The Frontstretch: MPM2Nite: Sweet, Sweet Emotion by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday November 11, 2010

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MPM2Nite: Sweet, Sweet Emotion

Matt McLaughlin · Thursday November 11, 2010


In a sport that’s become so homogenized it makes Romper Room look risqué, Sunday’s Cup race from Texas was notable in that three drivers in particular showed some genuine, if not entirely polite, displays of emotion. Yeah, yeah, Denny Hamlin won the race and took over the points lead with just two races left in the season. That’s notable to established fans of the sport and we’ve chatted about it a bit in the on-line forums where our decimated numbers still gather around the electronic hearth to chat about our long time passion. Within the ranks of the devoted, Hamlin’s win has elicited a lot of emotion. Some are still hoping Jimmie Johnson wins his record setting fifth consecutive title. Others worry that the swap of the No. 48 and No. 24 pit crews is a sign the good ship JJ LLC is heading for the same fate the Edmund Fitzgerald many years ago today as this is written. (Not published.)

Others are dearly hoping Hamlin will beat the No. 48 bunch confident a new champion can only help rekindle interest in the sport. A lot of us agree that it was heartening to see a driver like Hamlin competing for a title go B2TW to make a last lap pass to garner maximum points with a win rather than cruise to a top 5 finish. And the diehards still seem to be hoping through outrageous fortune to Hamlin and Johnson over the next couple weeks Kevin Harvick can still pull off a title. After all, how appropriate would it be for RCR’s lead driver to arrive at Daytona next February on the tenth anniversary of the passing of Dale Earnhardt with the re-badged No. 3 team once again the reigning champions?

But that sort of intrigue, debate and such is reserved for the still engaged fans of the sport. For former fans (and according to a ating about a million of them who watched last year’s Texas Chase race failed to tune in this year) casual fans and neophytes to the sport of stock car racing two storylines jumped off the page in this week’s sport’s section. Oops, I’m sorry, practically nobody reads newspapers anymore. But if you watched SportsCenter or logged onto YouTube this week to catch Texas race highlights there were two videos you surely saw. The first was Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton having a physical altercation after a wreck. The second was Kyle Busch getting held two laps for flipping a NASCAR official the bird following a pit road speeding penalty. Yet, the fans reacted to those two different incidents in very different manners.

OK, let’s admit it. The “fight” between Gordon and Burton was lame, nothing like the full on, knockdown, fists clenched, blood-drawn brawl between the Allison brothers and Cale Yarborough after the 1979 Daytona 500. Gordon still needs to figure this whole “fight” scenario out. As I see it, if you want to get in somebody’s face you don’t give them a two handed shove to push them away from you. You grab hold of their uniform and pull them in closer while using the other hand to make a fist and hit them to make a point. The two Jeff’s are wee little lads by the standard of stock car racing and I doubt either would have been dehabilitated by a genuine fistfight. TV ratings might have been rehabilitated but I doubt either party would have suffered permanent damage.

With a crashed car set to go on a wrecker, Jeff Gordon took his anger out on veteran Jeff Burton…and the result was something the sport has been missing.

Still it was heartening to see Gordon spend all that time striding across and down the track to make his point. Burton and Gordon have a few things in common. Despite lackluster seasons by their own lofty standards and long winless streaks both drivers made the Chase, but have seen their championship hopes hit the crapper since the title bout began. Both of them have been racing week in and week out through NASCAR’s insanely grueling and lengthy season and tempers are frayed as a result. I can tell you by this point of the season even most media members are frustrated, tired and cranky. I can’t imagine how much worse it is for the drivers who are under pressure every week to win and haven’t been able to do so. If Gordon and Burton aren’t exactly ready to launch their first retirement tour in their minds both men must know they are closer to the end of their careers than they are to the start. When you’re 21 and fail to win a title it’s a lot easier to be philosophical about it and confidentially proclaim “next year.”

There are also decided differences between the two Jeffs. Gordon has accomplished some remarkable things over his career. He’s already won four titles and tasted the champagne (or milk) at the head table in New York. There was a time when it seemed fate had to intervene for anyone but Gordon to win. Now it seems he needs a Bon Jovi sized miracle to ever win a Cup race again, now that he’s snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory so many times. In the interim his younger protégé Jimmie Johnson has claimed four titles and twelve race wins since Gordon last visited Victory Lane. If Jeff Burton is one of the younger members of the old guard that used to race Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott in their primes, Jeff Gordon is one of the older members of the new guard who never raced a full season against Richard Petty.

For Burton, he’s accomplished some remarkable things during his career as well. Certainly he is one of the most respected drivers in the garage area both because of his hard but clean racing style and his ability to articulate intelligently his opinions on all matters concerning the sport. He came up through the ranks the old fashioned way racing for lesser competitive teams to get a foot in the door before moving into the sport’s top echelon. But were his career to end tomorrow there will always be a footnote attached to his statistics. Burton will be mentioned as “the best driver” never to win a championship alongside the likes of Mark Martin, Fred Lorenzon and Junior Johnson. Despite 21 Cup series wins (six in 1999 alone), 27 Busch series wins and a Truck Series victory, Burton has never finished higher than 3rd in the points.

So there you have it, the perfect storm. Two drivers who have endured long frustrating seasons, long winless droughts and a long afternoon with bad handling cars at Texas, watching another chance for victory ebb away, and all of a sudden these two drivers in not such great moods are trying to occupy the same piece of real estate to the considerable detriment of both. I’m not sure I completely buy Burton’s “the sun got in my eyes as I was trying to pull alongside him to apologize” explanation, but given this is Jeff Burton we’re discussing, I will give him a reasonable amount of doubt.

Wrecking race cars isn’t pleasant. I’m sure both drivers were sore and aching the next day. It didn’t look like that hard a hit on TV, but television disguises just how violent things get when a car hit’s the wall (SAFER barriers…not soft walls) while traveling at three miles per minute. I’ve hit 180 MPH in the driver’s seat only once in my life and I do recall thinking in the back of my mind, “Gosh and golly, I really hope I don’t run into anything right now. That wouldn’t be good.” (Of course there was nothing but denim between my ass and fiberglass in a late model ZR1 Vette at the time.) It was a day ending wreck for both (Burton did return briefly but in a car so beat up they had to spray paint a number on the driver’s side door) and both were thoroughly irritated as a result. Neither declined comment or waited for their PR lady to tell them what to say. There was no, “I just don’t understand what he did” or “Gosh, I hate that that happened” statements.

For an all too rare moment two Cup drivers got in each other’s faces and had a frank exchange of views while the crowd roared. I’d have liked to see the NASCAR officials wait until things actually got violent before stepping in, but in the future I’d remind Mr. Burton and Mr. Gordon something I learned during my brief and spectacularly unsuccessful racing career in a glorified cow pasture. Leave your helmet on until after the post-wreck discussion if you don’t have good dental insurance.

Kyle Busch’s single finger salute to the NASCAR official has drawn almost as much ire as the “epic” Burton/Gordon battle has drawn hosannas. It’s tough understanding why as a dispassionate observer. But there’s a lot of key differences especially taken in the light of Busch’s continuously boorish, obscene, profane and childish behavior since he arrived in the sport. In saying that I mean to take nothing away from the remarkable things Busch has accomplished already during his racing career, but by and large fans are tired of Busch displaying his ass and then trying to say the next day, that choc lately thing in the center was a rose he was trying to toss to the fans when he farted. In fact I think it’s time for the “Wild Thing” nickname to be discarded and “The Chocolate Rose” to be painted above the driver’s side door of the No. 18 car. Maybe it’s time for a confectionery company that markets primarily to (fat) kids to step aside and let Charmin bathroom tissue sponsor Busch even if “charming” isn’t among the first dozen adjectives that anyone who has ever had the misfortune to encounter young Master Busch in one of his moods would ascribe to him.

Like Gordon and Burton, Busch was having a rough time of it at Texas despite a very quick car. Certainly he felt he’d been spun out and he had in fact done a remarkable job keeping the car out of the wall during that spin just as other drivers back there in the pack did a remarkable job to avoid the No. 18 car once it all went catawampus. Hooray, a glove save and a beauty! Busch ducked into the pits for new tires with a whole lot of laps left to make up for the miscue. We’ve all seen Busch rally back from worse deficits than that to win races.

Busch’s first mistake was excusable. After his crew changed two tires he attempted to stay on the lead lap by beating the pace car. Apparently he pushed the envelope just a little too hard trying to stay on the lead lap and got nailed for speeding leaving the pits. Lights in his tachometer surely indicated to Busch that he’d pushed too hard. By his own admission Busch later admitted he might have been speeding but “just a little” and “not on purpose.” Well Busch has been a part of this sport long enough to realize that since NASCAR went to electronic speed monitoring on pit road to end the complaints of trigger happy prejudiced officials with stopwatches in the tower it doesn’t matter if you’re half a mile per hour over the limit or fifty miles per hour over the limit you’re going to be penalized.

I may not agree with that, but I understand it, and I’m just a dumb scribe. Advised of his penalty Busch returned to form like a dog returns to its vomit and launched into a profanity laced tirade over the radio. Convinced to return to the pits by his crew chief Busch then made the now infamous single finger salute to a NASCAR official sent to enforce the one lap penalty. That in turn cost Busch, and more importantly the No. 18 team that had worked all week, and in fact all season, to provide their driver with exceptional equipment, two laps in an additional penalty. Despite Busch’s protests his First Amendment rights were being infringed upon, the middle finger salute remains a hot button issue here in the States. A baseball player can get tossed from the game for a similar gesture towards an umpire. The same gesture has cost NFL players up to 250,000 dollars in fines. And these guys are frustrated, want to win the game and are caught up in the heat of the moment.

I got my big lesson in First Amendment rights when I flipped off a driver who almost ran me over taking a right turn on red and a cop who decided he didn’t like my field jacket, the diamond in my left ear and my long hair beat the tar out of me in addition to writing me a $150 ticket for “disorderly conduct.” I took the case to court and the judge doubled the fine when I repeated the gesture to put it into evidence.

What Busch did at that moment was to deny the team members who work for his benefit a chance at a win and the bonus moneys that JGR pays to those crew members for wins, top 5 finishes, and top 10 results. His crew chief clearly was at his wits end with his volatile young driver in asking him to calm the hell down before they were parked for the day. In fact given the way Busch has continuously castigated his crew over the radio all season long I wouldn’t be surprised if a day is coming Busch enter the pit and finds nobody left to go over the wall to service his car. If I worked for that crew I’d have packed up and gone home early on Sunday.

Yes, genuine emotion still has a place in this sponsor driven sport and its been sadly lacking for years. But when continuously the only emotion you can demonstrate is childishness, petulance and a lack of class maybe its time that you sit down and reconsider whether the sport needs you more than you need the sport.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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phil h
11/11/2010 01:32 AM

Rebecca Casten was leading a Late Model Stock Car event at North Wilkesboro on October 30.She jumped the flag on a restart and on the next lap given the black flag.On the next lap by,she gestured to the flagman the number ! sign and was disqualified immediately!The officials at North Wilkesboro deemed her actions as unsportmanlike conduct and the results deem her as if she was never there.

Maybe if Nascar would totally DQ someone when they break the rules instead of pay a fine and take away points things would be different.
When racing is held at local weekly venues,you get the big DQ! No money! No Points!No nothing! Seems funny that Nascar sanctioned local speedways will DQ your ass if you break the rules! But in the Cup/Nats/Trucks they never do that!
Just a slap on the wrist!

11/11/2010 02:55 AM

“If Jeff Burton is one of the younger members of the old guard that used to race Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott in their primes, Jeff Gordon is one of the older members of the new guard who never raced a full season against Richard Petty.”

Kind of weird since Gordon preceded Burton full-time in Cup. Burton seems like more of a veteran because he hung around in Busch several more years and is older, but your statement still strikes me as kind of weird. They’re both new guard, and Mark Martin’s the only old guard left.

Bad Wolf
11/11/2010 07:07 AM

Jeff Gordons winning streak came to an end after Nascar took away the magic box he had hidden in his car.

11/11/2010 07:21 AM

Shoot, two weeks left in the season and here I was hoping Matt would turn in his two weeks notice. Matt, it feels like it will take a Bon Jovi miracle for you to write a decent article.

Please keep in mind that your articles are published on THURSDAY, this topic has been cover ad naseum and better by countless other writers.

Let’s see how many people will praise this article (written about folks who speak their mind) – then turn around and bash me.

As for the content, let’s amend one sentence and research the results: who’s the best driver never to win a chase?

Oh, and Jacob not everyone who makes fun of your overuse of fonts is me. Although today – for the. FIRST time, I’ll make some other names… See if you can find me… It’ll be FUN

11/11/2010 07:25 AM

Am I mistaken? Wasn’t it you on Monday, Matt, that said Happy and Juan should look at Jeff & Jeff as an example how of real men remove their helmets before they fight? Now the advice is to for the Jeffs to look to Juan and Happy as an example of the way to protect their craniums when they want to play pat-a-cake?

Kyle’s petulance is what it is. He is an example of just how disastrously wrong the American mindset of sheltering a child, spoiling them, and making sure their emotional integrity is never threatened has gone.
Kyle’s chronological age is 25, but his mental age is about 6. He is arrogant and feels that he is owed something, simply because he wants it.
In the old world of NASCAR, drivers had to mature in lesser series and machines. They spent their lives living hand to mouth in order to support their dreams and aspirations. That taught them humility.
For the new na$car era, the young prospects are scouted at such a young age, Kyle had a multimillion dollar contract before he was legally old enough to sign it. He never had to worry about how to pay the mortgage, where he would eat, or even how he would race next weekend if he couldn’t find the money to buy some new tires for the car. Expect more drivers of Kyle’s temperment to join na$car’s ranks in the coming decade.

11/11/2010 08:06 AM

Randy “Need One More?” Nacho:

It would be a fun little game to play, but since everybody on this site knows that you use multiple screen names, it starts off under false pretenses.
The other problem is, that you alone would be responsible for saying whether or not I guess correctly, and you can’t be relied on for an honest response. You are an (almost) unbelievably stupid child, but I am not. Debating a topic with you is as difficult (and almost as much fun) as beating a blind and deaf man with a bat.

Now in all seriousness, you need to get over your obsessive little boy-love crush that you have with me. I am most assuredly NOT gay. I couldn’t care less about your orientation, but it is a hopeless cause from your point of view.

11/11/2010 09:15 AM

Wait… I thought Matt M. was going all Big Brother on us and log our IP addresses so he could point out who was posting what. What ever happened to that?

Maybe Jacob could come over later and check my IP address personally if ya get my drift. Wink Wink. Nod Nod.

11/11/2010 09:33 AM

@Jacob – Your assessment of Kyle Busch (and a vast majority of his generation) is right on. These kids are being raised to think they are owed something. Or that they deserve a reward for doing what they are paid to do.

It has become disastrous in the workplace as well. I’ve honestly heard a Generation Y’er upset that they didn’t get some sort of bonus for showing up to work on time. And another who, on casual Friday, actually wore pajamas and slippers.

These kids are totally lost because our society doesn’t let kids lose anymore, doesn’t let kids feel hurt or get insulted, doesn’t let kids settle conflicts. We’ve made them into spoiled brats that are emotionally stunted. It’s not every kid, but the percentage grows all the time.

11/11/2010 09:53 AM

Haha… so to sum it all up… “Kids these days.”

Didnt parents in the 60s and 70s say the exact same thing?

11/11/2010 10:12 AM

geez guys… enough with the childish jackassery.

After reading this article, I was wondering who would be the best champion for nascar. Then I got to thinking that it probably makes no difference who ends up with the championship. At best it will be no more than a quickly forgotten side note in the general public’s eye. Let’s face it, Nascar’s popularity doesn’t stand a chance of any real regrowth until “the product” is seen as worth the “investment” or the price of people time and money. The championship will only matter only to about 4 million people by tv’s (probably) overblown ratings count and most of those people will be angry that either their guy didn’t win or that the championship itself is a contrived farce. And that in turn got me to asking myself “sponsors are shelling how much money for exposure to the same 4 million people every week?” companies are paying how much for tv air time for the same thing? Doesn’t it look like companies are doing the math on this one and walking away as Nascar racing continues to slide from any relevance in the public’s eye? Is one of the biggest problems that it takes too much money to feed the monster that NASCAR now is? Is this all just a badly needed self correction?

So keep up the petty bickering and the continual bringing nothing but hate and negativity to the board while the sport that brought us here burns to the ground around us.

11/11/2010 12:05 PM

Actually, I had an experience similar to the one you describe with the finger and the guy who almost ran you over. However,I did not get the cop in the bargain. I just had to talk really fast to the fellow in an effort to explain why my lineage was so very much the way he described it. After that I ran like hell. Wish I had had a Corvette, but a 1972 Pinto wagon, I found, could move quite quickly and had other driving qualities I had not expected….

You, in other words, were lucky.

Don Mei
11/11/2010 12:33 PM

Ive told you people a hundred times, the way to deal with a boring, self important a****** is to totally and completely ignore him or her and get on with whatever adult discussion you were having. The lack of attention makes them crazy. I know it’s difficult but just think in terms of the average 5 year old.

11/11/2010 01:18 PM

I had a similar experience with the finger, minus the cop, but I dotted both of his eyes so that I’m sure it was awhile before he could even see the finger again.If I give the finger I’m riled to the point of not running.

Don M
11/11/2010 02:00 PM

From the Great White North; the proper expression is, “kick save and a beauty”.

11/11/2010 02:24 PM

Has anyone noticed that Dansmom hasnt been around lately? Am I the only one that misses her and her probable sweet @$$?

Don Mei
11/11/2010 04:51 PM

Trust me; it’s you Tuna…everyone else misses her about as much as we miss the Bubonic plague.

11/11/2010 04:58 PM

That so called “fight” between the Jeff’s? I’ve seen better fights during recess at my elementary school years ago, and that was between two GIRLS!

As for Kyle, IMO his new sponsor should be who ever makes douche bags. Nascar should have immediately parked him after flipping off the official.

11/11/2010 04:59 PM

I looove Jamie MacMurray . And typing his name in italics makes me think of him in a sparkly figure skater costume. mmmmm

11/11/2010 07:41 PM

Hey Matt – I am not fully understanding the “Chocolate Rose” thing but I like it!

Happy Veterans Day and Remembrance Day to all the troops alive and dead – Thank you all!

Margarita Chicken
11/13/2010 04:32 PM

Nascar should make a 10 race “chase” to get into the the real chase.