The Frontstretch: Giving Kurt His Due and Other Thoughts by Kurt Smith -- Thursday February 21, 2008

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Giving Kurt His Due and Other Thoughts

The Official Columnist of NASCAR · Kurt Smith · Thursday February 21, 2008

 

Yes, it's time I got the respect I deserve, dang it!

Just kidding. This isn't about me, it's about the infamous, oft-maligned, so-called "arrogant punk" in the Miller Lite Dodge.

I'm not certain how Kurt Busch has gotten such a bad rep. I've been trying to come up with reasons beyond the Jimmy Spencer feud that made the man so unpopular, and other than the pit road incident in Dover last year, which was a justifiable reason to upset people, I can't think of anything.

Even if Kurt was in the wrong in the Spencer incident(s), it's not like Jimmy Spencer was a respected icon known for being a great ambassador for the sport. Spencer was good enough as a driver to become a TV commentator on Speed. The King he wasn't.

It would have been one thing if Busch clashed with someone like Dale Jarrett, but that's kind of the point. Jarrett knows better than to perpetuate a feud with a brash, wet-behind-the-ears young gun. Even if Kurt were an arrogant punk as Kevin Harvick had said, Spencer was still willing to engage him.

What does a a brash, wet-behind-the-ears young gun and Jimmy Spencer have in common? Absolutley noithing! But could that be the reason fans don’t like Kurt Busch?

There was also the Maricopa County reckless driving incident in 2005, which cost Busch the final two races in the Roush No. 97. Roush Racing president Geoff Smith famously said at the time, "We're officially retiring as Kurt Busch's apologists".

Oh, uh, that Champ-ionship in 2004? Sorry about that.

Kurt has mended his fences with Maricopa County to the point where they had actually made him an honorary deputy. I don't know what that means, or even if his badge is made of metal, but it does suggest that there isn't a grudge being held by the Maricopa sheriff, so there's no need for me to hold one.

Besides that, Kurt has shown some moments of graciousness. After the 2005 Martinsville race when his car was wrecked by an overzealous Jeff Gordon, Kurt showed no sour grapes in the post-race interview, even with the interviewer clearly egging him on and ample justification for being angry. (Gordon won the race.) He also gave away a million dollars through his foundation to the Victory Junction Gang Camp in 2006. And that was back when a million dollars was a lot of money.

Busch can't be all that bad. Plenty of people still have a low opinion of the guy, and that's fine. It's part of the fun of being a fan, at least until Brian France figures out a way to wreck that tradition, too. But he deserves credit for his efforts to improve his standing with the fans.

And Kurt Busch gets some first class kudos here from the Official Columnist of NASCAR, for pushing Ryan Newman and Penske Racing to the first Daytona 500 win for both…even though he has yet to win one himself. There's no way that Rusty would have done that. Any driver pushing his teammate to the checkers at the 500 is pretty rare. I don't hear Roger Penske apologizing now.

Keep The 500 Where It Is…

I've heard rumblings about the possibility of moving the Daytona 500 to the end of the season. Leaving aside that a championship should never be decided at a track that uses restrictor plates (for what should be obvious reasons), few things could be more foolish.

The Daytona 500 has frequently been called NASCAR's Super Bowl. That isn't quite a viable comparison. In football, the Super Bowl is everything…the biggest marketing bonanza of the year and also the most important game of the year. In NASCAR, the 500 is the most important and visible race of the season, but unlike the Super Bowl, the race couldn't be less important in the framework of a championship. There are 25 races to make up for anything that happens in Race 1.

NASCAR has been able to turn the Daytona 500, a race that means just as much in the standings as the 25 races that follow it, into the grand marketing spectacle that it is. That is one of the few actual triumphs of the people that run the sport. If the 500 was put at the end of the season, the ratings wouldn't double just because the most important race was also the last. In fact, given the fans' reaction to the more unpalatable changes to the sport in the Brian France era, they might pay a big ratings price for moving the 500 to the end of the season.

NASCAR has a gargantuan commercial show to open the season, and they have the drama of the championship battle at the end of the season. Two separate cash cows turned into one would eliminate half of the buzz. It would rival the Chase in management blunders that have permeated the sport of late.

Now We Pull Off The Plates And Really Race

For as long as this writer has been a NASCAR fan, I've always considered the second race, be it at California, Rockingham or wherever, to be the true start of the season. Restrictor plates have never been a favorite thing of mine.

My new wife is still very much green in the ways of NASCAR—her latest beef is the confusion created by M&M's moving to the 18, since she just roots for the M&M's car—but she summed up plate racing perfectly. When I tried to explain restrictor plates (it's never easy) to her, she asked me with a quizzical look, "How can they race if they're all going the same speed?" Good question…and one that I cannot reasonably answer.

With all respect and deserved congratulations to Ryan Newman, and I’m happy that he won, that was probably the least exciting 500 I have ever watched. Compare that with the instant classic just one year ago. What was the difference?

That is of course a rhetorical question. Until the Car of Tomorrow stops being "a work in progress" as many call it, there's going to be a lot of follow the leader at plate track races until the last few laps. I may not have liked plate racing before at the superspeedways, but at least boring it was not. Watching the 500 this time around, all I could think was: Great job, NASCAR, yet another iconic race may well be rendered mediocre, like the demise of the Southern 500 and the extreme dullification of the once mighty Bristol night race.

We'll see this weekend, for the first time, how the CoT performs on an aero track. Hopefully for NASCAR's sake it does well, because so far the winged snowplow has decimated the excitement at Bristol, Talladega and Daytona, three of NASCAR's most famed tracks. If it tames the racing at tracks that make up almost half the schedule, what is NASCAR going to do?

Maybe they can expand the Chase to 20 drivers.

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Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
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Foothills Racing
02/22/2008 09:26 AM
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That’s not true. I bet ‘ol Roger Penske was apologizing to the other Dodge teams as he signed the back of that million dollar bonus check that Dodge gave them.
:D

Racinsince55
02/22/2008 09:46 AM
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The dislike for Kurt Busch goes back all the way to 2000 at Dover , DE. It was at this race that Busch had a run in with the “Once and Future King” of NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt Jr. This brought the ire of the Jr. Nation. And, as goes the Jr. nation, so goes NASCAR.

Kurt was the villain before he ever ran his first full season.

Buffalo
02/22/2008 10:56 AM
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Why? Because they didn’t have a “big one”? There was good racing at the front and all through the field the whole race. Most used common sense for a change.

Barry Kentrup
02/22/2008 11:47 AM
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Two things: first the lack of a “big one”. I feel that the wing prevented the cars from getting “so out of shape” as to block the field and start the crash. How many times did we see saves attributed to the wing.

Number two is about the suspension Kurt received at Rousch. Rousch was angry that his Champion driver wanted to improve himself and tried to give Roger Penske damaged goods.

Kurt Smith
02/22/2008 11:55 AM
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Not because there wasn’t a big one, Buffalo. Because there didn’t seem to be much racing going on, just a couple of freight trains until someone jumped out. It was similar to Talladega last year.

Kyle Grealis
02/22/2008 03:20 PM
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i disagree … Talladega last fall was the first ‘Dega race that could make me sleepy. atleast this past weekend’s 500 had some solid runs by previously not-so-solid drivers!

Rick Shaw
02/22/2008 08:45 PM
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“There’s no way that Rusty would have done that.”
That’s entirely not true. Go back and watch all the old restrictor plate races with Rusty and Ryan, Kvapil, Gaughan, or Mayfield. He’s always worked with them as a team, as they have with him. Restrictor plate races are entirely different beast than a normal race and taking a cheap shot at Rusty when the past shows different is downright disgraceful. If you honestly believe Rusty wouldn’t have helped Ryan so that Roger could pick up his first 500 win, then you have to accept that Newman would not help either and that if the roles were reversed for this recent 500 and Ryan had a chance to help Kurt win or to take the win himself, he wouldn’t hesitate to go for the win himself and leave Kurt out to dry. That’s both his and Roy McCauley’s personality. They’ll stab in the back the moment they get the chance if it means they’ll get something out of it.

Kurt Smith
02/23/2008 10:25 PM
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“Downright disgraceful”? Lighten up Rick.

I said what I said based on what I’ve witnessed as a fan since 2002, Ryan’s first season. First, I was at the Martinsville race in 2004 where the feud between the two exploded. In case you don’t remember what happened, briefly, Rusty went to the outside on a restart trying to pass Jimmie Johnson for the lead. When he couldn’t do it (and I’m not sure why he thought he could) he tried to get back to the inside which Ryan wouldn’t let him do, nor should he have. Rusty finished tenth. I watched it with awe wondering what the h Rusty was trying to do on that restart.

From that point forward the two did not get along because Rusty felt (and he said this, I’m not making it up) that he deserved more respect than that. I’m not sure how a driver is supposed to risk getting turned around to let in a teammate who made a foolish move.

I can tell you that having seen just about every race since then, I remember how it struck me seeing the 2 and 12 work together the very first race Kurt was in the car (2006 Daytona 500). If that had happened before, I had never seen it…that’s why I was struck by it.

I stand by what I said, I don’t think Rusty would have pushed Ryan to the win. If it makes you feel better, I don’t think Jeff Gordon would have done it for Jimmie Johnson either, since we saw that at Talladega last year.

That’s why I wrote the column…to give Kurt Busch his due as a great teammate.

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