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Fanning the Flames: Drivers, Not NASCAR, Biggest Obstacle to Driver Union

The rain is wearing on me. Seriously, you all, I’ve had it up to my speedometer with rain. Literally. As if Daytona and the 600 getting washed out wasn’t enough to put a damper on my spirits, the flash flood I mentioned last week – you know, the one that submerged my Murray lawnmower – also got my Mustang.

I don’t know if you have ever sat by and watched helplessly as an Act of God claimed your ride (trust me, I don’t wish it upon anyone), but the water just keeps coming and coming, and with every passing moment part of your identity is taken. And after all, this wasn’t just an Accord or something….

But unlike the Murray, the Mustang didn’t fire on the first crank… and unlike the Murray, I can’t do much to fix her. She’s a total loss, and I suddenly find myself in the market for something more practical: A pickup.

It seems we’ve all been in this same situation with two of NASCAR’s three crown jewels thus far this year: Weather washes away the most holiest of Racing’s Holy Days. Something we’d anticipated and tangibly needed was taken by circumstances beyond our control, and there wasn’t a thing to do about it but shrug our shoulders and move on.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last month, it’s that hope is what keeps you going. So let’s look on the bright side, because Darlington was a good one. We had a laugh at Richmond… and we’ll always have Talladega. For the most part, May has been good to us. So if IMS, NASCAR and Goodyear can just get their acts together for the last leg of the crown jewel, we’ll be OK. And if not… there’s always the Bristol Night Race!

And here’s hoping I hear from you this week.

Q: I meant to ask this a couple weeks ago when it was more relevant, but oh well. How many Nationwide and Truck Series drivers have won a race on their birthday? – Kevin

A: Kyle Busch came close back on May 1st when he won at Richmond in the Nationwide race. Course, he cashed in the next day when he won the Cup event on his birthday. Surprisingly, though, only one driver from the Nationwide or Truck Series has accomplished the feat.

Ron Hornaday Jr. won the Loadhandler 200 from Bristol Motor Speedway on June 20, 1998, his 40th birthday. Mr. Restart won from the pole and dominated, leading 187 of 206 laps for an easy trip to victory lane. It’d be one of several dominating performances from Hornaday that summer; he went on to win the title in his No. 16 DEI NAPA Silverado.

Also of note, my Wildcats won their seventh NCAA basketball championship that year. The intersection of Woodland and Euclid – biggest party I’ve ever been a willing participant of.

Q: Hey Matt. The media is making such a big deal out of Kyle Busch’s multiple wins, insisting on including Busc… er, Nationwide and Truck series wins in his “total” to inflate the numbers. I’m wondering just how many “NASCAR wins” someone like Mark Martin would have racked up if they had kept score this way?

This is as bogus a “stat” as the number of lead changes per race when they count pit-stop changes as “passes for the lead” to make it look as if there’s more excitement on the track than reality shows. But then, reality has never been high on Brian France’s list, has it? – SallyB

A: Ziiiiiiing! Good one, Sally. As to Kyle, I didn’t think the media made that big of a deal out of it. In fact, it was Kyle that started all the talk when he said he was gunning for 200 wins across the board. Hey, on a relatively slow news week, that’s something to throw in the columns to feed the fans. And as we know, Kyle’s great for a quote.

Honestly, I thought the “accomplishment” that was blown all out of proportion was when Michael Waltrip made his 1,000th career NASCAR start back in October of last year. I mean, it was worth a mention and all, but not to the extent that nascar.com devoted like, a week’s worth of coverage to (guess they sell NAPA gear in the online store when that happens).

Anyway, Busch got his 49th and 50th NASCAR wins (Cup, Nationwide and Truck races) during the aforementioned Richmond weekend. No. 50 came on his 24th birthday; so, doing some quick math, I’d guess Kyle could hit that 200-win mark if he’s prepared to stick around for another 18 years or so (assuming he continues winning at his current pace). If you’re interested, our own Tom Bowles actually worked out where and when a couple of weeks ago if you want to see some specifics.

And hey, I say it’s great to have something like that to shoot for. Is it Richard Petty’s 200 wins? Hell no, but it may be as impressive a string of winning as we see in our lifetimes if Busch actually hits it. He’s racing against professionals in all three series, after all, not some Saturday night hacks with Plexiglass and steel tubing in an old Pinto at the short track outside Hwy. 109.

As for other drivers, no one besides the King is even close to 200 total NASCAR wins. No one. David Pearson has only one Busch Series victory (Rockingham, 1982) giving him 106 and making him the only other driver to even hit triple digits.

Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt are next in line, tied with 97 total wins. Your boy Martin has 92, followed by Jeff Gordon with 87 and then Bobby Allison with 86 (and no, I’m not counting the bogus Mustang win Bobby likes to throw in). My prediction is Kyle passes everyone but Petty, settling in with about 150 career wins. Yes, I think that highly of his driving.

Q: Hi Matt. I was just wondering if you have heard any rumblings about drivers getting together and forming a union? I know a union is not always the answer, but I believe it will soon be a hot topic in NASCAR if they continue to govern the sport in the manner they have as of late – most notably the Jeremy Mayfield and Carl Long fiascos. Thanks. – Eric Barnett

A: This guy I know. Eric here wrote to me this week and it brought back memories of sitting at Kentucky Motor Speedway on hot summer nights out in Daviess County. One night when we were 16 years old, I had my big ’83 Oldsmobile parked in the field that served as a parking lot outside of turn 1. I’d left the headlights on. The P.A. guy came over the loudspeakers and gave the plate, explaining that whoever’s car it was should turn the lights off and come to the press box to claim a free gift.

This particular night just so happened to be sponsored by Pinkerton Tobacco Co., and after a wink-wink, nudge-nudge from the guy asking me if I was 18, I proudly walked back down to where Eric was sitting with his brother with a pack of Granger Select, as well as a Granger t-shirt thrown over my shoulder.

Of course, we chewed and chawed all evening, thought it was awesome (and, of course, it was), but looking back, I feel sorry for the poor folks sitting around us. I imagine there’s nothing worse than sitting near a bunch of teens that just got their hands on a free pack of chaw while sitting at the track. What a mess.

Anyway, as for the drivers’ union, it ain’t gonna happen, E. For one thing, NASCAR has successfully squashed those in the past (on more than one occasion) and for another, I don’t believe any of the drivers actually want it (or want to sacrifice to make it happen).

These drivers are raking it in right now. Contracts in the millions, houses on the lake, off-weekends in the Caribbean, private airplanes, motorhomes, all the toys a guy could dream of in addition to the adulation they receive every weekend. The last thing they want is to be black-balled from such a life for rocking the boat – particularly on a subject as sensitive as a union. Regardless of how bad any of us or any of the drivers think NASCAR’s heavy hand has gotten, it’s just not worth their time or effort.

Another key point is getting the drivers to agree on everything – and I mean everything – in forming a union, and that’s just impossible. A unified front led by the biggest names would get the sanctioning body’s attention, but are Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. really that interested? I doubt it. The last thing on Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne or Martin Truex Jr.’s minds are pension or retirement funds. Why should it be? They’re set. Jeff Burton is a fine “garage voice,” but his fortune’s been made and his time is short. The same is true for Martin, who’d rather be left alone to just race.

So this is a perfect storm of sorts, one in which the sanctioning body would never allow such an uprising from a group of drivers that would be best served to never attempt one.

Thanks for shouting my way though, Eric. By the way, I hear KMS has opened up again for business, my latest reminder to please, please support your local short tracks.

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