The Frontstretch: The Next Five NASCAR Drivers To Get "Taught A Lesson" by Thomas Bowles -- Monday March 15, 2010

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The Next Five NASCAR Drivers To Get "Taught A Lesson"

Bowles-Eye View · Thomas Bowles · Monday March 15, 2010


As we put the Carl – Brad fiasco in the rear-view mirror, there’s plenty of debate about where we go from here. But fans, insiders, and drivers alike can agree on one thing, no matter which side of the coin they fall: this week’s race at Bristol is the most-anticipated short track slugfest in years. With drivers clearly sent a message that payback’s not only acceptable, it’s encouraged, everyone’s looking to see how many will loosen the reins and play bumper tag – especially at a track where patience ends the second the green flag drops.

With that in mind, it’s time to have a little fun on this off-week and see who’s the next Brad Keselowski: you know, the guy some drivers and fans feel need to be “taught a lesson” on the track. Just know before we go any further we’re embarking on a feel-good, laid-back journey that’s a little tongue-in-cheek: don’t read if you don’t have a sense of humor. As I said in SI last week, of course I don’t want chaos on the track: any retaliation can end in serious injury, especially if done the wrong way. But most fans would be lying if they said there wasn’t at least one driver they’d like spun into the inside wall at the half-miles as punishment for a long list of misdeeds – and now, more than ever, that chance exists.

So let’s reach into our inner devil and bring those fantasies to life. Here they are, in no particular order – five victims who better watch their rear bumpers this weekend and at Martinsville the end of the month, as well as five aggressors that might lay the chrome horn:

1) Kyle Busch
Rivals: Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon

The provocative Busch has had a rather quiet season by his standards, making more news off the track (recent engagement, criticizing the media’s Danica lovefest) than on it. But considering he swept both Bristol races last year, leading 446 of a possible 1,003 laps, chances are the No. 18 Toyota will wind up at the front of the field at some point on Sunday.

So what happens next? Busch’s biggest rival, Edwards, is on probation for the next three weeks, one of the few likely to sit out any type of Bristol Demolition Derby. But there is NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver on the prowl, looking to seal his 2010 comeback by contending at one of his favorite tracks. Remember the Richmond wrecks between these two way back when? Earnhardt’s never gotten his “payback,” and you wonder what a desperate No. 88 does in close quarters with the No. 18 late in the race.

Other options for the Busch bump back to reality include his brother Kurt. On-track “brotherly love” between the two just isn’t there (See: All-Star Race, 2007) and it won’t make much to get tempers flaring, with both expected to be top 5 runners. Let’s also not forget Kurt’s new crew chief, Steve Addington, who made no secret of the fact he was happy to get revenge on Kyle with a victory at Atlanta on Sunday. A longshot pick would be Gordon, who has good feelings for Busch but can get repeatedly frustrated with how the 25-year-old mouths off about his disappointment during a three-year tenure with Hendrick Motorsports. Never afraid to use the bump-and-run, that’s a last-lap maneuver that’s found the No. 24 pushing drivers like Matt Kenseth in the wall in recent years. Could Busch be next?

Are these four trophies enough fuel for the fire to make Jimmie Johnson’s competition go gunning for him on the short tracks?

2) Sam Hornish, Jr.
Rivals: Jimmie Johnson, The Field

In his third year of Sprint Cup competition, Hornish has improved but still has a nasty habit of crashing out when you least expect it – and taking other drivers with him. His roller-coaster handling woes have upset Johnson many times, peaking at Texas last fall where the No. 77’s early aggression caused a wreck that put a rainout in the No. 48’s Chase Domination Tour 2009. You dent the champion’s trophy, well, you’re playing with fire, and JJ made some rare public comments then and since that show just how much he’s not a fan of the IndyCar convert.

But Johnson isn’t the only one angry as of late. Several have gotten tired of Hornish’s “transition” to Cup that’s included far too many “Oops! I did it again!” Britney Spears moments to count. It’s gotten to the point where “I’m sorry” is just not going to be good enough anymore, and with short tracks still his biggest weakness, you wonder if somebody’s just going to dust themselves off, take their best shot, and ensure Hornish won’t ruin their day before he gets a chance.

3) Jamie McMurray
Rivals: Juan Pablo Montoya

Two spins equaled two wrecked race cars the last two times out for our Daytona 500 winner. But while Atlanta was at least somewhat forgivable (the No. 1 Chevy incited an eight-car wreck on old tires, losing control during a green-white-checker), his Vegas tangle with teammate Juan Pablo Montoya was so bad Montoya’s wife tweeted a clown would be a better driver than Jamie Mac. Add in the fact McMurray wrecked out the last two years at Bristol, and the odds are pointing to a “third time’s a charm” disaster at the hands of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet. Oh, did I mention who wrecked McMurray the last time we visited Bristol in the Spring? I’ll give you a clue: his name rhymes with Juan Pablo.

4) Kurt Busch
Rivals: Jimmie Johnson, Juan Pablo Montoya

Could last week’s winner be this week’s last place finisher? Depends on whom you ask. Busch has the respect of most inside the garage, but Juan Pablo is none too happy with his late restart during a green-white-checker finish at Atlanta that kept the No. 42 from a serious challenge (Montoya wound up third).

Busch has also ruffled feathers with Jimmie Johnson multiple times over the last 12 months, with the two involved in a noteworthy scuffle at Chicagoland in July. If the “JJ Drive For Five Tour 2010” is really about kicking butt and taking names, wouldn’t the No. 48 want to send a message to a driver looking like a possible challenger to his latest title bid? And speaking of the champ…

5) Jimmie Johnson
Rivals: Denny Hamlin, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kevin Harvick

Does the reigning four-time Chase winner have to watch his back? It sounds crazy on the surface, that a probation ruling involving two unrelated drivers would wind up putting a giant bulls-eye on Johnson’s Chevy. But despite the fact he’s got one of the most well-respected personalities inside the garage, NASCAR’s Let Boys Be Boys policy leaves his biggest rivals with a green light to do the one thing no one ever seems to do with No. 48 these days: rough that car up.

The question is whether someone has the guts. I don’t think it would happen at Bristol; as it is, that’s one of Johnson’s weakest tracks on the circuit. But at Martinsville the end of the month, a track where JJ has finished in the top 5 nine straight times … chances are he’ll be in the lead at some point, with the second place guy squarely placed on his back bumper. That leaves him vulnerable to a guy like Denny Hamlin, looking to assert himself as JJ’s main challenger this season and someone needing a spark after a mediocre-at-best start to 2010.

Montoya’s another option, as his aggressive on-track exploits now have the confidence of a Chase berth behind them. Would he be willing to step it up a notch and send Johnson a message he’s not going to take this four-year browbeating lying down? And then, there’s Mr. Trash Talker himself, Kevin Harvick. Leading the standings, Harvick made it clear he thought Hendrick Motorsports “knew we could run with them” last week. But what better way to send a “hello, how are you” note that RCR’s truly back in contention than to take Johnson for a ride at a place where their car usually thrives.

Contact Tom Bowles

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03/15/2010 05:54 AM

Denny Hamlin is also an aggressive driver, why he is not on your list? He turned 00 around for no reason last year and use his grandmother’s death as an excuse…

Stephen HOOD
03/15/2010 08:34 AM

Hamlin a challenger to Johnson? Hamlin’s biggest challenge is his own self delusion. Johnson’s biggest challenger in 2010 will be Mark Martin and maybe Kurt Busch. Mark is smart and doesn’t leave many points on the table, even when Johnson wins. Kurt has the tenacity and may have the crew chief to hold a season together. I believe Hamlin will be the third highest finishing Gibbs car, now that Joey has figured out how to drive the COT. Challenger to Johnson, come on.

03/15/2010 11:10 AM

Quick question…didn’t the #00 “assist” the #77 to get into the #48 at Texas last year? Not really understanding why that qualifies as “early aggression”

03/15/2010 11:35 AM

I wonder how many drivers will be “taught” a lesson by the new spoiler.

Maybe all the teams should be “taught a lesson” to become more competative with the 48

I don’t see retaliation as part of Juan Puablo’s finish in the top 15 points racing to get in the Chase plan. Maybe he should be “taught a lesson” that finishing in the top 15 doesn’t mean jack in the chase.

Sounds like a lot of rivals in an era when are claiming there are no rivalries in the sport. I guess someone needs to be “taught a lesson” afterall.

03/15/2010 11:47 AM

How about 42 cars all pointing at the 99…?

Kevin from PA
03/15/2010 11:51 AM

If you were wondering which 5 drivers Mr. Bowles doesn’t like – you now have your answer.

Carl D.
03/15/2010 02:20 PM

You’re making way too big of a deal out this whole “payback” thing. Just because a couple of drivers may have a little hostile history doesn’t mean that they are bound and determined to wreck each other just because Edwards got a free pass. Retaliation works both ways. There may be more than one driver who has a beef with Kyle Busch, but do you really think any of them want to see him in their rear-view mirror the week after they intentionally wreck him?

I’m of the opinion that this “self-policing” by the drivers will not make much difference in their behavior on the track. If you’re a driver trying to win a championship, you’re not going to do anything to jeopardize your chances down the road. And if you’re an up-and-coming driver trying to prove yourself, a good crew chief will remind you that you don’t need to make any enemies before you’ve earned certain level of respect.

George near Fontucky
03/15/2010 04:00 PM

Junior already got his revenge on Kyle. The September Richmond race of that same 2008 season, Junior put Kyle into the wall, and that subsequently began a string of horrific finishes that ended that season before the Chase even started. Did we forget about that one?

Managing Editor
03/15/2010 06:56 PM

Kevin from PA – Hahahaha. Totally and completely untrue … it’s a tongue-in-cheek column and I hope you took it that way. If you look up my stuff on Jamie McMurray alone, you’ll see that’s not true…

03/15/2010 10:37 PM

Thanks Tom! YOu made me LOL with the “Brad Keslowski. Again” in the poll. LOL

03/15/2010 11:06 PM

Did anyone happen to see the Fox advertisement for Bristol? The one that promotes the race as if it were a wrestling match featuring top drivers? So much for NA$CAR not wanting the WWF comparisons. FOX, big surprise, is all over it. Can only imagine their “highbrow” broadcast this weekend.


Contact Tom Bowles

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