DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—To block or not to block, that is the question.
On Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Brad Keselowski used his chrome horn to send an industry-wide message: cut off the No. 2 Team Penske Ford and you’ll go for a ride. Just ask William Byron, who became Keselowski’s first victim.
Byron approached Keselowski later in the day to clear the air—and understand the catalyst for the unexpected trip to the apron of the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
“I wanted to talk to him, because I felt like he probably didn’t expect me to talk to him, and I need to talk to him about things like that and need to hear where he’s coming from, so I don’t draw my own conclusion, which probably isn’t going to be a good one,” Byron said. “So, yeah, I think it’s important. Guys don’t talk enough to people nowadays, and we need to handle things like that more often.
“I’ve kind of watched (the accident) a couple of times, and I just feel like it was unnecessary still. I talked to Brad and got his opinion, and I really appreciate him talking to me because that kind of helped just understand where he was coming from. But I still feel like it was unnecessary for practice.”
Keselowski said Byron and other drivers have put him in the position to drive through the competitor who blocks him or find himself on the hook.
“I’ve been too conservative,” Keselowski said. “I’ve ended up watching too many plate races from the back of the trailer. That’s not the responsible thing to do for my team. I’m not going to do that anymore. If you make that commitment, you make that commitment in practice and in the race as well.”
As expected, Keselowski and Byron’s teammates stood beside their respective drivers. Jimmie Johnson said the incident was avoidable and unnecessary. The seven-time champion called blocking a necessary evil associated with the current car.
“It’s a tricky position that Brad has put himself in because plate racing is all about blocking,” Johnson said. “This new rules package on the 1.5-miles is all about blocking. And, he’s pretty damn good at blocking. So that’s where I think he’s put himself in an interesting situation, and we’ll see how the next few weeks unfold.
“I don’t think he ‘sent a message’ to anybody. I think it was kind of careless and not such a smart move yesterday. But if he feels good about it, which clearly….I just watched his interview in the bus before I came over here….he feels pretty good about what he did and we’ll just see how it all unfolds for him.”
Current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion Joey Logano agrees with his Team Penske teammate that a message was sent.
“He had the opportunity to send a message and he did,” Logano said. “It’s not my place to talk about our conversations publicly. Obviously, he was frustrated about the way he’s been raced. That’s what he said to everyone on national television, so I guess he felt like that was his opportunity to send the message.”
Logano agreed with Johnson that blocking is part of the present game—not just at superspeedways but on intermediate tracks as well.
“There is a lot of blocking that’s accepted, especially in today’s world of racing, especially in stock car racing, and even this year maybe more than ever with the 550 rules, where places like Chicago or Kansas or Charlotte it’s more something we’re all getting used to and it’s kind of part of it.
“But there is that other level where the guy that’s getting blocked has to give unless you both crash, and at that point, if you’re willing to make that move, you have to be willing to take the punches with it. You have to be willing to take the hit you’re gonna be receiving in the back bumper or you’re crossed up or you have to be willing to say, ‘We’re gonna crash.’ It’s a risky move.”
Kyle Busch doesn’t have a dog in the fight but has accepted blocking as a current practice. He knows if the No. 2 Ford is behind him, Keselowski isn’t going to take his foot off the gas.
“I have never seen Brad lift behind me anyways,” Busch said. “I don’t anticipate if it’s an 18 car he’s going to do anything any different. You have to be careful with who you are racing, who you are doing things with and what’s going on.
“Tony (Stewart) always kind of said that too--years ago--I threw a big block on him in 2008 and about ended up on my lid.”
As for whether Keselowski taught Byron a lesson, the jury is out. Byron won’t change his strategy in Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400.
“I got a little bit clearer understanding,” Byron said. “But still, I’m going to race the way that other people race me, too.”