By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Fans can always expect a blurred line of clean or dirty racing on the final lap, especially in the treacherous Turn 10, of just about every trip the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park has made since 2013.
In all but two finishes, especially the last three editions, fans have been mostly outraged on the outcomes, including myself.
Noah Gragson simply ran into his Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland, and snatched him of a maiden series win. Worse of all, it backfired as Justin Haley snuck through to score his second career win, and advanced into the Round of 6.
However, he’s not the sole blame as Gilliland made a rookie mistake by leaving an opening, which not only took both drivers out of a win, but chaos ensued behind them and resulted into a huge mess.
It has gotten to the point that Ryan Blaney’s battle against German Quiroga in 2014, where a classic textbook of hard fought, no bumpers needed racing, has become a lost art at Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada.
Gragson and Gilliland’s boss, Kyle Busch, of all people, when he bumped Kyle Larson in Turn 3 at Chicagoland Speedway in June was more clean than that, and he was repaying Larson the favor after the “Slide Job” Larson pulled on him. No one faced negative outcomes other than Busch won and Larson didn’t. Nothing wrong there.
Also, I don’t mind beating and banging, as long as it doesn’t have consequences. With that in mind, Sunday’s race wasn’t clean racing.
Unlike Austin Cindric last year when he dumped Kaz Grala and seemed that he was in it for himself, Gragson admitted fault for the incident.
“That one’s on me. I mean racing for the win – it’s just my teammate. I apologize to Todd (Gilliland). I apologize to the 4 team. I apologize to everyone at Kyle Busch Motorsports,” said Gragson.
“We’re in the playoffs and I’m trying to get a win. I was making – I was squirting the throttle right there in between (turns) 9 and 10 and between them right there. Just wasn’t quite there and it’s just unfortunate. That one’s on me. Just trying to get a little bit too much trying to win. Wins are so big here. I’m just – mainly apologize to Todd and the 4 team.”
Whether or not Gragson’s comments was genuine is besides the point, his driving style to get by Gilliland failed and it’ll hurt Busch’s pocket.
More so that Harrison Burton was also involved in a separate incident, therefore all three KBM trucks sustained damage.
Burton said it best after the race with this statement:
“Well, it was a crazy race for sure. I felt like every time that we’d gain track position in our Tundra, we’d get bumped back and lose it again. That’s what Canada is famous for. It’s just a tough race,” Burton on the circuit’s reputation.
Meanwhile, an agonized, but composed Gilliland was visibly upset and wished he would’ve physically confronted his teammate, citing Gragson’s actions have gotten old.
“Should never have let him get to me. Should’ve just gave him the inside and maybe let him wreck himself. I don’t know,” said Gilliland. “He has done that to me on like five or six road courses. It sucks. We had the fastest truck and we didn’t win again. I’m going to have to talk to him for sure.
“I’d go fight him right now, but I can’t. I just need to, I guess, get my emotions in check and go talk to him, but I’m extremely mad.”
Gilliland should be angry. It was the best shot he’s had since Martinsville to showcase he has a bright future in the sport. The 18-year-old will win eventually, but it’s sure frustrating seeing him lose it under callous circumstances.
On a personal note, these finishes have sparked a fire on me because its the third straight year writing about clean vs. dirty racing.
Before joning Motorsports Tribune, I wrote one for The Argonaut in 2016, reflecting why the door-to-door battle turned post-race brawl between John Hunter Nemechek and Cole Custer was hard nose racing that didn’t cause any harm besides their trucks being banged up.
Nemechek bumper tagged Custer, but what I loved about their battle was their belt buckling, every man for themselves driving tactics. It was very movie like, and no one spun out. To this day, people put blame on Nemechek for driving Custer off the track for the victory.
While its true, it was a better show than the ones in between or even Chase Elliott taking out Ty Dillon in 2013. That too wasn’t necessarily clean as the contact took Dillon out and caused a chain reaction behind Elliott, who scored his maiden national series victory that day.
The second was as an independent writer, where I felt Cindric’s move was a bit of a cheap shot, especially when it was not on the last corner, but in Turn 5.
I still stand that Cindric should’ve waited to use his bumper or find a way to get by Grala without it like Blaney did. Much to the dismay of fans, Cindric is still an aggressive driver, and has shown to be a solid road racer that’ll stick around for years to come.
All-in-all, these battles are the norm and I’ve had mixed opinions in each of the last three outcomes.
Out of those three, two of them weren’t the best way to go about, but that’s just racing battles these days. It may be unethical, but it makes the chaotic road course in Canada, a true wild card venue.