Aggression on the rise in the NASCAR Cup series?

LOUDON, NEW HAMPSHIRE - JULY 19: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Beer/National Forest Foundation Ford, looks on during qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 19, 2019 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Kevin Harvick set the tone for Friday’s question-and-answer sessions at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with a simple, frank comment.

“If you drove like this 10 years ago, you’d have had a fist in your mouth,” Harvick said in response to a question about the current level of aggression in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing. “What changed were the rules and when every spot becomes that much more difficult to achieve, you have to defend the spots that you have because you know that you might not get it back, and you know that you have to block.”

With the constant battles to gain and hold positions, restarts have become more important and consequently more frenetic.

“Yeah, it feels like restarts are the craziest they’ve been ever since I’ve been in the Cup Series, just because the cars are so draggy,” Ryan Blaney said. “That’s the easiest spot to kind of make a move, and you can just drive these cars so hard, it’s just about driving harder than someone else a lot of the time. Your right-foot commitment is way higher, I feel like.

“As far as the aggressive level, I think people see that because you’re seeing a lot more blocking and cutting off runs now, just because you have to do it. I’ve thrown big blocks this year on mile-and-a-half race tracks. That’s just how it is and you kind of expect it.

“Have I expected to get punched in the mouth a couple of times this year? Yeah, but at the end of the day you realize that that person would make the same move that you do and vice versa.”

Rick Stenhouse Jr. also thinks job security (or lack thereof) might be a factor.

“We’re all super-aggressive,” Stenhouse said. “I enjoy it, especially when I have a car capable of doing what I want it to do. I could see Kevin saying that, because I feel like that was the mentality of the garage for a long time, and I think every sport changes, and I feel like now you’ve got a bunch of us that feel like we’re racing for our job every lap, so we go out and put it all on the line.”

Greg Engle