Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Friday, May 9, 2008

I'm Swearing Off M&M's

Bad Boyz

“I didn’t see them go into one – was too busy worrying about Mark Martin and Kevin Harvick immediately behind me, but I saw them go into three and when I saw Junior spin up and hit the wall, I thought, ‘Oooooooooooooooooh, my God … I’m no longer the bad boy at Gibbs.’”

That was Tony Stewart on his weekly Sirius radio show this week, talking about the big dust-up Saturday night between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch. Stewart’s attempt at humor notwithstanding, his sentiment is clear and unmistakable: Busch has supplanted Stewart as the bad guy, not just at Joe Gibbs Racing, but in the Sprint Cup Series.

I’m not here to argue whether or not Busch dumped Earnhardt on purpose – those who feel he did won’t be swayed, and neither will those who feel it was just one of “them racin’ deals.” But the fact is indisputable: Busch’s already suspect reputation grew worse in an instant in Virginia’s capital city.

Busch suffers some from the fact that he’s Kurt Busch’s younger brother, no doubt. Kurt had his share of run-ins in the beginning of his career – including a particularly famous incident involving Jimmy Spencer’s fist – so there is some guilt by association.

I even remember then-crew chief Alan Gustofson telling me in Richmond four years ago, “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure Kyle doesn’t turn into his brother.”

But since coming into the Sprint Cup Series, Kyle has actually surpassed his brother in notoriety. Kyle has had several run-ins with the likes of Stewart and Harvick, but until the Coca-Cola 600 two years ago, I was a Kyle Busch fan.

Late in the race at Charlotte, Casey Mears – then driving for Chip Ganassi – spun coming off Turn 4 and wrecked. Kyle, purely a victim, was caught up in the wreck, ruining what was a pretty decent run.

Under caution, Kyle had to be restrained by track officials, throwing his HANS device as Mears passed him. An unfortunate wreck that was no one’s fault, and Kyle took issue with merely being a victim of bad timing.

Such immaturity hasn’t been well tolerated by the fans, who rain boos on Kyle perhaps more vehemently for those directed Stewart or Jeff Gordon’s way. To deny the sport’s most popular driver of his first win in two years – intentionally or otherwise – will only make the reception worse.

Not that Kyle will care; he needs to worry more about how his fellow competitors view him. Earnhardt took the high road publicly, but what’s the deal behind the scenes? There are some guys on the track guys know they can’t race clean with, and I can’t help but wonder if Kyle is becoming one of those drivers.

If NASCAR wanted a bad boy to spice things up, they certainly got it last weekend in Richmond.

Too fast?

Darlington has been repaved, and all indications are the Track Too Tough to Tame has become faster than ever. Testing and practice speeds pushing 200 miles an hour on the straightaway … all on a race track once said to handle no more than 150.

Is 200 too fast for Darlington? A track that eats tires and is about as wide as a sidewalk … I’m not so sure this is a recipe for good racing.

The first race at a track after it’s repaved is always a little bit of a borefest. Single-file racing, trying to find grip where there is none – but now add these insane speeds, and it might just be too much.

Faster cars don’t always make for better racing.

That’s not to say 200 MPH is always a bad thing – those speeds are commonplace in Atlanta and Texas – and were it not for restrictor plates, the cars would easily surpass that at Daytona and Talladega. But what happens when cars go too fast?

Ask Bobby Allison after his wreck at Talladega. You know, in the last race before the invention of restrictor plates? The one where Allison spun, got airborne and took out an eight-foot section of fence.

That fence being the only thing keeping Allison’s car from getting personal with the fans.

Now, I don’t see that happening at Darlington this weekend; the new car is specifically designed for safer racing. But I can’t help but think 200 MPH is far too quick for Darlington.

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