When David Reutimann wrecked Kyle Busch in Sunday's Kansas race – blatantly, intentionally – there was no outrage from fans, no hand-wringing from media, no penalties from NASCAR.
An informal Twitter poll suggested 90 percent of fans agreed with Reutimann's action. The media categorized Reutimann's retaliation under the "Have at it, boys" policy. And NASCAR didn't make a peep about it.
So that's that. Busch ruined Reutimann's day, so Reutimann ruined Busch's day in return. Like most other people, I can say I would have probably done the same thing as Reutimann.
But Reutimann's wreck offers us an important lesson: It's not the action that matters in NASCAR, it's what happens as a result of the action.
After all, what Reutimann did is almost identical to what Carl Edwards did to Brad Keselowski at Atlanta earlier this season. Only with a different result.
Edwards' day was ruined by Keselowski, so Edwards decided to retaliate. Except when Edwards did it, Keselowski flew through the air in a terrifying wreck that drew national attention. When Reutimann did it, nothing of the sort happened.
In Edwards' case, the driver was parked for the remainder of the day after his intentional wreck and then put on probation.
Reutimann was neither parked nor will be put on probation. Did he do a "better" job of wrecking Busch than Edwards did on Keselowski?
If you said "yes," you're getting into dangerous territory; Reutimann had no control of what happened to Busch after the initial contact. He's fortunate Busch slid down the track without hitting any other cars.
The only difference was the outcome.
Both incidents occurred at a 1.5-mile track. Both times, the drivers had previous history that may have factored into the payback decision (though in the Busch/Reutimann case, it was just words).
And at Atlanta, Edwards intended to do exactly what Reutimann did on Sunday. But instead of spinning out, Keselowski's car went airborne and flipped. Edwards was crucified by some fans and media as a result.
It's important to ask ourselves:
- What would have happened if Busch had flipped on Sunday?
- What would have happened if Busch had spun down the track and been T-boned by another car?
- What would have happened if Reutimann's actions took out multiple Chase drivers?
My guess: Fans would have called for Reutimann's head, the media would have written "'Have at it, boys' has gone too far" and NASCAR would have parked Reutimann for rough driving and penalized him during the week for what happened.
So the policy isn't "Have at it, boys." It's "Have at it, boys, unless we decide otherwise." NASCAR has proven that the result – not the intent – is what really matters.
This creates a murky policy for drivers and a difficult decision to weigh on the track. On the one hand, drivers are being encouraged to police themselves.
But on the other hand, drivers are basically gambling when they retaliate. The simple act of spinning out another driver could be attempted 10 times with 10 different results.
There's no way to control what happens once after you wreck another driver. And depending on how severe the results are, drivers could be penalized for causing mayhem (Carl Edwards at Gateway) even if they intended to just cause an innocent single-car spin.
Because of that, Chase drivers can't risk it. Anyone contending for a championship would be an absolute fool to attempt retaliation now.
Thus, it's open season on Chase drivers. Reutimann – or anyone else with nothing to lose – doesn't care about a penalty at this point. But Chase drivers do.
The era of treating Chase drivers differently is apparently over. The non-Chasers aren't putting up with much anymore.
"I don't care if you're in the Chase or not," Reutimann said. "You need to think about who you're running over when you're running over them. I don't care who you are. If you're in the Chase, you have as much responsibility to drive with respect as I do, or anybody else."
If there's ever been an ideal time for a non-Chaser to get payback, NASCAR's policy has provided a good opportunity during the Chase.