a driver might have no choice but to spin someone else out.
“If you are in a position that it is going to help you, I think you’ve got to be pretty aggressive,” Elliott said. He did add a caveat though, saying he wouldn’t do so to move from 10th to ninth. “I think there is definitely a line as to how far you want to push it.”
It’s impossible to say how Sunday’s race will shake out ahead of time, who might win or even be leading late, but the only thing that seems certain is that it won’t have a clean, tidy ending.
There will almost certainly be drama, and bumping, and wrecks. And maybe, if the laps fall a certain way, and the traffic lines up just right, we might see another sort of incredible finish like we had at Martinsville.
“You’ll see drivers doing desperate things for sure,” Hamlin said. “To what extent, I’m really not sure.
“Drivers become desperate when you know that this could be your final lap contending for a championship.”