Short track stockcar racing and raised tempers go together like peanut butter and jelly, but the dynamics of last Sunday at Martinsville Speedway took things to whole new levels. Due to rain delays and schedule shuffling, the majority of both the xFinity and Cup series races were presented as a Sunday double-header. After an entertaining xFinity series race that featured a memorable first time win by Josh Berry, the antics between two drivers on the other end of the grid raised some eyebrows as well.
Joe Graf Jr and Gray Gaulding had an on track brannigan, and their post race discussion developed into a wrestling match in the garage area. Neither driver backed down in later interviews and some shade was cast that could stretch for miles. This was all quite interesting, and given the general lack of self awareness of all parties involved it was fantastic entertainment. (BTW Mike Harmon was gawking over the fight and that was only like the 5th most interesting part of all this, amazing). I had started this article with the intention of cataloging the strange little rivalries we’ve seen over the years, but as the Cup series race unfolded later on Sunday, a more specific rivalry caught my eye.
Cody Ware, accomplished sports car driver and son of car owner Rick Ware has garnered a lot of attention in the 2021 Cup season, and very little of it has been of the positive variety. After a controversial incident at Phoenix (where it appeared Cody Ware intentionally wrecked rookie Anthony Alfredo), a few weeks later a similar exploit happened at the start of the Martinsville race. Just before the rain delay, Ware appeared to turn right into James Davison, spinning him and causing a caution. While a bit rough, what made this more intriguing is that Davison is a fellow RWR teammate. This did not appear to be an isolated incident either, as Ware’s woes continued into the following day.
Cody Ware was the main subject of two other cautions and both may have involved attempted retaliation on teammate Davison. Tensions over the radio soon followed and the Rick Ware Racing organization, while battling for around 35th place, was the hottest subject on NASCAR Twitter (last tweet copy/paste, I promise).
Cody Ware simply looked like someone who had lost control, not only of a 3400 pound racecar, but of himself. Some context, if you’re unaware, Cody Ware deals with mental health issues and has been very candid about his struggles with PTSD and associated issues. James Davison’s choice of words over the unbroadcasted radio air were presumptuous and out of line, but his concerns hold water. Look, there’s no guaranteed correlation between driving like an asshole and struggling with mental health, but even at face value there’s a lot to take stock of. I’m going to avoid diagnosing or prognosticating on someone else’s mental state, but I’ll approach this based on the available data. If nothing else, Cody Ware looks like a shit teammate. Wrecking a fellow driver, not backing down and potentially being parked by your employer/father is not going to be sustainable. I’m willing to chalk this up to having the mother of all bad days, but with the Phoenix incident and what’s to follow in the coming weeks I have an even greater concern.
Ware is all but confirmed to be attempting to race in the Indianapolis 500 this year, and with that comes greater challenges with less margin of error. I have no doubt in Ware’s ability to drive an IndyCar at high speeds and driving in the 500, he’s earned that shot as much as any other potential rookie. That said, what’s occurred in the past few weeks cannot be ignored when considering what could happen at a track like Indy. Even a momentary lapse of judgement in these cars at that track has proven deadly. A race so historically wrought with hazard, Jimmie Johnson won’t compete in it despite having the resources of a race winning car and team. If the Ware organization, his sponsors, and Cody himself don’t take a moment to at least consider the potentials here, I’m left only to worry about what might happen in the Month of May.
NASCAR has never publicly dealt with a potential mental health issue directly affecting one of its competitors, and there’s a lot up in the air as to what they could potentially do. No matter a driver’s mental state, neither the teams, drivers, nor governing body will stand by forever if one of its members is consistently putting others in danger and/or intentionally wrecking cars. What occurs in the next few weeks will be critical, but we can give the Rick Ware Racing team some space to figure it out for themselves. Neither favoritism nor nepotism will withstand the financial burden of ruined machinery, and the internal chatter from Sunday seems more proactive than permissive. I wish nothing but the best for the future of Cody Ware in NASCAR or any motorsport he chooses. His fans are crazy about him, and folks who would rather sit for 4 hours at the DMV than watch a NASCAR race are keeping up with Cody’s racing career over social media. There is so much positive potential for everyone involved in this whole scenario, it’s time we take inventory and get things right. We can’t afford to make a mistake and lose what we have, the cost would be far too great to bear.
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