Apparent increase in blocking draws wrath of Cup drivers

Juan Pablo Montoya was heading into a turn at Watkins Glen International Speedway last month when he dove to the bottom of the track. Martin Truex Jr., following closely behind, got into Montoya's bumper, causing an accident that took out Kevin Harvick.

Harvick was incensed, accusing Montoya of causing the incident with a move that is frowned on by many Nextel Cup peers.

It's called blocking.

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time as Harvick was could play a role in deciding the Chase for the Nextel Cup, which is tighter than ever with the top six drivers separated by 28 points.

"I wasn't taught to race to block," Harvick said. "I was taught to race with somebody. To me, blocking is something that is kind of a cheap move. It's not good for racing, just for the fact it causes wrecks that don't need to happen.

"When you watch an IndyCar race or Formula One race, that's how those guys are taught to race usually. When you block here, you get wrecked shortly after."

Two-time Nextel Cup champion Tony Stewart said blocking has become worse the past few years. He doesn't expect that to change with the influx of open-wheel drivers such as Montoya, Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish Jr. into the sport.

He vividly recalled a recent IRL race in which a blocking move took out both drivers.

"If it was me, I would be beating the crap out of somebody," said Stewart, who is two points behind points leader Jeff Gordon heading into Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway.

Gordon said the increase in blocking has more to do with the increased importance of track position because of the aero push many experience back in the field.

"If you get track position, you need to hold onto it, which creates more blocking," he said. "You fight guys for that position harder, because we know if you keep them behind you, chances are they'll get aero push and never be able to pass you."

Gordon doesn't mind blocking, as long as drivers don't start chopping each other off or simply driving with their rearview mirrors.

"'The way you police that, you put your nose in there once, he chops you and you say, 'OK,' " Gordon said. "Put your nose in there twice, and he chops you and you're like, 'Next time, I don't have a choice.'

"The third time, he's in the wall and blaming you."

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition, hasn't noticed an increase in blocking and doesn't believe it's a problem.

"There's all kinds of defenses on the track," he said. "There just might be some people that work harder blocking others than normal. But as far as I know, there's no personal conflict."

Jeff Burton agreed, saying he hasn't noticed more blocking now than five years ago.

Montoya doesn't believe blocking is a problem, either, although Truex said that definitely was a block that caused the wreck at Watkins Glen.

Harvick called Montoya the "worst blocker on the tour."

"But that's how he was taught to race, and that's probably why he wrecks more than most people," he said.

Harvick said blocking is somewhat accepted at restrictor-plate tracks such as Talladega, where NASCAR's premier series will go next weekend. But for the most part, he said, it causes nothing but trouble.

"I don't think it's gonna mess up the racing," he said. "It will be well policed by competitors. Sometimes you learn the hard way on things you should do."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.