[media-credit name=”Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR” align=”alignright” width=”266″][/media-credit]Darlington is without a doubt the Grand Dam of NASCAR. She stands bold and proud. She is a legend even among the legends. To conquer her once is an accomplishment. To conquer her twice puts you in a class reserved for the greats of the sport. Whether it’s once or multiple times, to win at Darlington, especially in the Southern 500 is a testament to your talent and the talent and perseverance of the team that stands behind you.
I usually run down the weekend’s races what happened who won. The news of the weekend, changes etc. And then I try to offer a little perspective from the outside looking in. This weekend I feel like the real story is not so much what happened during the races themselves, but what happened at the track that is the story. There were actually only 4 track stories this week.
One was the incident with Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola. Hamlin dove to the inside of Almirola and Bowyer making it three wide coming out turn 2 and caused a crash that involved 8 cars. And took out his most dominant NNS competition. It is a perfect illustration of how the Nationwide Series is being hurt by the Sprint Cup regulars. The dominance of Kyle Busch is making it more and more evident that the Nationwide Series will crown a win less champion. That is a slap in the face of the competitors within that series. It’s an insult. The less experienced, less funded Nationwide series struggle to stay with in sight of the Sprint Cup visitors.
Worse when the Sprint Cup drivers come to play they have little respect or concern for the series regulars that they may harm, points wise in the process. Denny Hamlin is a seasoned and experienced Sprint Cup Series Regular with 5 cup series starts at the track Too Tough To Tame. He is familiar with the narrow surface and the do’s and don’ts of Darlington. Yet he choose to go 3 wide and cause an 8 car pile up on the final restart of the Nationwide Race. Then he is shocked that he would be accused of wrong doing. After all, he is a seasoned Sprint Cup driver who should be revered and respected for his experience and ability.
The second track issue was actually from last week and it was Newman/Montoya. The rumor began circulating, via a member of the media, that Newman punched Montoya in the NASCAR hauler. Montoya’s response was “ask Newman.” Newman’s response, “That’s speculation.” NASCAR’s response, “It’s safe to say that this meeting did not go as well as we intended. We are probably not through with this situation yet.” DW said “having been in that room everyone in the room would have had to been in the fight for it to happen.” There is no confirmation there. NONE. Neither driver will comment. NASCAR is not willing to comment. Montoya showed no after effects. No bruising. No swelling. No puffiness. The same was true for Newman. Now Newman is not a small man. And I think it safe to say he doesn’t throw a punch like a girl. Montoya is also not a small man and I would say that he is not likely to stand and take a punch without delivering one of his own. Both would leave tell tale after signs.
So basically there is no story there. The story was pure sensationalistic garbage that was built up and escalated to create a furor. Much like P.T. Barnum would build up the expectation to sell tickets to his greatest show on earth by releasing a half truth story about a lion attacking a trainer or an elephant that enraged broke it shackles and had to be calmed by a performer. Is there truth there sure a shred. They did have a meeting in a small room with NASCAR. Other than that there is no evidence or confirmation that anything else happened.
The third was a feel good story very similar to Daytona. Regan Smith wins the Southern 500 by holding off a charging Carl Edwards. Like Wow. Really? Seriously? Yep Really Seriously. All the way from Colorado. The wrong has been righted. It took 3 years but it happened. He didn’t win on gas mileage. He didn’t win by wrecking someone. He didn’t win on a penalty. He won by using an old Pearson trick out of 4. He used the wall to clip the rear bumper and send him straight down the front straight way to give him a momentum advantage that utilized the long range horsepower of the ECR power plant under the hood. Knowing Carl would brake getting into the corner and it would slow the FR9 just enough to prevent him from being able to out accelerate and pull him to the checkers.
It was a bold gutsy move. It could have gone way wrong. He could have taken out both of them. It was the final lap Checkers or wreckers move that was executed perfectly. They will refer to it as a Cinderella victory and Smith says he is really cool with that. But in truth that was no lucky rookie move. Watch the video. He hit it directly in the center apex of the 4th corner. Watch a Pearson clip the exact same place that Pearson would clip the guard rail in the 2nd corner. Luck? There has to be some riding with them all. But a random stroke of luck highly highly unlikely.
The final story of the weekend is typical of two Bull Moose in a china shop. They broke dishes and trampled linens. They put the cats in danger and they show no remorse. The story was Harvick/Busch. Let’s look at it.
1) Harvick booted Busch. There is no way he didn’t know that if the opportunity arose that Busch was not going to feed it back. Busch has proven that. He is as aggressive as Harvick and equally if not superiorly talented.
2) Busch hooked Harvick on the front stretch a little over half way to one. Kyle did NOT use good judgment. He hooked him on the front stretch in front of the entire oncoming field. That was dangerous to the on coming field and Harvick. If your beef is with Kevin, keep your beef with Kevin. Don’t cost other owners and drivers good finishes and money because the two of you want to see who has the bigger set of family jewels.
3) Race ends. Busch knows that Harvick is not going to let this go. He has seen and knows Harvick. Harvick blocks his way in the pits. They go on the track. Harvick pulls up next to him. Kyle puts the car in reverse tearing the reverse gear out of the car. He now can only go forward. Harvick backs up. Kyle pulls forward Harvick cuts him off for pit road getting in front of him. You let it go but you take it back?
4) On pit road Kevin kills the car. Takes off the steering wheel. Kyle bumps him from behind as though to say, “Come on man let’s go home.” Kevin puts steering wheel back on. Takes steering wheel back off. Bud crew is coming down pit road and they are in sight.
5) Kevin comes out of the car. He has one crew man behind him and one at his car. There are pedestrians including officials on pit road. There are crews working on packing things up behind the pit wall. Kevin goes to the 18 and starts in the window.
6) Remember here, Kyle has no reverse gear. He pushes the Budweiser Chevy to move it out of the way and the car fires. It turns the way the wheels are turned and picks up speed into the pit road wall. It barely misses the Bud crew man. It scares the be Jesus out of the crew packing pit boxes. It wipes out the front of the Budweiser Chevy.
7) Kyle drives on to the garage. Exits the car goes in his hauler. Kevin pursues him. His entrance to the hauler is blocked of course. The crews then have a shouting match with officials in the middle.
8) We have yet another Hauler meeting with NASCAR. Busch leaves through the side door and is not caught by media. Harvick leaves through the front door. KH: “Things happen.” Reporter: What does that mean? KH: “It’s just racing I guess.” Media: What was said? KH: “Not much.” Media: What can you tell us? KH: “Not much. It was a private meeting. That is why it was held in the hauler not in the media center.”
9) At 115 AM NASCAR releases that the 18 team voluntarily tore down the transmission of the 18 “to the bearings” to show officials that the transmission really didn’t have a reverse gear. The gear reportedly appeared to be sheared in two.
10) 2 AM Kevin Harvick tweets “Guess my next race will be in the truck series next weekend.”
Somehow here, Kyle Busch became the aggressor and the bad guy. Kevin Harvick became the wronged innocent. The fan reaction on social media sites was ruthless and brutal. Kyle Busch was everything but a human being. Kevin Harvick was of questionable birth origin and definitely challenged intellectually. It was a horrible display of the fickle nature of the “real NASCAR fans”. If someone unfamiliar with the sport were to have read the slanderous comments made of each of the drivers, seen the wishes of harm and destruction to each of the drivers, and seen the gloating over perceived violence on pit road they would question whether these two individuals were actually terrorists. The display was disheartening and embarrassing. It was illustrative of why our sport continues to be viewed as a backwards redneck affair not worthy of commitment from networks, sponsors, or new fans.
Truth they were both aggressors. Both knew better than to take on the opponent that they were taking on. Both knew the results would be ugly. And they were. Both of them were wrong. What happens on the track is racing. We have all seen Big E do it a million times. It’s not personal. It’s racing. It’s bringing back, “Sunday Money.” But what happened after the checker flag crossed the line. It put uninvolved by standers at risk. There is no defense for a human being from a 3600 lb race car. The human is not going to win the fight. Who lives with the consequences? They both do and so does everyone else who watched it unfold wanting to look away and not being able to.
Have at it boys has limits. It has to. The limit has to be endangerment of human life. No matter who is involved. The message has to be loud and clear. There can’t be any doubt of where the line is. If you want to have a fist fight get out of the cars and “have at it boys”. But don’t use the cars as fists.
The stories of the races seem secondary, almost as if they were supporting cast. The peripheral stories took center stage. And they sang like Luciano Pavarotti in Rigoletto.
I feel like to reverse the roles is against the grain. And yet we were there to see a race. And we saw a very good one. It just wasn’t as vivid as the stories that surrounded it. Who would have ever thought that the lady in black would be upstaged by a few rough neck high strung hot headed kids who really want people to see them standing in the shadow of the greatest race track aggressor of all time. And yet they fall short of understanding the very purpose and reason behind the aggression in the first place, to be the best one must believe they are the best. They must conduct themselves as though they are the best. They must set the standards that all the rest are to be judged by. When that occurs, one’s actions and performance will live after them as the stuff that legends are made of. Perhaps the only one there who truly understood that was the Lady in Black her self. Over the years she has witnessed the best and the worst of her suitors. She has chosen only a few. Those few are the legends that make the Southern 500 the most coveted jewel in the Sprint Cup crown.
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Congratulations to Kyle Busch and his Z-Line Designs Toyota team on their Nationwide Series Victory.
Congratulations to Regan Smith and his Furniture Row Chevrolet Team on their incredible victory in the Sprint Cup series. Incredible performance, incredible move and an incredible well deserved victory.
Congratulations to Carl Edwards and his wife Dr. Kate Edwards on the birth of their second child Michael on May 3, 2011.
Get Well Wishes go out to Brenda Jackson on her back injury. We hope you are feeling better soon.
That said, to all the competitors in all the series thanks for giving us everything you have to give, you are our heroes. Most importantly, thanks to all the families who shared their loved ones with us so we could cheer our favorite driver and favorite teams. You are the true heroes of the sport and we are forever in your debt.
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