Anyone who thinks that NASCAR Nation is homogeneous collection of dimwitted hicks who only believe that “rubbin’s racin’” doesn’t know jack about race fans. Taking stock of how fans reacted to Kevin Harvick’s tactics employed against Jimmie Johnson in the closing moments of the Auto Club 400 Sunday is the latest evidence that consensus among the auto racing faithful can be as hard to come by as it is in the stick and ball sports.

I read one comment that said Harvick must have learned his stuff from the shall I say, (this is a family site) rectal orifice that used to drive the number three (for you newer fans, Harvick took over Dale Earnhardt’s ride with a new number when the latter was killed at Daytona in 2001. By the way, I would not describe the man that way). Another woman opined that Harvick just outright cheated (OK).

In numerous discussions over the years, I’ve asked the question before, and I get all kinds of answers. What separates hard racing from dirty racing?

Some say any intentional contact with another car is unacceptable. In other words, if you don’t have enough car to outrun the other driver, let him or her go; they’re just better than you. I’m guessing these folks also wouldn’t care for the usage of brute force often employed in basketball, or the “brush back” pitch in baseball. Football? Ha, the game is rife with intentionally hard, yet accept physical contact.

Others quote the oft-overused line that didn’t come from Dale “The Intimidator” Earnhardt, but a movie to justify maneuvers just short of attempted vehicular manslaughter in some more extreme cases. To these folks, it’s “bump and run,” “move or get moved,” “race like they race you.” Of course, it often comes down to who’s dishing it out, and who’s taking it. These fans love this kind of racing until their driver gets planted in the infield.

Myself, I belong in a third camp: much like other sports, there’s a time and place for intentional contact in NASCAR. At a short track, or even a hair pin turn on a road course, the unintentional kind is virtually unavoidable. That aside, tapping a driver to get them loose, intimidation tactics, pay backs and things of that nature, are in my opinion fair game. Sunday’s race in Fontana offers a classic example of strategy in this realm. 

With his reputation as a scrapper, Johnson would have to handle this a little different than if it were Mark Martin trailing him. Harvick has choices to make, too. Harvick could either bump the champ hard enough to send him sailing, or choose what he did, ride Jimmie just enough to get him a little loose and clear. It’s not any different in this observer’s eyes than a stiff arm in football, or a forceful move in the post a la Shaq in his prime, knocking a smaller opponent down as he bull rushes to the hoop.

Johnson’s lack of emotion about the matter post-race speaks volumes on his take. Let’s face it, Five Time has employed similar moves himself. He said he knew he could squeeze Harvick’s door, but doing so could very well mean ending up in the grass with a crumpled car, and not a second place finish.

This was just good, hard racing- making for a frenetic finish to an otherwise pastoral afternoon. Even the staunchest of Auto Club critics admitted the ending brought a dose of the unexpected to Fontana.

Enough about what I think, what say you? When it comes to contact, where is the line drawn? I’ll be honest the fan in me isn’t generally fond of Happy Harvick’s attitude, but I respect his work. He knew just what he needed to do and got it done. Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.

For Johnson and Busch, there’s always Martinsville.   

Other articles by this author include…

Kyle vs. Carl: The Tension Simmers
NASCAR Nation Is In A Better Mood…So Far
Move Over “Sliced Bread,” Bayne May Be “The Answer”