The annual last lap drama at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park sparked another debate of what’s hard racing.
The “dump and run” heard around North America. Austin Cindric—in dire straits of making the playoffs—took his front bumper and turned Kaz Grala around in turn five for his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada Sunday.
Afterwards, social media exploded with anger towards Cindric. Consensus say his move was dirty racing and should be ashamed of winning in that fashion.
Few brought up what Cindric did was no different than last Sunday’s Xfinity Series race at Road America when Jeremy Clements collided with leader Matt Tifft with two laps to go.
This controversial topic had me thinking of an article I wrote last year about the finish between John Hunter Nemechek and Cole Custer at Bowmanville.
I said the incident was just hard racing because neither was taken out and was an entertaining finish. Similar to the famous photo finish at the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington.
Cindric didn’t lift off the throttle and dumped Grala. A sad commentary for a guy who’s looking for a ride next season despite being quote-on-quote, a “silver spoon driver” because of Cindric’s connections with Team Penske.
Cindric’s victory interview only sparked more hatred by racing fans and drivers alike. His interview can be summed up as not thinking about his competitors. Cindric said he didn’t care about Grala’s performance because he’s already in the playoffs and tried living up the track’s reputation of last lap daring moves.
“Everyone who has watched this race many years past, everybody knows it’s going to come down to contact. The second guy that’s closest to first,” Cindric said. “I’ve raced with Kaz growing up. He drove my bando as the first car he ever drove. I know his family and I know they’re not going to be really excited about but he already had a win (at Daytona) so I didn’t feel too bad about having to do something to make it happen for Brad Keselowski Racing.”
“I honestly ran out of time. Kaz did an awesome job on the tires he was on. He put me into that box because he was doing a helluva job on old tires, trying to stay in front of me,” Cindric said. “That’s kind of the last resort I had. I didn’t know what kind of speed I was going to have going on the backstretch and I rather not have go into that. I rather have it somewhere where I can control it and that’s what happened.”
Fans saw the opposite from Grala because rather than seeing confronting Cindric like Custer did to Nemechek, he was rather calm and voiced his disappointment towards Cindric because he dumped him rather than racing hard towards the end.
“That was a dump and run. To be honest, I know he’s racing for a playoff spot and I get that but I mean, he didn’t even try to pass us even. He just got to us and ran us over,” Grala said. “Last year, you can say what you want about the finish but they finished 1-2. They’re both going in the right direction. I mean, I don’t think he even braked for turn 5. I know he’s a great road course racer and I had a lot of respect for that but I lost some right there because I wouldn’t race someone like that. I move them out of the way especially with this much on the line as he had but that was too dirty of a move. I can’t get behind that at all.”
Grala’s post-race interview earned him a lot of respect points. He could’ve attacked Cindric but he kept his cool which in racing, is hard to do when the chance of victory is hard to come by.
Kurt Busch once said, “you want to race, let’s race.” This again comes into play but I can’t defend Cindric’s move. The incident wasn’t in turn 10 (the 2.459-mile circuit’s last corner), it was in turn five. Cindric had plenty of time to make his move on Grala but he wasn’t patient to play a game of chess, he was desperate.
Nemechek’s move was in the final corner and had to do what it takes to win the race. His motive was slamming Custer and sending him into the grass. It wasn’t clean but at least it was hard-nose racing and neither was taken out.
Cindric’s move is comparable to Chase Elliott taking out Ty Dillon in 2013 but like Nemechek, it was in turn 10. I wasn’t pleased with Elliott’s move because Dillon crashed into the tire barriers, but his move was more reasonable than Cindric’s.
There’s a certain point when a driver races hard or makes a mistake until it becomes a dirty maneuver. Cindric didn’t make an error and could’ve just taken his time to make his pass on Grala.
In other racing series, Cindric would’ve been penalized for avoidable contact. NASCAR doesn’t enforce it because on the last lap, anything goes (unless you’re Ricky Rudd).
For example, look at Dale Earnhardt rattling Terry Labonte’s cage at Bristol Aug. 28, 1999. Fans booed “The Intimidator” for a dirty bump much like Cindric was facing Sunday.
Thanks to social media, fans can express their opinions about Cindric’s “dump and run” compared to Earnhardt’s which people still share their vitriol over the 18-year-old incident.
At the end of the day, I’m disappointed by the way Cindric conducted himself. Winning your first national touring race should feel rewarding without shame. Look at Clements’ interview, he admitted fault for getting into Tifft and it felt genuine.
Cindric came off feeling proud of dumping Grala as if I was listening to Tommy Gunn after defeating Union Cane in Rocky V. It was rubbish and won’t help his reputation in the garage, especially when the playoffs start Sept. 23.
Either way, hard racing has its boundaries and Sunday’s race was another example of dirty racing being evident. Cindric’s first win should’ve been celebrated. Instead, it took a single bump for fans to turn against the 19-year-old driver.