When it comes to respect on the race track, Tony Stewart's drawn a line in the sand and he doesn't care about any of the potential consequences, be it losing a shot at a win or even a berth in NASCAR's Chase for the Championship.
Blocking, he says, has gotten out of control. And because he's not willing to compromise what he considers is the "right" way to race, he has two choices: allow his competition to get away with it and gain a competitive advantage or wreck anyone that he deems races him the wrong way.
"I'm just to the point where I'm fed up with some of the ways some of these guys are racing each other," Stewart said Friday at Daytona International Speedway. "If we miss the Chase because of it then so be it. And that's not what the team is going to want to hear; that's not what our sponsors are going to want to hear, but so be it.
"There's 42 guys out there and they know how I race and they know what I expect and I don't race them that way and I don't block guys and I'm not going to block guys. If they block me then they will suffer the consequences of it.”
Stewart's frustration has been building through the season, to the point where he'd called his fellow drivers "idiots." That frustration came to a boil last weekend at Infineon Raceway when he felt Brian Vickers was blocking him. Stewart responded by purposely spinning Vickers.
The decision to play traffic cop at Infineon ultimately cost Stewart big time when later in the race Vickers sought revenge, wrecking Stewart. At the time, Stewart was running second. He wound up finishing 39th, which dropped him to 12th in the standings.
Stewart has since talked to Vickers, explaining to him that he'd "drawn a line in the sand" when it comes to blocking.
"The problem is that if you have one person that is taking advantage of a situation then it forces everybody else to do the same thing or else you've put yourself behind and you're going to get taken advantage of more," Stewart explained.
Stewart doesn't claim to have universal support from his peers in the garage, but he says the handful of drivers he's talked to agree that respect on the track has been lacking.
Clint Bowyer blames the blocking issue on the "closeness of the competition," explaining that because passing is so hard, drivers are taking more chances at "passes that aren't necessarily there."
"Tony has been around for a long time, so yes, I would say he's seeing blocking a heck of a lot more than he used to be," Bowyer said. "But I think it's just because of the closeness of the competition and as hard as it is to pass, you're doing everything you can do to try to keep that guy behind you."
Jimmie Johnson says this is especially true on the 1.5-mile, intermediate tracks.
"If a guy chooses to, he can just drive by looking in the mirror, block you and put you into a dirty-air situation and completely take away any momentum you have to pass," he explained. "And it's happening all the time."
Whatever the excuse, Stewart doesn't want to hear it. In their conversation, Vickers told him he wasn't blocking. That didn't change Stewart's opinion, nor make him regret what he'd done.
Blocking likely won't be an issue in Saturday night's Coke Zero 400, and even if it is Stewart knows better than to send a message to someone going 200 mph. But beginning next weekend at Kentucky, it will be on again.
"Honestly, whether they agree or disagree – I don't care," Stewart said. "I've drawn my line in the sand and the next guy that blocks me, he is going to also suffer the same fate. It doesn't matter who it is. That's what it's going to be."