Aggression vs. Savvy in NASCAR: Which Would Give Better Results?

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Aggression vs. Savvy in NASCAR: Which Would Give Better Results?
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

At the risk of sounding like I’m writing a series on “what Kyle Busch needs to know” (see last Friday's article Car Owner Tony Stewart Versus Anger Management Problem Tony Stewart), I write this week on the difference between savvy and aggression.

First off, who am I to tell Kyle Busch what he needs to know? Kyle has 16 Sprint Cup wins, and I have less than that. He has 167 career starts, which also bests me. But, we have one thing in common: Neither of us is in the Chase.

You see, Kyle Busch is an aggressive driver, but I can’t say he’s a savvy driver. Yes, when it comes down to it, he can win races, but his aggression hasn’t guaranteed he will actually be there at the end. A savvy driver, barring some catastrophe, will put himself in position to be aggressive before actually being aggressive.

How about a comparison? Let’s imagine two duck hunters.

One duck hunter walks into the marsh, the ducks fly up, and BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM, the duck hunter takes an all-out assault on the ducks. This may get him a few birds, but he will waste a lot of ammunition, and chances are his yields may be lower. This hunter is aggressive.

The other duck hunter waits in the marsh, hiding with camouflage. He entices the ducks further toward him, using a combination of scents and skilled and practiced calls. When they are close enough, they take off, and a few well-placed shots give the hunter dinner that week. This hunter is savvy.

Kyle Busch matches this first hunter. Yes, it scores him every once in a while, is probably more fun for the not-so-patient, and is the same thing by definition: hunting.

But, aggression does not guarantee him a catch in the hunt, in the same way it will not guarantee him a win in NASCAR.

Savvy? Now that’s a different story. One can be savvy while being aggressive, such as Mark Martin.

He embodies the aggressive, savvy driver. Mark changes his driving style to match the car, bides his time, exercises his craft, and when the time comes…watch out.

We’ve seen this aggressive savvy from the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart, among others. But, it’s the savvy that’s the key here; they recognize there is a time for aggression, and when it is not that time.

One can also be savvy without being aggressive with great success—Jimmie Johnson, Bobby Labonte, and Jeff Burton come to mind. Even when it comes down to crunch time, it’s their skilled, calculated moves that bring home the money.

Maybe the knowledge that makes up the savvy style takes time to gain—I wouldn’t necessarily count Joey Logano as being savvy. Professional savvy is normally equated with veterans; their years of experience might teach them an entirely different set of reflexes.

However, savvy and aggressive are not the same. And, if I were to be an owner, I would take a savvy driver or an aggressive savvy driver over a purely aggressive driver any day.

Other NASCAR Notes:

OK, yes, there are Formula One drivers testing in NASCAR. Let’s face it, NASCAR is quite popular. What professional auto racer in the world would actually decline a NASCAR test, especially should it lead to something bigger? (Further, what average Joe would decline a NASCAR test either?)

The only problem is this: There isn’t room right now. The best organizations are at their NASCAR-mandated limit of teams, and these drivers coming from the elite world of Formula One would hardly be willing to drive for Tommy Baldwin—nothing against Tommy, they just wouldn’t.

Look, they’ve got their former colleague Juan Pablo Montoya in contention to win a championship, and IndyCar contemporary Danica Patrick generating a lot of publicity about whether or not NASCAR is in her future. These Formula One drivers are simply not being professionals if they don’t investigate every avenue.

"Alright, that’s all. ‘Till Tuesday,"

-David Dubczak

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