The Frontstretch: Keeping It Real: Nationwide Series Finale Raises Some Eyebrows - and Hopes For The Future by Vito Pugliese -- Wednesday November 25, 2009

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Keeping It Real: Nationwide Series Finale Raises Some Eyebrows - and Hopes For The Future

The Voice Of Vito · Vito Pugliese · Wednesday November 25, 2009


Denny Hamlin had quite a weekend in Florida. He won his fourth race of the year, spun a guy out, and declared himself the next threat to Jimmie Johnson’s “Drive for Five” championship quest. But while Johnson’s fourth consecutive Sprint Cup is the talk of the NASCAR world this week — either because of its historical significance or by simply convincing skeptics through constant repetition of the same message — the real race of the weekend was held the day before, in the Nationwide Series Ford 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. NASCAR’s second-tier division served up a beauty of a nightcap, and did so amid a backdrop of racing that recalled a simpler time and an on-track incident that, while eyebrow-raising at first, seemed a bit contrived upon further reflection.

I will preface my comments by saying that I am giving the benefit of the doubt to those involved in the dustup at the Ford 300, due to an unfortunate incident that took place this week in my own life. On Tuesday, the unthinkable happened: I was accused of being party to something so seditious, unsavory, and immoral, that it is repulsive and hateful to me on so many different levels:

Collusion in a Fantasy Football trade.

That being said, what transpired on the track was supposed to be a matter of happenstance … one which was announced a week ahead of time. We all remember Hamlin’s line of wanting to be the first to the pay window to cash in his Keselowski chips, his temper boiling over following the latest in a long line of on-track contact between the two. For while the young driver from Rochester Hills, Michigan has made more than a few enemies this year, it’s Hamlin who’s worked his way to a level of hatred unmatched by anyone else. Keselowski set him off at Dover after a late-race spin, then once again at Phoenix after Hamlin tried to spin him out after a restart. That left his rival with two crumpled up race cars in slightly less than a two month span — and his frustration level sitting at an all-time high.

Responding swiftly to the carnage, Hamlin assured everyone in his post-race interview that day he would “handle Keselowski” at Homestead, and would not need NASCAR’s assistance in taking care of business on his own.

With one small tap on Brad Keselowski’s bumper, Denny Hamlin took his revenge for two year’s worth of contact between the two men… or did he?

Turns out he was a man of his word. Coming off Turn 4 on lap 35, Hamlin got his nose up under Keselowski’s rear bumper and sent him spinning – harmlessly – down the frontstretch. The crowd … all 48,000 (…ahem…) of them went wild. Or at least took notice. Some probably stood up, I bet.

So was Hamlin trying to spin him? Yes. Was he trying to wreck him? Not exactly.

If you go back and watch the replay, there was nobody within 100 yards of the two drivers, and Hamlin picked a spot where he could regain control of his car. If he really meant to end Keselowski’s day, he would have done what Juan Pablo Montoya did a day later to Tony Stewart – plow into him and buckle the hood between Turns 3 and 4, sending him sideways down into the pit wall. Instead, Hamlin punted him gently, and allowed his rival the opportunity to regain control of his No. 88 Chevrolet as he scooted on by.

After getting Keselowski’s number, Hamlin’s was promptly posted by NASCAR, and was summoned to the pits for a penalty… kind of. For in the end, the one lap break that served as his “sentence” from NASCAR was about as devastating as the donuts executed by Keselowski. By way of the Lucky Dog wave-around, Hamlin got back on the lead lap to contend again for the win, easily working his way back up to finish fifth. It was a shocking result from a premeditated punt that in years past would have resulted in being called out onto the carpet, a fine, or possibly even a suspension – ala Kevin Harvick in 2002, following a Truck Series incident which earned him a day off from Cup competition at Martinsville.

So the post-race pomp and circumstance surrounding what was a rather innocuous spin was probably a bit overhyped. As Hamlin stood there with his Coke Zero (label facing out), he said he felt great and was amazed at how many people on pit road were laughing and congratulating him as he came down afterwards.

So was it for real, or was it all just theater? You be the judge.

NASCAR penalized him for just one lap, where normally when there is a case of aggressive or reckless driving, and a competitor makes good on a week old threat, they would park them for five. When you make that comparison, it seems the driver earned little more than a shame-shame-everyone-knows-your-name admonishment by NASCAR.

And as for the guy he spun out? Keselowski would finish the race in 12th position, but was never a contender for the race win or the championship – nor was he in danger of losing any spots in the point standings, having an 806-point lead over Jason Leffler in fourth place. As the old saying goes, no harm, no foul … or is it cry foul?

So neither side had much to lose going into the tussle … and both came out virtually unscathed. Add to that a message from race control that their feud was now over, and it seems it put a period on perhaps the one chance to continue what was finally a legitimate rivalry in NASCAR.

What also was refreshing for the Nationwide Series – if not a bit frustrating – was to have such a legitimately good race all afternoon and it not occur until 35 events into the season. The battle between Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton, Joey Logano, and Hamlin was a snapshot of what the Nationwide Series used to be when it was the Busch Series years ago … even though technically you could have called 2009 the Busch Series, in honor of Kyle Busch’s obscene record of finishing first or second 20 times during the year en route to his first career NASCAR championship.

The No. 18 Z-Line Camry or NOS Energy Toyota quickly has become what Mark Martin’s No. 60 Winn-Dixie Fords were through the 1990s, in what used to be a feeder series for the Cup level but in recent years has become a test session tuneup for the majority of the field competing on Sunday. But while Saturday was Busch’s ninth win of his season, capping off his championship ride for 2009, there was still some action on the track – and through the field – that made me nostalgic for the way things used to be.

Carl Edwards’ Broken Arrow/Hail Mary effort on the final turn of the last lap was a fitting end to the race and a tribute to the history of the series, as was the dicing in the pack between David Reutimann and Scott Speed. It was an event that reminded us all of what the Nationwide Series once was: close racing filled with tire strategy, and an opportunity for up and coming drivers to learn from the veterans – even if that meant taking a ride off their front bumper.

Reviving memories of old is the best thing that can happen for this series right now, and the Ford 300 did just that. For while the punishment from NASCAR seemed a little more than a slap on the wrist for an incident that seemed planned in detail, the self-policing “justice” doled out by Sheriff Hamlin was a throwback to the way things used to be handled. Maybe it is a sign that NASCAR has recognized the need to return to its roots (no, not moonshine), and get back to the way things were in previous eras that saw the Nationwide Series as one of the most endearing racing series in motorsports.

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Dans Mom
11/25/2009 07:24 AM

A Chad Knaus quote about a wreck Brian Vickers caused taking out then teamate Jimmie Johnson and Dale Jr at Dega a few years back comes to mind:

“He doesn’t have the talent to do that on purpose.” Sure Hamlin spun Keslowski with little to no carnage but, my money says he couldn’t do it again.

And how can we be so complacent about this? No less than a month ago fans were all OVER this message board screaming about the potential danger in cars wrecking – but fans were “applauding” Denny Hamlin’s intentional wreck on Saturday??? In both cases all drivers walked away unharmed – but the potential for serious damage is present in both cases.

I do like how Denny Hamlin claims that he’s the #1 contender. Let’s just hope he’s still around in 2016 when Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus part ways… maybe then he’ll have a shot.

As for your fantasy football fopa.. I once hacked into my opponents fantasy football account, and dropped all his players at 11:30 EST on Sunday morning. MAN that guy was pissed!!!!! But I made the playoffs that year. In my defense… the dudes password was “dansmom”.

M.B. Voelker
11/25/2009 08:02 AM

IMO, the mild response from Nascar to Denny’s revenge was a message to Brad.

When even elder statesman and safety advocate Jeff Burton approves of an intentional spin you have to guess that Kes has been being a serious jerk.

11/25/2009 09:00 AM

Since NASCAR was able to do such a good job scripting the JJ wreck in Texas that caused no other chase contenders problems, they figured they could handle Hamlin’s revenge… (if I’m reading your article correctly)

11/25/2009 09:39 AM

Dansmom, I like and believe the comment from Chad. I also say Denny’s comments after race are cause for a drug test, he talked about all the noise the fans made after he spun Brad, well the noise had to be in his head because there were no fans in the seats. A true veteran needs to talk to Brad, but a real pro needs to talk to Denny, someone who’s office has a couch in it.

dans mom
11/25/2009 10:30 AM

WC- We’ll see in 2010 as more of DH’s immaturities and off track issues continue to surface. There are many things that folks on this website disagree with me on, such as the current state of racing and the future of NASCAR – but the proof will be in the pudding about Denny Hamlin.

11/25/2009 10:33 AM

Know what I have never done at a nascar race? Peed myself (twice) while watching Jeff Gordon NOT spin out Jimmy Johnson during the last 20 laps at Martinsville.

Im just throwing that out there. I dunno… I’m not a doctor.

old race fan
11/26/2009 12:41 AM

Gee, dans mom, you’re a real fan of DH, aren’t you?

After my having read this kind of garbage all year long, it seems safe to say that you’d like everyone else to just sit back, move over, and stay out of the way of the felon’s team cars.

Sorry, but that isn’t the way it works.

11/27/2009 09:58 AM

MB – Burton needs to worry about driving, and not being nascar spokesperson or a state senator.

I think Denny’s sponsors should immediately drop him. He basically stated that he wanted the spin over the win. TV coverage or not, of his issues, who is going to buy a product/service endorsed by a complete idiot?

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