NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Happy Hour: Giving Kurt Busch His Due & Other Thoughts

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 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.

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 championship 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 $1 million through his foundation to the Victory Junction Gang Camp in 2006. And that was back when $1 million 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 Wallace 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 one.

STAFF SIDE-BY-SIDE: SHOULD THE DAYTONA 500 GO FIRST?

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 No. 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 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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