I’ve got to admit, finding out this was an off-weekend for the Cup Series caught me by surprise. Traditionally this had been the second Pocono race weekend, but I guess it makes sense to separate the two Pocono dates by more than a month. Fans need a couple more paychecks to help pay for seats. In a way, perhaps we’re all lucky. After a hot dry start to summer here in Pennsylvania, the last five days have featured violent electrical storms and heavy downpours. Hey, I love jet-skiing… just not in my basement. Many writers, even those who should know better, have written this week that this Sunday will be the last off-weekend for the sport. As best I recall, there’s no race on August 28th, between Bristol and Atlanta. I pray to a benevolent and forgiving God that’s the case because I simply can’t fathom going from now to Thanksgiving without one more weekend to catch my breath. I think the Geneva Convention forbids such cruelty.
Traditionally, this is always a slow time for NASCAR news. That’s why they invented Silly Season to begin the debate about which drivers are staying and which are switching to new teams, voluntarily or otherwise, and which sponsors were going where. We took care of that early this season, and it seems such announcements come earlier each year to the point we know where Kasey Kahne is driving in 2012 and not next year. So no, there’s not a lot to write about this week, but I’m one of those fellows that even left with nothing to say is rarely at a loss for words. Here’s some odds and ends left laying on Post-It notes around the work station.
OK, Which One is Goliath Again?
The editorial types here at Frontstretch have a way of trying to occasionally rein in their renegade aging hippie writer. I think this week, they felt I’d been too negative about the Chicago race, which in fact I truly did think licked the sweat off a dead wombat. Their usual tactic in pulling me up short is through the captions under the photos that accompany my articles. I have no control over the photos chosen or those captions. I see them the same time my readers do. I don’t approve them, much less write them. See, I’m out there fighting wicked witches and flying monkeys. The editor types are the behind the curtains types, and they do a fine job at it. You can only guess at how much they look forward to me faxing them my latest column, usually scribbled in crayon on the back of losing Powerball tickets with the big words spelled phonetically.
This week’s photo caption reprimand occurred under the lead photo of my race recap. I forget exactly how it read but here’s the gist of it: “Despite the fact David slew Goliath giving us a surprise winner, not one of the usual suspects, Matt once again thought the race was intolerable.” Oh. Oh, my. David slew Goliath? How did I miss that? I guess I watched the whole sorry affair, not the final 20 laps. Oh, and by the way, which one was David and which one was Goliath? I’ll argue Saturday night Goliath slew not only David, but the whole army of Israel, then the Philistines nailed their beheaded corpses to the side of their temple the way they did to Saul and his sons.
Understand I have no animosity towards David Reutimann. I don’t know the man. His PR person doesn’t even send me press releases. Reutimann entered the sport after I was “banished,” if not east of Eden at least outside of Pocono. To date, I have never heard anyone involved with the sport say anything bad about Reutimann. I’m told he’s a swell guy. In fact, Carl Edwards was particularly effusive in praise of David Saturday night saying that Reutimann was always the first driver there to congratulate a fellow driver on an accomplishment and the first there to apologize if he felt he had screwed up. So, yeah it was nice to see an unfamiliar face there in victory lane, and Reutimann was clearly overcome with emotion. I like genuine emotion. This sport needs more of it.
But who does Reutimann drive for? He drives for Michael Waltrip. Waltrip, the former DEI Chevy driver, was trying to start his own race team and was the first to sign on the dotted line with Toyota when the Evil Empire decided to invade NASCAR racing. This, despite the fact Chevy and DEI had basically signed on to resuscitate Waltrip’s career back when he was 0 for 500 or something in the Cup series. As such, the MWR team is basically the house Toyota organization, a thinly disguised adjunct of TRD. Joe Gibbs Racing is the biggest organization under the Toyota umbrella, but they’ve never signed on completely to the program. Toyota’s racing philosophy states that all their teams share and share alike. Gibbs’s teams have their own separate development program that will accept help from Toyota, but not necessarily share info with their corporate teammates. That’s accepted because of the triple play firepower JGR brings to Toyota.
Toyota is a ruthless organization that epitomizes their natural culture. Winning at any cost is the only option. Crush, humiliate and feast on the bones of the competition. They may be bloodied and dazed right now by a series of humiliating recalls that have finally revealed American car makers (or at least Ford) build a product every bit as good as theirs, but Toyota’s corporate purse is far from empty. And Waltrip is the ultimate Toyota toadie. As long as the checks are big enough, whether written in dollars or yens, he’ll play ball. You won’t see Waltrip working at a soup kitchen this Thanksgiving in Dearborn or Detroit, helping out all the unemployed auto workers Toyota helped put on the dole. He’ll be feasting gluttonously in his own mansion.
From the very start, Waltrip stole sponsors from accomplished organizations with a proven track record, letting them know that given his multiple TV gigs and booth responsibilities he would plug them repeatedly and shamelessly – even when times were lean at the start. Then, in its very first race, MWR got nailed for blatant cheating when a substance rumored to resemble rocket fuel was found in the tank of the No. 55 car. How crass is that? Way to make a dignified and humble entrance! Waltrip was allowed to remain at Daytona, though I feel he should have been physically removed from the premises and told to sit out the season. Since then, there have been numerous attempts at cheating and fines levied against MWR. They dipped to a new low and stole parts belonging to another team (Roush Racing) that clearly weren’t their property to research them. How low can you go? As low as it takes to win. Waltrip is clearly not a class individual, given his recent string of off-track traffic incidents. On any given Sunday, the No. 48 car is the only entrant I am convinced is less legal than the MWR cars. But that’s worked out pretty well for Chad and Jimmie, huh?
So MWR and Reutimann are David? Toyota has won eight of the last 13 Cup events, often by crushing margins as was the case Saturday night. The tide is turning. Ford is winless. Dodge has one team left. Even GM is beginning to feel the heat. In the story of David and Goliath, David was the good guy, right? I’m still backing the home teams against the odds, not the invading army.
I am writing this article Tuesday night simply because it seems like the one evening this stormy week that electricity will keep flowing in hysterical Guthriesville (We were off-line from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. last night). It’s hard for me to believe that today it has been 17 years since we lost Davey Allison. I remember that day the way I remember 9-11 and the day Kennedy got shot. I remember being at the corner Texaco station filling my tank for the ride to Pocono with a brand new Allison diecast car already on the front seat (you had to prepay for gas in those days) when the news came on the radio Allison had been badly injured in a helicopter wreck at Talladega.
With the death of Alan Kulwicki in an aircraft accident only a few months before, the bad news seemed surreal. We all hoped his injuries weren’t too bad, and maybe Davey would at least be able to start the race at Pocono that weekend for points. After all, he’d survived a horrific accident at Pocono the previous June. The next morning, we all learned the worst: Davey Allison had died. The grief was as crushing as if Davey was a member of my family, not just a driver I rooted for who I had met standing patiently in line to get an autograph. Because I hadn’t just gotten an autograph and a picture, I’d gotten a smile and a handshake that made me feel for that brief instant as if Allison was genuinely thrilled to greet me. And it was the same story for all those fans in the long line snaking behind me. Allison would remain there until every last fan who wanted to meet him had been accommodated.
You can’t rewrite history, and you can’t second guess the Lord’s will. But sometimes at night, I’ll wonder just how different the NASCAR record books would look if Davey, Tim and Alan hadn’t been called home in their prime. And this much, I know; racing in those intervening years would have been a whole lot more fun to watch.
Yet Another Member of the Fan Club
I thought I was hearing things after Kyle Busch’s victory lane interview following his Nationwide series race at Chicago last week. I figured that less than polite term I heard was muttered from a bystander. But as it turns out, it was in fact Rusty Wallace who took exception to Busch’s sarcastic thanks to the fans who booed his victory and labeled him a sphincter to put it politely. (And when, gentle readers, am I anything less than the model of decorum?) Again, let’s raise the issue whether a fellow who owns a team or teams competing in an event should be allowed to be a broadcaster covering the same race?
JPM and Mark Martin
After Saturday night’s race, Juan Pablo Montoya angrily stated Mark Martin needed to take driving lessons. From whom? A guy who wrecked his teammate en route to a Busch series win and managed a road-course victory in the Cup Series three-plus years ago? This, compared to a respected veteran who has won 40 times in Cup and finished second in the points five times? Montoya, you’ll get a memo when you are worthy to untie the lace of Mark’s shoes. Maybe JPM really stands for Juan’s Pissing and Moaning again.