Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: Knee-Jerk Wigouts, Stewart Spinouts & Potential Rainouts

So we’re five days following Bristol and everybody is still atwitter about Tony Stewart going hammer-throw with his helmet at Matt Kenseth. While it was a throwback to the old days when things made sense in Thunder Valley, it was actually one of those watershed moments that helped attract and interest new fans to the sport.

One of my cop buddies played Big Ten baseball and is involved in every single fantasy league for stick-and-ball sports you could think of, but has no clue whatsoever about auto racing. I talked to him Monday and he was still cracking up about Stewart two-hand firing his brain bucket at Matt K. Jay Mohr, who was guest hosting The Jungle with Jim Rome on Monday was laughing and referencing the incident, and despite hosting the NASCAR banquet a couple of years, is not a big racing guy either. Whatever your take on the Stewart/Kenseth saga, it’s good for the sport.

That being said, it was also pretty silly. My favorite part anytime this happens are the knee-jerk nail biters who instantly belt out “he could’ve hurt or KILLED someone!” Yeah, the helmet could have ricocheted back and hit him in the face (which would have been The Three Stooges-caliber funny), or the official (collateral damage), but the wild scenarios of what if Kenseth swerved and hit somebody, or those who think that a 30-mph fiberglass orb is going to penetrate freaking bulletproof glass were peppering call-in shows and message boards alike.

Just like Kurt Busch could’ve “killed somebody” when he stopped alongside Stewart on pit road at Dover a few years ago, taking issue with being pushed the length of the front straight, and for being wrecked at Daytona following Bud Shootout practice, where Busch was then popped by Stewart in the NASCAR hauler. Or when Stewart turned Jeff Gordon on pit road at Bristol back in ’01.

Or when Tony Stewart swerved across four lanes of traffic to put Kenseth in the grass at Daytona in 2006.

Oh wait. That literally could have killed him as he spun back into oncoming 200-mph traffic. This just days after Stewart declared following the Bud Shootout, “We’re going to kill somebody racing like this.”

Hmmm. Seems to be a common thread in said scenarios.

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With all of the hoopla surrounding Saturday night’s race, was it really all it was cracked up to be?

I mean toss out the Stewart helmet chuck and Danica Patrick pointing at a guy… was it really different than the spring race? You had the big wreck early with Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, then the two teammates tangling between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. The margin of victory was .714 in March, on Saturday night it was 1.103 seconds back to runner-up Jimmie Johnson.

Five years ago at Bristol it was all about who could get around the bottom the quickest. Following the repave a couple of years back, it was like a mini-Michigan, with multiple grooves working well equally. Now it’s the second coming of Winchester Speedway or Darlington Jr., with everybody hunting the high line to keep up speed and maintain momentum on the high-banked half-mile.

Better? Worse? Eh, not really either – just different. Yes, everybody is mad that Danica didn’t throw her hat at the No. 78 of Regan Smith. It’s probably for the best that she didn’t, as then she would have to endure a bunch of “she throws like a girl” smack. Besides, the last time she showed some emotion after falling out of a race, she was roundly criticized for it at MIS in 2006.

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With Hurricane Isaac having made landfall Wednesday morning, over 18” of rain had fallen in New Orleans in less than 24 hours. As more moisture is being sucked up from the Gulf of Mexico with the storm, there is a 40-60% chance of scattered thunderstorms from Sunday through Saturday this week in the Atlanta, Ga. area. Yeah, great – a 50% average. Either it might rain or it might not. Why not just make that the forecast everyday and be right 100% of the time?

Let’s say it did get rained out for a few days in a row, and the race had to be postponed. When would it be run? There are no off-dates from now until the end of the season. I’m sure the purists and old-schoolers would just be absolutely heartbroken if we had to wrap up the Chase and crown the champion the final race of the year in Atlanta.

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OK, so Carl Edwards has categorically denied he will be driving the No. 22 or be sponsored by Shell next year, even if Penske is switching to Ford (which I still think is about the worst decision, ever), and Kenseth is taking over the No. 20 from Joey Logano at JGR. Logano has something in the works, but can’t say what it is yet. So why all the secrecy and long, draw- out discourse?

I know, the marketing materials have to be made and they have to get the new guy a firesuit and resticker the car with next year’s manufacturer and paint scheme, and take a few smiling-with-hands-on-hips/stern-look-with-arms-folded promo photos. If everybody already knows the outcome, then why not make it official so the guys on the outside can let it be made known and start looking for a place elsewhere to drive?

And how in the world does the 2011 Daytona 500 winner still not have a sponsor or a ride for 2012 or all of 2013 yet, save for a tentative full-time Nationwide season? Hopefully the election year uncertainty will come to a close here after the first Tuesday in November and the sponsorship outlook will improve for those teams and drivers who desperately need it to.

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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