NASCAR Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: Looking for News Where There is None to be Found

As the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season winds down, there has been little in the way of bombshell reports, earth shattering developments or anything garnering more than a passing interest the last few weeks in the world of stock car racing. What used to constitute Silly Season has come and gone, and what we’re left with is whether or not a handful of what might be Richard Petty-owned cars will look like Fords this weekend.

While Jimmie Johnson continues to roll over his competition like a Panzer through Paris encumbered and en route to his fourth consecutive championship, the news items this week have been slow in coming. In truth, the most interesting thing to happen to the latter half of this season is Talladega itself, and if you read many of the articles and columns this week, most of it has to do with races of yesteryear, not the one three days from now.

Having said that, there were a few snippets of interest this week that caught my attention….

ABC Sports announced they would be suspending college football commentator Bob Griese over his comment that Juan Pablo Montoya was not in the top five in points because he was out “having a taco”. The remark earned Griese a week off and a dressing down no doubt from the brass at ABC Sports. I hope that his suspension was the result of him making a bad joke rather than one that might be construed as “insensitive.”

First of all, Montoya is Colombian, not Mexican, so the parallel being draw is a shaky one at best. Montoya brushed off the comment promptly; not because he was taking the high road, he probably didn’t care and felt embarrassed for the guy for marking a dopey comment on television.

The only thing worse than a joke in poor taste is a joke that has no frame of reference.

What if I were to come up in the topic of conversation on a major network, and my absence was chalked up to “having a pizza” or “whacking someone out” due to my Italian heritage. Would the person making the joke be benched for a week? Doubtful at best.

Trust me, growing up in the suburbia that is western Michigan with a name like Vito, I’ve heard enough references to The Godfather as well as mafia and marinara jokes to last me a lifetime. People need to lighten up… A LOT… and drop the self-important and aggrandizing PC non-sense altogether. If you’re offended by something like that, go seek professional help because you likely suffer from NPD – Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Not everything is a hate crime, not every comment endured should scar you for eternity or lower your self-esteem to the point that you start looking for a chair and an extension cord.

Want to know how normal people of different backgrounds used to communicate, needle and joke around with each other? Go rent Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino -everybody would be a lot better off for it.

To add a little twist of coincidence (not irony – which in itself is ironic), Texas Motor Speedway announced Tuesday that Montoya will help celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with a special paint scheme on his No. 42 Target Chevy for the Dickie’s 500. That happens to be the same week Griese comes back from his ABC exile. You can see it live at 3:15 p.m. ET on Sunday, November 10th on ABC.

Was there anything more ridiculous than Kyle Busch and Joey Logano appearing on WWE Monday Night Raw this week? A combined weight of 275 pounds entered the ring to stand toe to toe with The Big Show and Chris Jericho, issuing their matches for the night. Both were clad in their race-day firesuits, I wondered if there was a Nomex unitard made by Simpson or Alpinestars, would they wear them? Not so sure we need to see that actually – I’m sorry I brought it up. Kyle looked a little wooden and laconic in his delivery; which I guess explains why they didn’t have Johnson on hand to do it. It was kind of funny though, Kyle did look very natural and relaxed while antagonizing the crowd in Buffalo for their illustrious history of sporting failures.

See, I knew his act would pay off someday.

What may have gone unnoticed this week, was the response by John Andretti as to why the entire field was allowed to rocket towards him as his car sat crippled at the start/finish line for nearly an entire lap on the last lap of the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville.

“It wasn’t a bad call,” Andretti said in a statement released Monday. “To me, I wasn’t in a great position, but I wasn’t in an overly dangerous position. NASCAR focuses on the race itself, and they want to see the winner come across the finish line. It’s probably the call I would’ve made. I would’ve gotten out of the way if I could’ve. But I had a couple of issues. The car was too damaged.”

Where to begin with this one. If the car is too damaged to move under its own power, should that not be readily visible and cause for the yellow flag to come out? The race itself was never really in doubt, and short of a NASCAR Thunder 2003 full-throttle corner attempt by Johnson, Denny Hamlin had the race in hand, and it wasn’t as if there was championship points hanging in the balance that would have made a difference in the final ¼ of a mile.

Remember that it was an incident virtually identical to this that prompted the no-racing-back-to-the-line back in 2003, when Dale Jarrett was sitting helpless in the middle of New Hampshire International Speedway. It also was reminiscent of the final lap at NHIS six weeks ago, when AJ Allmendinger’s car was sitting idle near the start/finish line after a wreck on the last lap. It almost did affect the outcome of the race, as Hamlin nearly drilled the back of Mark Martin’s car as he neared the stripe.

The whole point of not racing back to the yellow is to prevent cars from being struck by the entire field racing back to the line which was the deciding circumstance in each instance. Meanwhile at Talladega in recent years, if there was a wreck a mile and a half away on the final lap, the yellow comes out and the field is frozen. I can still hear the late Benny Parsons declaring loudly as Elliott Sadler tumbled down the backstretch end over end for half a mile in 2003, “That is why we don’t race back to the line!”

If you don’t want to hear it from somebody like me, just listen to BP.

What is needed in these caution flag/racing back to the line situations is common sense and consistency. If you’re sitting on the start/finish line impeding 40 cars with 900 horsepower, maybe throw that yellow rag in the air. If you throw it for a foam drink cozy, a 3400-pound car with a guy inside of it should be reason enough. If said car is a mile away and stuck in a mud bog, you’re probably OK letting them race to the line. Cars flipping upside down and on fire at Daytona… freeze the field. Car stuck 75 yards off the track stuck in the kitty litter… well, you get the idea.

With the way these rules are constantly made to fit the circumstances, it starts to look… well, like wrestling.

Now with all of that unpleasantness behind us, I am genuinely looking forward to Talladega and the AMP Energy 500 this weekend. No matter how miserable a season may be going for your driver, or how predetermined the outcome for the title may seem at the moment, you can always count on this track to produce some great racing, unforgettable moments and fodder for discussion for weeks and sometimes even years to come.

After a long mind-numbing week at work, it’ll be good medicine to sit down in front of the TV for three hours with a big plate of food and watch what promises to be the best race of the year, and potentially the one that conjures up some excitement here in the last three weeks. Speaking of plate of food, I got home from work late, wrote this, and I haven’t even had dinner yet.

To quote Harvey Keitel’s character Mr. White from the film Reservoir Dogs, I’m hungry; let’s get a taco.

At least I didn’t say spaghetti.

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