The Frontstretch: That's History! NASCAR's Checkered (Flag) Past, One Story at a Time: Payback Time by Amy Henderson -- Friday April 15, 2005

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Ever have one of those days when your little brother/the annoying lady three cubicles over/some obnoxious other driver does something that, for whatever reason, really makes you mad? You want to retaliate, but your mother/your boss/NASCAR frowns on this and so you are left to ponder other, more subtle ways to express your displeasure? Right, so you’re with me so far. Of course if you’re a racecar driver, you have a variety of options for expressing your concern about that other driver’s apparent, um, lack of talent.

Now, your first impulse may be to make a to-the-point hand gesture, but that can get you fined these days. Ditto on venting your (expletive) displeasure to a sympathetic reporter. While maybe your crew chief can beat up his crew chief, there are the rest of the guys to consider, and besides, NASCAR frowns on fighting. This also leaves out attempting to climb into the car, hauling off and bopping him. That’ll get you a week off, but the fans might appreciate it. So, what you have to do is be creative.

My vote for the best message of displeasure sent to another driver goes to Dale Earnhardt Junior. Junior was just a rookie on the Nextel Cup circuit when he got spun at Dover by an even newer rookie by the name of Kurt Busch. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. But on this day, Busch, in one of his first appearances on the circuit, punted Junior and relegated the 8 car to the garage for much of the day.

Not all of it, however. Car fixed, Junior drove out of the garage, down pit road and onto the track, where he found himself looking at the yellow-striped back bumper of none other than Kurt Busch. Watching at home, I’m fairly positive I wasn’t alone in thinking that it might be a case of “Mr. Busch, meet Mr. Wall.” Junior is, after all, an Earnhardt, and the name carries a certain, if at times undeserved, reputation. But, like a true Earnhardt, Junior decided it would serve the same purpose, and get him in less trouble, to toy with Busch.

Junior tucked his car right up behind Busch’s bumper and stayed there. Lap after lap, the red car followed the then-John Deere green car like they were coupled together. If Busch slipped high, so did Junior. If Busch dove low, so did Junior. It went on for what to Busch must have seemed like an eternity. Junior was no doubt having fun. His crew probably was, too. Fans loved it. Busch, though, was probably having no fun at all. NASCAR, not known for a sparkling sense of humor, was not amused.

Finally, enough was enough. A NASCAR official was dispatched posthaste to Junior’s pit with a message to stop that behavior immediately, if not sooner. Crew chief Tony Eury dutifully relayed the message to Junior, who was less than willing to give up his new fun hobby just yet. So he did what anyone who was misbehaving and had a radio might do-he pretended the radio was cutting out and he couldn’t hear a word Eury was saying. Another request produced another bout of the mysterious communications malfunction. A third request, delivered in no uncertain terms with the promise of Big Trouble if anything happened to the hapless rookie in the green car. This apparently made it through to Junior, who fell back on another grade-school favorite, “I didn’t do anything.”

Finally, several minutes (or years, depending on which car you were in) later, Junior gave up the chase at the insistence of NASCAR and threats from his crew about what they might be persuaded to do if Busch got so much as a scratch in the paint job. My guess is, the point was made by then anyway.

In the long run, nobody got hurt, nobody got in trouble, and almost everybody can laugh about it later. The lesson here? Sometimes the best revenge isn’t really revenge at all, it’s just scaring the bejeebers out of the guy who thinks you’re out for revenge. It might even get past the radar of your mother/your boss/NASCAR, and you go skipping merrily away, scott free. Face it, with that crowd watching, that is history.

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