NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? The Next NASCAR Breakdown, Playing Favorites & Fun With Twitter

Did You Notice? A developing trend? In the last two weeks, we’ve had two mild-mannered veterans go all Jekyll and Hyde, losing their cool while venting frustration in a way we’ve never seen before. First, there was Jeff Burton, pulling a tantrum on Kyle Busch through a blown tire that’s got him nominated to the Finger Pointing Hall of Fame. Then, Joey Logano followed suit last Sunday, a late-race incident with Kevin Harvick the final straw in exchanging the Disney-movie high road for a pair of boxing gloves and an R-rated mouth. It’s a one-hit wonder of good guys losing their patience we don’t often see this close together, let alone in the same season.

Well, you know what they say about celebrity deaths: everything comes in threes. Are we on the verge of another goody two shoes – or NASCAR bad boy – blowing his temper to finish off the trifecta? Let’s look at two possible candidates:

Jeff Gordon. Quietly lost amidst the Pocono post-race drama was Gordon refusing comment upon leaving the infield care center. After getting involved in that last-lap melee with a car that was handling like it had no power steering, 32nd place was not what the doctor ordered for a team still riding a winless streak in 2010.

Like Burton, Gordon has come close but no cigar on victory lane during half-a-dozen races this year. He also said the dreaded “P” word just a few months ago in Talladega, disgusted over the way teammate and driver Jimmie Johnson raced him two weeks in a row. It was a shocking moment for the man everyone considers a mild-mannered superstar; but let’s not forget, this guy’s the same one who shoved Matt Kenseth at Bristol a few years back. Heck, he even punched Mike Bliss in the face after an ugly incident at Chicagoland.

So after all the bad luck that’s headed his way in 2010, you’d have to think it wouldn’t take much to send Gordon over the edge. Could he and Kyle be the next ones to dust up? The former Hendrick teammate threw a few jabs his way in recent weeks, most importantly comparing Gordon’s driving style to Denny Hamlin’s allegedly “dirty” move that sent Busch into the wall and cost him a win in the All-Star Race. Considering how well both have run at Infineon, perhaps a little road course tangle is on their agenda for the month of June.

Tony Stewart. I usually don’t get offended by Stewart’s dealings with the media, but Friday’s press conference was something else. All it took was one writer to ask a question about his season, and he immediately was given a verbal reprimand. Stewart then demanded a change in the line of questioning to this week’s “Prelude to the Dream”… and that’s exactly what he got, all of us backing down while the press conference was controlled by him from start to finish. How grumpy is Stewart lately? He was lashing out on Sunday even though he wound up third….

“Not a stellar day,” he said, attributing his run to track position and luck before turning his attention to frustration over the other drivers on the circuit. “I feel like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s still a long ways away. We still got a lot of work to do.”

“Restarts were idiotic today. I’ve seen some of the worst driving I’ve ever seen in my life in a professional series right here today. So for anybody that’s looking for drama for the next couple races, start looking, ’cause I can promise I’m going to start making the highlight reel the next couple weeks.”

Mired in the midst of his driver/owner sophomore slump, it’s easy to see why Stewart’s so temperamental these days. Sitting one point outside the Chase in 13th, he’s been down this Heartbreak Hotel road before and would rather not endure it a second time. With so many competing for a spot in the top 12, there’s little margin for error and he knows it; so one bad move by someone else, and Tony’s wrath will let loose a season’s worth of frustration on an unsuspecting victim.

Juan Pablo Montoya. Listening to Montoya’s radio channel as of late, you’d think the car was running 35th, not towards the front, based on how much he’s been complaining about handling. In the midst of a trying season, four top-five finishes are balanced by four DNFs that make a Chase bid a serious long-shot heading into the summer months. Add in getting wrecked by his own teammate, and it’s not like this Colombian has a warm and fuzzy feeling inside the Sprint Cup garage right now. For a repeat of the Harvick-Montoya fracas, or even Montoya-Newman, it’s honestly not going to take much.

Did You Notice? Joe Gibbs Racing showing some inconsistency? Here’s what bothers me about the whole Joey Logano aftermath: a number of scheduled interviews with him were canceled on Monday, including a big one on NASCAR Now that went straight to JGR President/damage control spokesman JD Gibbs. That also ties into a little story we heard from Tom Logano this week, lost in the criticism of him running down on pit road to get involved in something that was none of his business. When defending his actions, the elder Logano noted that he wasn’t trying to push and shove but instead keep Gibbs guys from restraining the 20-year-old, crewmen that ultimately prevented him from getting the 1-on-1 convo with Harvick he sought.

Why is this important? Well, when’s the last time you saw Gibbs boys sitting there restraining Busch from getting in someone’s face? And how about Hamlin and Brad Keselowski? I didn’t see the Gibbs bunch pull the block when they were both up in each others’ faces at Dover. It’s a noticeable change in philosophy, done for one of two reasons:

A) Gibbs is Tom Logano Jr., unwilling to let their child prodigy let go for fear he might do something stupid.

B) There’s an image of him as a mini-Mark Martin they’re interested in upholding.

I’m going to go with option B. Consider Home Depot is one of the more sensitive sponsors on the circuit, who’s fined its own driver in the past for bad behavior. Add in the uncertainty of its future with the team, especially when the company has been up and down financially, and JGR is going to do everything possible to keep it in the fold. If that means having a squeaky clean driver behind the wheel, well, they’ll stop at nothing to make sure they get it.

It’s just a shame if JGR did put the muzzle on, because Joey on Sunday was a breath of fresh air after what’s seemed like a pre-programmed personality upon reaching the Cup circuit. He won so many new fans by speaking his mind; I just hope he’s allowed to keep doing it.

Did You Notice? Quick hits:

  • Chad Finley is teaming up with Keselowski after all. After a third-place finish in the ARCA race Saturday, Finley said at first he wouldn’t be driving in the Truck Series for BKR. But in emailing me earlier this week, he explained it was a simple misunderstanding of the question; Keselowski is looking for sponsorship to run the 18-year-old in a handful of races this fall. In just six career ARCA starts, the teenager has two top-five and four top-10 finishes, including a pole at Rockingham last fall.
  • Hard to believe that it was two years ago this week where Dale Earnhardt Jr. wound up in Michigan’s Victory Lane after fuel strategy got him up front. Looking over his press notes, here’s what he said on that fateful day after ending a two-year winless streak that had lasted since Richmond in May 2006: “I never wondered, man, will I never win again. You know, I’m going to be around here if I can have my way, I’ll be around here for quite awhile but I’ll have good opportunities driving good race cars for hopefully a good time, and more opportunities to win.” You wonder what his mentality is like now, in mid-2010, going winless for 72 races in a Hendrick car that was supposed to bring him multiple victories and a shot at the season championship. Would he say the same thing… and actually believe it? I don’t know.
  • A very interesting quote from Jack Roush’s teleconference yesterday. We’ve talked a lot about how so much of the setup nowadays is through electronic simulations, leaving little drivers can do if cars get to the racetrack and those sims are off. Well, Roush confirmed how these engineering glitches are affecting the program: “We’ve got third-party vendors, not Ford and not Roush Fenway, that were engaged in our data analysis and in our simulations,” he said, “And quite frankly, we haven’t got the results this year that we had expected. Certainly, the results aren’t as good from the simulation data, that analysis point of view, as we had in 2008, and given the fact that we don’t have testing that has been a handicap. We didn’t have the correlations that we’d expected on many of the simulations.” In English, that means the computers have led Roush astray, and they don’t have any on-track time to make up for that loss in data. It’s amazing; a sport that used to be all about the driver is now make-or-break based on how quickly you can get your computer geek to fix your electronics.

Did You Notice? There’s a NewKyleBusch and an OldKyleBusch after all? Someone started up Twitter accounts with both handles, comparing and contrasting the different “personalities” he seems to be displaying in 2010. Following them could be the best thing you’ll ever do if you need a random laugh during the day. Here’s a sample of what you’re missing:

OldKyleBusch: [Fiancee] Sam got mad when I wanted to put a mirror above our bed, then I told her it was only on my side.

NewKyleBusch: I am positively giddy w/ anticipation right now – @ScottSpeed is coming over tonight to watch the season finale of Glee.

OldKyleBusch: I wish I had a body pillow with me printed on it, so I could cuddle with myself.

NewKyleBusch: I am trying to calm Joey down, and bring out the NewJoeyLogano in him.

And, my personal favorite…
NewKyleBusch: I’ve got Bieber-Fever.

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