Jeff Gordon was in his hauler changing out of his firesuit last week at Michigan when he saw Ryan Newman and Joey Logano arguing on TV.
Gordon wasn't on one side or the other. But when he heard Logano tell an interviewer that Newman was racing him too hard, Gordon knew Logano had made a mistake.
Not a mistake on the track, necessarily; but a mistake in trying to explain the "code" that few people outside of the drivers understand.
"A lot of us, when we first come into this sport, we go through this," Gordon said. "It's one of those things where you can think it and talk to your friends about it, but you don't say that on camera.
"And the reason you don't say it on camera is because people don't get that. Fans don't get it. Media don't get it. You can't say, 'He was racing me too hard' (because people respond), 'Whaaat? I thought you guys were supposed to race one another hard every single lap!'"
The truth is, the majority of drivers don't race each other hard every lap. There's simply no point in doing so during a long 500-mile race.
It's the Mark Martin philosophy: A driver is better off letting a faster car go on and pass him than try to race hard, which causes both drivers to lose valuable time to the leader.
"There's like a code, you know?" Gordon said. "It's like driver code. And what that is, is five laps into the race, it's not very smart to go out there and chop a guy or run a guy up the racetrack, take a guy three-wide – all of these things."
But Gordon acknowledged that drivers can race by many different codes, and Newman "is a guy who races hard all the time, every race, every lap."
Gordon said if someone took the paint and numbers off the cars, he could still tell which driver was in which car based on how hard someone races.
There are some guys who are extremely difficult to pass (like Newman), Gordon said, and others who will give plenty of racing room (like Martin).
So when fans and media talk about "racing too hard," it's somewhat of a misnomer. Drivers don't just cruise around during the race; it's more about respect for other drivers on the track.
"It's not about racing too hard," Gordon said, "it's just about how you're racing one another."