NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? Kyle Busch Throws Away the Win, NASCAR’s Discrimination Lawsuit Stalemate & Jeremy Mayfield: MIA

Did You Notice? That in the wake of Kyle Busch’s scuffle with Juan Pablo Montoya in New Hampshire, nobody’s realizing that Busch shouldn’t have been back there in the first place? Call me crazy, but wasn’t the man supposed to be utilizing strategy, pitting with some backmarkers on lap 219 to try and stretch his fuel mileage in order to win? At the time of the lap 273 caution, Busch was the highest-ranking driver amongst the group of cars that had stopped just 54 laps before. But while the rest of those teams stayed on the racetrack, Busch darted down pit lane for an extra splash of fuel – costing him what would have been an almost certain victory.

When asked after the race why the heck he pitted instead of gambling for the win, Busch replied, “I didn’t feel like that was the way to win a race, just to stay out and play by the rain. I didn’t feel like we had a shot with the guys that were going to be behind us.”

“We did what we did to try to pass some more cars.”

OK, wait a minute… did Busch just say he voluntarily gave up a win just because he didn’t think it was the right way to do it? And did he really think people like Michael Waltrip and JJ Yeley were going to pose a challenge in the closing laps of the race?

I’m scratching my head on this one, I really am. I’ll tell you what… don’t think for a second Dale Earnhardt Jr. would “voluntarily” give up his win at Michigan just because fuel mileage isn’t the way to win it. It’s news to me that every win needs to come by beating and banging someone out of the way; you take ’em when you can get ’em these days, because wins are so hard to come by.

Don’t get me wrong; I do have all the respect in the world for this brash young kid. But that rationale is one of the silliest explanations I’ve ever seen!

Did You Notice? That despite all the talk by people in the Truck Series and in Sprint Cup, Montoya’s bump was the first time Busch has been spun out intentionally all season long. And the big question is, now that Montoya has done it and gotten away relatively scot free – a meaningless two-lap penalty considering his position on the track at that point – will other frustrated drivers begin to follow his lead?

Did You Notice? That amongst the euphoria surrounding Waltrip’s second-place finish at New Hampshire – his best run since Phoenix in the spring of 2005 – he had some rather ominous comments surrounding the future of his race team?

Among the snippets from his post-race press conference…

“I’m going to slip out here with my 170 points, 150 grand, start putting some patches on a sinking ship, what has felt like a sinking ship, for a year or so.”

In response to the team’s current financial state…

“Well, it’s tighter than it was this morning. We are met with challenges. We don’t have a full-time sponsor for our third car.”

Considering this is coming from a guy who’s usually so optimistic, it’s borderline sickening that’s some pretty honest rhetoric. And we didn’t even show you the gushing he gave to sponsor NAPA, a company whose contract expires at the end of 2008.

Let’s see… no full-time sponsor for Michael McDowell, UPS leaving the team and NAPA in the last year of its deal. You see a team like the No. 40 of Chip Ganassi Racing close down and you take a deep breath and realize it’s not out of the question for something as big as an entire three-car operation to disappear off the face of the earth come February 2009 – even with an investor in the fold, as MWR claims to have with Robert Kauffman.

Did You Notice? That with the shutdown of Chip Ganassi’s No. 40, we’re now officially reduced to 43 full-time Cup teams. Start-and-parkers, step right up!!! And with Franchitti’s departure, just two of the four open-wheel Rookie of the Year candidates remain with a Cup ride halfway through the 2008 season. Boy, that fad didn’t last long…

Did You Notice? That there hasn’t been much printed about the Mauricia Grant diversity lawsuit as of late? That’s because there’s not much to say… because no one’s talking.

SMITH: MAURICIA GRANT’S LAWYER SMELLS BLOOD

In my three-plus years of working the NASCAR garages, I’ve never seen so many people closed-mouthed about a topic. Whether it’s NASCAR officials or outside companies who work in the garage, all have stepped in line and won’t give you the time of day when asked about specific incidents regarding these charges. There are sources I’m good friends with – who have given me exclusive information without so much as a second thought – that have told me they’re not able to communicate with me on this topic out of plain fear. The message is clear: whether these accusations are true or not, nothing negative’s going to leak out without NASCAR’s heavy hand of approval.

So, what happens next in this case? There’s a limited period of time for NASCAR to answer this complaint, and then we’re likely to see depositions collected as the controversy moves toward some sort of trial. In the meantime, the key will be whether anyone else speaks up and backs Grant’s claims of discrimination by relating some of their own personal experiences. Should that happen, the sport will have a PR nightmare on its hands the likes of which it’s never seen before in its history.

Did You Notice? That amidst all the Silly Season talk, no one’s brought up the name of two-time Chase participant Jeremy Mayfield? Since parting ways with Haas CNC Racing earlier this season, Mayfield’s been nowhere to be found. Did his difficult divorces from Penske Racing and Gillett Evernham Motorsports permanently damage his stock on the open market?

While I think that might have made an impact, in an era where talent is at a premium and men like Mark Martin are going back to full-time racing at 50, you’d have to think there’d be a spot open for Mayfield somewhere. A good writing friend of mine brought up this crazy scenario: what if Ryan Newman leaves for Tony Stewart’s new team and creates an opening at the No. 12? Would Penske be crazy enough to bring Mayfield back into the fold? If Truex doesn’t jump ship at DEI, Mayfield could very well be the most accomplished driver left on the free-agent market… so, it’ll be interesting to wait and see what happens. Highly unlikely? You bet… but then again, no one thought Sterling Marlin would ever race for Chip Ganassi after their 2005 divorce, and there he was in May helping the No. 40 team stay afloat in Darlington.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this sport, it’s never say never…

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