NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Vexing Vito – 7/13/2011

During the final restarts of the New Hampshire Nationwide Race, Kevin Harvick lamented to his team over the radio – and essentially everybody watching the event – that NASCAR had warned him about continuing the war of words and wrecked sheet metal with Kyle Busch. Harvick would later reiterate the same statements in his post-race interview, stating that he was unable to “do what he needed to do.” Harvick is a curious case study in narcissism and paranoia if there ever was on in NASCAR.

Presumably still pouting after getting a taste of his own medicine after wrecking Busch at Homestead in 2010 and again at April in Darlington – where Harvick initiated contact with Busch and again tried to spin him after taking a swipe at him on the backstretch. Harvick’s car owner Richard Childress’ much publicized punching incident of Busch at Kansas following some innocuous post-race contact with a truck Busch owns and drives and one of Childress’ machines should have been the end of it. Busch tried to smooth things over with Harvick at Sonoma, but that apparently wasn’t the end of it for Harvick, who at last count has now had a problem with everybody on the track.

Even while he was detailing his inability to go up and either wreck Busch or run him up the track and out of the way, Harvick still took a shot at him, tagging his bumper, sending him skittering up the track. Nothing out of line, just normal semi-short track racing. If there was any irony to this, it was that Busch ended up taking the win, tying Mark Martin for the most wins in the Nationwide Series. Martin is widely regarded and respected as being the model for drivers to emulate how to conduct themselves and do it “the right way.” Harvick also has had an issue with Mark Martin as well at Bristol this Spring, presumably for Kasey Kahne stopping exiting Turn 2 and Harvick slowing to avoid him. Because. as we have come to understand with Captain Combover, its never his fault. Ever.

Ryan Newman’s car was confiscated and disqualified following his win at New Hampshire this weekend. No, not his No. 39 US Army Sprint Cup entry, a modified he ran, owned by Jamie McMurray’s Crew Chief Kevin “Bono” Manion. In one of the few times a race winner was stripped by NASCAR of a victory in any of its series, the car was deemed illegal due to improper seating of the intake manifold to the cylinder heads, in a way to skirt the restrictor plate used on these engines. The incident brings to light two issues: 1. Why are Cup Drivers continuing to compete in lower entry-level series on race weekends as teams struggle for sponsorship, relevance, and opportunity in a sour economy, and 2. Why are we running restrictor plates on modifieds at 1.0-mile tracks? Didn’t the 2000 Cup race at Loudon prove that plates are a horrible thing?

Although they have both dominated NASCAR for the better part of the past 16 years, Jack Roush and Rick Hendrick are in a bit of a pickle. Jack Roush has two cars in the Chase, but is chasing sponsorship and the lynchpin to his organization in Carl Edwards. Sponsor Crown Royal has pulled up its tent stakes and will leave the No. 17 of Matt Kenseth just two years following the departure of the team’s original sponsor of DeWalt Tools. The former flagship No. 6 driven by David Ragan may have trouble as well, as UPS has not yet committed for next season, and had been leaning heavily on moving to Carl Edwards if it were to stay. It was rumored and widely reported this past weekend that Edwards had already signed with Joe Gibbs racing for next year, although Edwards continues to state that he has not yet made a decision yet on anything.

Rick Hendrick on the other hand is trying to prevent a mutiny on the USS Lowe’s, with Jimmie Johnson fed up with the foul-ups on pit road. The normally cool, calm, collected, and never remotely negative Johnson said that something needed to be done during the off-week, and that a such a decision was “out of my jurisdiction”. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continues to stumble, while the footsteps and whispers get louder of an impending collapse reminiscent of his 2008 mid-season slide that saw him be a complele non-factor in the Chase after being as high as third in the point standings in June. Mark Martin sits 20th in points after channeling every bit of bad luck he had suffered since 1988 in the last six months, and getting caught up in seven crashes so far this season.

Jeff Gordon is seventh in points with a pair of victories, but a couple of bad runs might drop him from the top-10. His two wins to date should clear him for Chase contention – assuming David Ragan doesn’t catch fire, or Denny Hamlin win another race but not make the top-10. Roush has drivers outside of the top-10 as well – Greg Biffle and David Ragan. Biffle has a new chief after repeated failures to fully fuel his 3M Ford this season.

Even though Hendrick and Roush are currently sitting first and second atop the Sprint Cup Series standings, it is not without a few Rolaids, Alka-Seltzer, and a swig of Maalox. Those perched atop the points right now have perhaps the most to lose and a long way to fall if the pit crew problems persist for the No. 48, and if Edwards punches out at Roush Fenway and heads to Toyota and JGR.

Who stands to cash in if both implode come Chase time and team unity falls by the wayside? Kurt Busch, of all people. After completely bottoming out and orchestrating engineering changes by way of a Howard Beale-esque radio rant, one third of the entire Dodge contingent in Sprint Cup competition just might end up being the team to beat come Chase time.

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