Driver Mistakes

Dale Wilkerson                                                     June 2010

When a driver makes a mistake on track that costs him a sure win, there is not much more that can make that driver feel worse.
A driver might get to high in the corners and slide toward the wall, charge a sharp corner on a road course and run off track, lock the brakes and slide through his pit-stall on what was going to be a quick gas and go, or just getting distracted by getting caught up in the moment of thinking he is about to win.
Marcos Ambrose felt this pain Sunday at the Infineon Motor Speedway as his car would not restart during a late caution. Ambrose thought he needed to save a little gas by shutting down the engine in his Toyota and coasting down the hill, but as his car rolled to a stop going up the hill it would not restart until six cars slipped by him.
Ambrose looked like Clark Griswold after he drove across the country only to discover that Wally-World was closed for repairs. Ambrose could see the flash bulbs from the cameras, he could almost feel the weight of the trophy, and he had the taste of the victory lane toast in his mouth when the car would not fire and that sweet taste of victory quickly turned to clabbered milk. Marcos is not the first driver to give away what seemed to be a sure victory.
Mark Martin was leading a Nationwide race at Bristol during the spring of 1994 when a late race caution flag waved. This was well before the days of the green-white-checkered finish and all Martin had to do was drive around behind the pace car to score a win. After taking the white flag under caution, Martin rolled down pit road handing the win to David Green.
Once at the Texas World Speedway, Buddy Baker was driving away from the field and during the closing laps, he could be seen waving at fans as he drove down the frontstretch. With his eyes off the track, Baker rear-ended a lapped car and lost the race.
That is just two examples, and we could list more but the point is all drivers are human and can and will make mistakes. For a driver it is easier to accept defeat when the engine gives up, a tire blows out, the gas tank runs dry, or the car you are about to lap explodes a motor and you get caught in the oil and crash. When a driver does not have to take the blame, he leaves the track in a better mode if nothing else.
How will Ambrose respond this week? Will he grab the pole as he drives every lap mad at himself, trying to prove his car is strong and deserving of a win? Or will his anger with himself result in a wrecked car due to the flat pancake corners of the Loudon Motor Speedway?