Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito?: Will Kurt Busch’s Slight Score Phoenix Racing a Sponsor?

Might Kurt Busch’s slight towards The Sporting News’s Bob Pockrass end up landing the No. 51 Phoenix Racing team a sponsor after all?

The Jerry Springer Show has expressed an interest in sponsoring the team and driver who’s turbulent tenure in James Finch’s machine nearly saw him committing career suicide for the second time in six months at Dover two weeks ago. Hmm, let’s see, a show famous for perpetuating the trailer park trash stereotype, looking to come into a sport that has tried desperately to shake its own incorrect and similarly negative connotation, essentially celebrating the outbursts and Springer-esque behavior of a driver who is supposed to be learning from his past mistakes.

What could go wrong?

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Ford announced that this weekend they would be unveiling some new tweaks to it’s 2013 Ford Fusion – essentially the third iteration of the NASCAR Car of Tomorrow. Perhaps one of the more encouraging bits to be added to the car, is an actual grille – and not a sticker of what looks like a grille.

“We had an opportunity to add more personality and detail to the racecar,” said Garen Nicoghosian, Ford design manager in charge of the NASCAR project. We took advantage of this opportunity and sculpted a more aggressive front end and we added grille bars that are identical in design to the production car. We also added more detail to the fog light housings and created a more detailed headlight area as well. In addition, we also sculpted a more aggressive hood and were able to achieve a closer look to the production car.”

Now I realize that we’re way past the point of these being stock cars – anybody who waxes poetic about “the good ol’ days” of stock cars needs to go back to about the mid 1960s if they wish to find an actual stock car with a stock engine – but at least we’re getting back to where the cars actually do bear a resemblance or even use a few stock pieces at speed in competition. The last time I can remember anything being somewhat close to a stock car were the 1986-87 Monte Carlo SS Aero Coupe and Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2 with their fastback rear window caps and hastily cobbled together packaging to make them into production units.

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With Joey Logano’s win at Pocono last weekend, I was reminded how things have changed over the last decade or so in NASCAR. It used to be that hitting a guy from behind in the middle of a corner was frowned upon and considered dirty pool; not necessarily “good hard racin’.”

Had DW done that to The King at Darlington in 1979, how do you think that would have ultimately turned out? Right, Dale Inman would probably just be getting out of jail right about now or we would be talking about the 201-win milestone that would never be beaten — and how Cale and Darrell are arguing over who has more wins, not Bobby Allison.

If the plan was to get somebody loose to execute a pass, you did it coming off the corner – after all, what skill does it take and how fair is it really to plow into the back of somebody in the middle of a turn when a car is at its most unstable to pass them?

In the old days that would usually end up with a guy coming up to your car with an axle or a tire iron to discuss the incident. Jeff Gordon did the deed to Rusty Wallace a couple of times; once at Bristol in 1997 and again in 2002. Kurt Busch did it to Jimmy Spencer at Bristol in 2002 and to Sterling Marlin in 2003 – the later Marlin ended up backing it into the wall in the process. Rusty ended up retaliating at Richmond in 1997, admitted he was trying to get back to him to turn Gordon in ’02, while Spencer and Kurt Busch’s fallout is now the thing of legend.

In short, it wasn’t always accepted, and often escalated hostilities.

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In 1999, a driver all of 19 years of age was the talk of the garage named Casey Atwood. This was during the unfortunately phrased “Young Gun” era, when every team and sponsor decided they needed somebody under 30 to pilot their racecar. Atwood passed Jeff Green in a similar fashion for his first Busch Series (i.e., Nationwide) victory at the Milwaukee Mile. Atwood had led 143 of 250 laps that day, while Green took over from lap 173 to 249. Coming thorugh the third and fourth turns on the final lap, Atwood popped Green from behind, shoved him out of the groove and went on to claim the victory.

At the time, Green was none too pleased with the maneuver, and it raised more than a few eyebrows in the process. The win was not as roundly celebrated as it would have been had he made the move cleanly and not ran into the back of a defenseless driver on a flat track. Atwood ended up just winning one more race that season, which would end up being the only wins of a career that never seemed to gain traction.

Does this mean I’m bad mouthing Logano and predicting some sort of karmatic justice upon him for winning Sunday? Not at all. Logano is a true rare talent that comes along once every 25 years and will probably end up winning 100 races between Nationwide and Cup before he’s 30 years old. He did have the fastest car all day Sunday and he is in effect driving to keep his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing; one that he nearly lost a year ago in the bidding war for Carl Edwards. However it just goes to show how times have changed, how desperate moves and how “the ends justify the means” mentality of racing today has changed etiquette on the track.

As Mark Martin said in his post-race interview in the media center, “that’s not how I’d have done it.” Martin is one of our last links to the way things used to be to where we are today in NASCAR, and remains the litmus test to what is truly old-school and what is simply accepted in our sport today.

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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