Before I get into the bulk of this entry, let me first congratulate Clint Bowyer on his victory in the Crown Royal Present the Dan Lowry 400 at Richmond International Raceway Saturday night. Some might call your second career win sheer luck, but you put yourself in a position to contend at the end, and you took advantage of the opportunity presented to you.
The fastest car doesn't always win the race -- and Saturday that car belonged to Chesterfield, Va. native Denny Hamlin. Hamlin started on the pole and led 381 of the 400 laps, spanking the field in a way not seen since Jeff Burton led every lap at New Hampshire in 2000. But when Hamlin felt a tire going down in the closing stages, he saw his victory slip away as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch split him coming off Turn 2.
Earnhardt took the lead, much to the delight of many in the sellout crowd, and were it not for Hamlin, Earnhardt would've ended his 72-race winless drought running away.
Slowing more as his right front tire kept losing air, Hamlin slowed off Turn 4 with 10 to go and stopped high on the track, prompting the caution -- and negating the one-second lead Earnhardt had built over Busch. NASCAR felt Hamlin did this on purpose, penalizing him two laps; it was the right move, considering the moment the yellow flew, Hamlin sped back up and went about his merry way again.
I realize he was disappointed in losing the race on his hometown track, but his move was immature, classless and complete bush league. Instead of letting the race play out and accepting his fate as it unfolded, Hamlin acted like a spoiled brat, in effect helping his teammate and ensuring that many of the 120,000 on hand went home unhappy.
Earnhardt had a long-run car, certainly not the type of machine one wants for a five-lap shootout. But he got a good restart in the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet, pulling ahead three car lengths before taking the high line in Turn 1. Earnhardt later admitted his car wouldn't stick to the bottom, so he had no choice but to give Busch the bottom line.
And for a few laps, it worked -- Busch would inch alongside Earnhardt in the corners, but Junior's car would use the momentum to hold off Busch on the straightaways.
Well, until Turn 3 with three laps to go.
Busch and Earnhardt made contact going into the corner -- which isn't unheard of at Richmond, particularly when the laps start winding down. But once contact was established, Busch turned right, sending Earnhardt spinning into the wall and Bowyer to the lead.
It was a typical move for Busch, someone with unlimited ability with none of the maturity to go along with it. Sure, he has two Sprint Cup wins so far this season and he took the points lead after Richmond, but there had to be a reason Rick Hendrick let him go after last season -- and I think it went beyond the chance to sign Earnhardt.
Earnhardt's father did this sort of thing a lot in his day, I grant (just ask Terry Labonte about Bristol and watch his mustache turn grey). And he was equally reviled for it; the reason the late Dale Earnhardt had more of a following than Busch was because Earnhardt Sr. had the pedigree to back up his attitude -- to the tune of seven Cup titles.
Busch has yet to win a championship, on any of NASCAR's national levels. His brother Kurt is the one with championship hardware.
What Busch did was classless and indicative of the kind of person he is -- one who's going to find himself in a heap of trouble if he keeps it up -- but Busch's mistake is moot it Hamlin doesn't pull his stunt to bring out the next-to-last caution.
Between Hamlin, Busch and Tony Stewart, Joe Gibbs Racing is gaining quite the reputation for classless, immature racing. I can't help but wonder if the ol' coach wishes he'd stayed with the Redskins with the way his drivers are acting of late.
I just hope young Joey Logano -- who won his ARCA debut Sunday at Rockingham -- isn't this much of a punk.