Commentary

What's the etiquette for Chasers and non-Chasers? Same as every other race

What's the proper race etiquette for Chasers and non-Chasers alike? Race hard and clean, same as every other week, writes Terry Blount.

Updated: September 30, 2007, 1:32 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- In Sunday's LifeLock 400 (2 p.m. ET, ABC), this situation will come up many times:

A non-Chase driver -- 31 of the 43 drivers in the field -- is doing his thing, trying to win, or at least get the best finish his hot rod will allow.

One of the anointed 12 Chase drivers comes up behind him or next to him as the Chaser gets on the wheel trying to win a championship.

What is the proper track etiquette for how a non-Chaser should treat a Chase driver?

Should he say, "Oh, pardon me your Highness. Please zoom on by me. Have a nice day. Good luck to you, sir."

Should a Chase contender say, "Hey, get out of my way pokey. I've got a title to win."

Suggest either of those proposals to a non-Chaser and you might end up looking at him with your back on the asphalt.

Even the Chasers find that idea laughable, but it's a big topic of discussion each year when the Chase comes around.

It became a bigger topic last week at Dover after Chaser Denny Hamlin bumped and wrecked non-Chaser Kyle Petty.

But no one in the Cup garage, playoff driver or non-playoff racer, thinks the Chase guys deserve special privileges.

"It's your responsibility to race the way you would normally race," said Elliott Sadler, who isn't in the Chase. "Just because you are in the Chase doesn't mean these guys are going to pull out of your way. And they shouldn't.

"We're all racing for something, whether it's a win, top 35 in points or guys looking for a ride next year. We all have our purposes and feel our backs are against the wall this late in the season, especially if you haven't had a good season."

The Chase drivers agree. After all, nine of them have been outside looking in. Only Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson have competed in all four Chase playoffs. Hamlin has made the Chase in each of his first two Cup seasons.

"The racetrack belongs to everybody," Chase driver Jeff Burton said. "Respect between drivers is important. We ought to race each other the right way every week. Circumstances shouldn't change the way you race people. It's everybody's right to have a chance to win the race and finish as high as they can."

Absolutely true. It's also true that things change in the Chase.

For example, assume a team has one driver in the Chase and one who isn't. The driver not in the Chase is leading the race and his Chaser teammate is second.

The non-Chase driver might let his teammate pass him to lead a lap so the Chase contender can earn five bonus points. That has happened more than once in previous playoff races.

If you aren't a teammate, don't expect any favors.

"It's all about fairness," said Kasey Kahne, who made the Chase last year, but not this year. "The Chase guys may want it a little more, but at the end of the day, they only get what they can get because they can't afford to fall out of a race."

Kahne said the way he races Chase contenders depends on how his car is running that day.

"When my car's good, I race harder than when it's not as good," Kahne said. "Then I give a little bit more because you don't want to put yourself in position to hinder someone else."

That's no different from what most drivers do every week.

"But last year when I was in the Chase, I don't remember a single guy easing off me," Kahne said. "You go out there and race a Chase guy like it was the seventh race of the season."

Sadler said a Chase driver has a lot more to lose if he assumes a non-Chase racer will cut him some slack.

Elliott Sadler
For the guys in the Chase, it's their responsibility to race people smart. If both of us get in a wreck, it's not going to hurt us as much as the guy trying to win the championship, so way more pressure is on those 12 guys in the Chase.

Elliott Sadler

"For the guys in the Chase, it's their responsibility to race people smart," Sadler said. "If both of us get in a wreck, it's not going to hurt us as much as the guy trying to win the championship, so way more pressure is on those 12 guys in the Chase."

The main rule of racing still applies: You race someone the way they race you.

"That's generally what you see in this sport," Sadler said. "Dale Earnhardt and Ricky Rudd, to name a couple, were old-school racers. You hit them and they're going to hit you.

"But if you paid them respect and raced them like you should, they would do the same in return. How you race somebody is how you get raced, Chase or no Chase."

So it boils down to this: If you're a good guy and you're in the Chase, you might catch a break from a guy not in the Chase.

If not, you're own your own.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

ALSO SEE