The Frontstretch: Fanning the Flames: NASCAR's Most Popular Cliché by Matt Taliaferro -- Wednesday April 18, 2007

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Fanning the Flames: NASCAR's Most Popular Cliché

NASCAR Fan Q & A · Matt Taliaferro · Wednesday April 18, 2007


“It is what it is.”

I've slowly grown to detest that phrase. Yet, that’s what instinctively pops out the mouths of athletes more than ever nowadays. It’s their tagline for when they want to say, “It’s happened. I’m going to forget about it and move on.” Or, even more annoyingly, they use it if they're just trying to wiggle out of a tough spot, their protective one-liner against a swath of details they’re unwilling to expound on.

Well, that phrase has clearly become a borderline crutch for our boys on the Nextel Cup circuit, too. That's why it's with much regret that when asked (numerous times) about Dale Earnhardt, Jr. jumping into Kyle Busch's wounded Hendrick Motorsports Chevy and reeling off eight or nine laps at the end of the Samsung 500, the only thing I can muster about the topic is simply, “It is what it is.”

All week long, I've listened to both uninformed, johnny-come-lately “fans” and other media brethren pontificate that Junior had no business getting in someone else's car, especially when Driver 8 would not be the beneficiary of any additional points earned.

“He is risking his own safety! He is giving Kyle Busch three valuable championship points!” On and on, the overreactive drivel is spewed from everyone with a microphone, keyboard, or spare moment around the coffee machine. (I'm officially putting an end to this water cooler stuff. When was the last time you stood around a water cooler and conversed with a co-worker?)

Look, Junior was raised in a Winston Cup garage area that never thought twice about helping the team in the next stall over. They weren't sharing state secrets, mind you, but if a team needed a relief driver, they didn't have to search long. Junior said as much himself.

“Pig (Rick Pigeon, jackman for the No. 5 team) is my buddy, and I have a couple of other friends on this team,” Earnhardt said. “They asked me to do it, so I wasn’t going to say no.”

That, and why wouldn't he jump in another team's car, just to see what flying a MIG to his Tomcat is like?

Junior getting in the No. 5 car is a tip of the cap to an era that’s passed. It's a show of sportsmanship. It's scratching a curious itch. Most importantly…it is what it is.

On to some questions now. You want to see your name in print (or pixels)? This is the place. Give me a shout this week with whatever may be on your mind. It doesn't have to be a question… comments, opinions, and ideas are all welcome. The email address, as always, is

Q: What’s up with Michael Waltrip? The two-time Daytona 500 winner used to be one of the clean-cut drivers big money sponsors love. Now, Mikey is getting caught cheating at Daytona (which cost him a $100,000 fine and 100 driver points) and then is flipping his SUV after “falling asleep at the wheel.” What's the problem — pressures of being a car owner, his new Toyota ride, or is Teresa Earnhardt somehow to blame? — Rush Rocket

A: Poor Teresa. Everyone wants to blame her for something. The way I see it, Michael's issues are threefold:
1. He's taken on ownership and driving duties for a new team with a new manufacturer. That in itself is enough to keep a man burning the midnight oil.
2. His team has not one, not two, but three Cup teams. Even Jack Roush will tell you that's a full plate.
3. On top of the owner and driver duties, Waltrip is also a TV personality and radio talk show host (in addition to his obligations as a husband and father).

In short, Mikey has too many irons in the fire. As for his off-track problems, the Daytona incident — which remains unexplained — and the barrel roll, these were simply errors in judgment (or mistakes, if you take him at his word) that occurred at the absolute worst possible times.

Q: I saw that Cal Wells is auctioning off his race team. What a shame that we will never see the Tide Ride again! — Mark M.

A: Yes. PPI Motorsports, the last single-car operation to win a Nextel Cup race — remember Darlington '03? — is being auctioned off. It speaks to the financial state of the sport in a time when even powerhouse organizations are looking to outside investors to stay just ahead of the curve. Makes you wonder which single-car outfit is next.

If anyone is interested in obtaining anything from springs to transmissions to a full-on motorhome, they can head to Hickory, N.C., where the auction will continue through Sunday, April 22nd. For complete information on the auction, go to the Sentman Auctions website.

Q: Hey Matt. Did you see DJ in the booth for the Busch race at last week? I thought he was a natural. How do you think he stacks up against the other drivers-turned-analysts? — Mitchell

A: Yes, I did see DJ in the booth and I was amazed at how well he did. I thought he was already better than Rusty and not as corny as DW or Mikey. He actually reminded me a lot of Kyle Petty when he called a couple of Busch races last season. Guess the broadcasting talent runs in the family; for the newer fans out there, Dale’s father, Ned Jarrett, was a driver-turned-broadcaster for both ESPN and CBS. So yes, it’s either family talent passed down through the generations…or it is what it is.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Racing to the Point: NASCAR Has Its Own Heartbreak Kid
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