In the aftermath of the Charleston church shootings, and the subsequent call on South Carolina officials to remove the Confederate flag from all government buildings, NASCAR sought to distance itself from the controversy this past week by denouncing any use of Confederate flags at sanctioned tracks and events.
NASCAR issued a statement Monday condemning the Confederate flag, which often can be spotted in the infield of tracks during race weekends.
“As we continue to mourn the tragic loss of life last week in Charleston, we join our nation’s embrace of those impacted,’’ the statement read. “NASCAR supports the position that South Carolina governor Nikki Haley took on the Confederate flag on Monday.’’
Last week, Haley called for the immediate removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol, saying, “The time has come. That flag, while an integral part of the past, does not represent the future of our great state.’’
NASCAR fully supported Haley’s decision.
“As our industry works collectively to ensure that all fans are welcome at our races, NASCAR will continue our long-standing policy to disallow the use of the Confederate flag symbol in any official NASCAR capacity,’’ the statement read. “While NASCAR recognizes that freedom of expression is an inherent right of all citizens, we will continue to strive for an inclusive environment at our event.’’
Brad Daugherty, the only African-American car owner in the Sprint Cup Series, said Tuesday on SiriusXM he was offended by the sight of the Confederate flag at NASCAR venues.
“I’m a different egg or a different bird, I’m a Southern kid,’’ said Daugherty, who wore No. 43 during his basketball career in honor of his racing hero, Richard Petty. “But to walk into the racetrack and there’s only a few that you walk into and see that Confederate flag — it does make my skin crawl. Even though I do my best to not acknowledge it or to pay any attention to it, it’s there and it bothers me because of what it represents.’’
While many in the South view the Confederate flag as part of their heritage, Daugherty remains bothered by the racial undertones associated with it.
“It’s so unfortunate that it took nine lives there at the AME church to really get this debate heated up enough that there’s serious questions about whether the flag should be flown over the state capitol,’’ Daugherty said. “I find that a little bit appalling and even absurd. The old heritage vs. hate thing, in my mind, is ridiculous because that flag to any African-American person does not represent any type of heritage. It 100 percent represents hate.’’
With the notable exception of New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon, who will retire at season’s end, will begin a stretch that will mark his final appearances at certain tracks.
Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Sonoma will hold special meaning for Gordon, who grew up nearby in Vallejo, Calif.
“Certainly this one especially it is starting to sink in,” Gordon said Friday. “It was hard at Atlanta. It was so early in the season. We had so much racing left to go and even still there is a lot left to go. We are focused on winning at a lot of tracks and the Chase and everything else.
“But I think because of what Steve [Page] and all the folks at Sonoma have done and just family and friends that I have out here, it does feel different. It feels a little more emotional and I think that will ramp up through Sunday.”
Gordon has won at Sonoma five times in his career.
“This has been a very special place for me and always will be,” Gordon said. “To know that this is the final time that I will be driving here and just the buildup — going to Rio Linda to that quarter midget track last week that was the first place I ever raced at. That just built a lot of emotion into what is occurring this weekend. It also adds pressure that I want to do really well.”
Too close to call
While Mercedes may have rendered the Formula One Constructors’ Championship a fait accompli, expanding its lead over Ferrari to a whopping 136 points (328-192) with last weekend’s 1-2 finish by Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton at the Austrian Grand Prix, the drivers’ race remains hotly contested between the Mercedes teammates.
Rosberg closed within 10 points of Hamilton, 169-159, by winning in Austria. It was Rosberg’s third victory of the season (all in the last four races) and the fifth 1-2 Mercedes finish this season, which resumes next weekend with the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
The Ferraris of Kimi Raikonnen and Sebastian Vettel prevented Mercedes from sweeping the top two spots in the first six races of the season. Vettel won at Malaysia, where Hamilton was runner-up and Rosberg third, then finished runner-up to Rosberg at Monaco. Raikonnen finished runner-up to Hamilton at Bahrain.
Ferrari, however, was unable to score a podium finish in the last two races after Williams drivers Valterri Bottas and Felipe Massa finished third in Canada and Austria, respectively.
Material from interviews, sanctioning bodies, race teams, sponsors, manufacturers, and track publicity departments was used in this report. Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MBVEGA.