The frustration in Kevin Hamlin’s voice was obvious following his driver Natalie Decker’s most recent incident: “Inside, inside, inside, inside, inside…we’re wrecked.” The frustration only compounded following the crash, when Hamlin voiced his displeasure with Decker’s actions saying, “I don’t know how the [expletive] I call inside all the way down the backstretch and she still dives inside.”
It only got worse for the team (or better if you take in the internet’s delight in the team audio) when his driver received a push back to the pits from the tow truck only for the tow truck to spin her out.
Decker: “Don’t push me so fast, how am I going to [expletive] stop?” Hamlin: “I’m completely [expletive] lost. I don’t even know why I’m up here. She’s out. I’m taking my [expletive] off. See you guys later.”
The Bristol incident was another in a long line for Decker in 2019, as comments from both Hamlin and Crew Chief Frank Kerr highlighted the continuing lack of confidence they have in their driver. Decker has seen a career’s worth of incidents in her limited 2019 run, several of which were avoidable and most have happened due to driver error. That isn’t to say all of the incidents were her fault (see Daytona, Kentucky, Michigan, Bristol tow truck), but with her level of inexperience and lack of drive, it’s clear that what started as a possibly promising limited run has failed to meet expectations.
That isn’t to say that she doesn’t have talent. Her 2018 ARCA campaign wasn’t enough to set the racing world on fire, but it was consistent enough to net her a seventh-place points finish; a pole, two top-fives, and nine top-10s aren’t anything to sneeze at. But an extended stay in ARCA with Venturini Motorsports or DGR-Crosley would have been good for her instead of being rushed into the No. 54 Toyota Tundra.
However, hindsight’s always 20/20. The reality we have is simple. In 14 starts in 2019, Decker has eight DNFs, all listed as crashes. This isn’t including the multiple cautions she’s brought out in races she has finished, like at Atlanta. There’s the countless soundbites of Kerr and/or Hamlin getting on their driver’s case. There’s the lack of respect from her peers. There’s the obvious fact that Decker isn’t taken seriously as a driver. That’s the reality for Decker and DGR-Crosley.
It’d be naive to assume that this isn’t lost on DGR-Crosley; they are footing the bill after all. But Bristol needs to be a wake-up call for both team and driver. The idea that Decker has a future in stock car racing as a driver isn’t sustainable. If there hasn’t already, then there needs to be an in-depth meeting where all parties involved should face facts about where Decker’s career should be going following 2019.
She’s been referred to as an Instagram model masquerading as a driver, a notion she’s done nothing to expel. It’s been mentioned more or less in a derogatory manner, but she does know how to market her brand. That is a plus for her, one of the reasons why her following is as big as it is when compared to teammates Anthony Alfredo and Tyler Ankrum. If put to good use for a team instead of her own brand, it could become an asset for whatever team she’s on as opposed to a liability.
Otherwise, she’s done herself no favors on or off the track. With that being said, the only real option left is to get her out of the truck right now. As mentioned before, she’s not happy behind the wheel and her crew isn’t happy either. Why prolong that? Why not spend more time helping her learn the ropes? They’ve done nothing more than turn her into another Danica Patrick and that’s not a good thing. Patrick was a failed experiment in NASCAR and if they’re not careful Decker will be as well. The merciful thing to do for all involved is to sit down and have a realistic look at what’s been done and what can be done to fix it.