You’d think Kyle Busch would have been too busy celebrating this weekend. But in a mind numbing case of biting the hand that feeds him, in victory lane after Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at the Brickyard, race-winner Busch revealed that he feels NASCAR treats him unfairly and has an ax to grind with him. After all, he had had to make a last lap pass to claim the win in the race despite dominating earlier portions of the event. As evidence, Busch cited what he felt was an unnecessary caution flag late in the race. (on lap 71, the given reason for the caution being fluid on the track or suspicion thereof in the wake of Erik Jones‘s wreck. Jones, ironically, is an employee and quasi-teammate of Busch.) On the subsequent restart, Ryan Blaney just flat outdrove Busch, who elected to restart in the outer lane, and took the lead.
And it would seem a clearly bushed Busch felt the only way that could have happened was if NASCAR had thrown an unnecessary caution flag to try to deprive him of the win. He is after all the great and powerful Kyle Busch. Any time he lines up for an NXS race, it’s all but preordained that not only will he win but he will do so in dominating fashion and then smugly ask those gathered to fete his accomplishment. How they could have possibly thought there’d be a different outcome? Weren’t they paying attention?
Let’s give the devil his due. Busch is a tremendous racecar driver, though a valid argument can be made he’s been blessed with some of the best equipment in the sport since he dragged his knuckles into the garage area as a rookie many years ago. After recovering from horrific injuries to his lower extremities suffered during the Daytona NXS race, Busch has made a remarkable comeback. Having found myself in physical rehab a couple times after injury, I can attest that physical therapy is a hellish process that occasionally leaves you ready to throw in the towel just wanting the pain to go away for a while. It’s a whole lot easier to take some of those pills rather than push your limits, and that’s in fact what makes Heroin, Inc. 2.0 such a lucrative business. In addition to the weekend sweep at Indy, in the last two months Busch has won three more Cup races and scored an additional win in the Xfinity Series. Those are gum-card stats in anyone’s league. As of right now, Busch is still 23 points out of the top 30, the last hurdle he has to clear to make the Chase.
And frankly that’s what I thought the “Kyle Busch Rule” was. NASCAR made the decision, despite a rule a driver had to at least attempt to qualify for every race to be Chase eligible, that they would waive the rule for Busch. After all, they felt horrible that Busch had been hurt when he augured into an unprotected concrete wall at an ISC track and “ISC” is just French for NASCAR, which of course is also run by the Frances. (It seems that the sport is run by Frances the Talking Mule sometimes but there’s no family relationship I’ve been able to find.)
I’m going to have to admit I took issue with that decision. There’s very little to dissuade a Cup driver from doing a little cherry-picking by running NXS and Truck Series events, which some have compared to MLB players competing in Little League games. One of the few disincentives to do so, and a reason some big name drivers have given not to run the Saturday races, is the possibility you could wreck, get hurt and mess up your day job, precisely what happened to Busch. To put it in terms working class people who have to ponder if they’re willing to commit to four years of payments to replace the wife’s 200,000-mile Explorer will understand, let’s say a fellow is a full-time union plumber making good bucks. He decides a few weeknights and weekends he’s going to moonlight as a bicycle delivery person to make some extra cash for a Myrtle Beach vacation with his family. But in the course of making a delivery, he falls off his bicycle and breaks his leg, leaving him unable to do either job. If he’d been hurt doing plumbing work, the company would have to pay him workman’s comp and hold his job for him until he was able to return with reasonable accommodations. But since our moonlighting plumber got hurt working a part-time job, those protections don’t apply. Busch might have served as a stunning example of why Cup drivers ought to leave the sport’s development series to up-and-coming drivers looking to make it to the big leagues. But thanks to the Kyle Busch Rule, it won’t. Of course, perhaps it helps to have your team’s sponsor be the Official Snack of NASCAR, too.
I’m not naïve. NASCAR throwing unnecessary caution flags (like say the one for two balloons on Sunday just as the race was degenerating into a parade) is a topic we’ve been discussing for over a decade, and if pressed I could do a little research to prove the phenomenon has being going on since time immemorial. Take a look at Richard Petty’s 199th career win at Dover if you doubt me. I’ve heard fans banter about “Jeff Gordon cautions,” “Dale Jr. cautions” and “Danica cautions,” unnecessary yellows that flew just as a big name driver was about to go down a lap to the leader. But I truthfully can’t recall any fan and certainly no driver, saying unnecessary cautions were thrown just to penalize them in particular. As I see it, NASCAR doesn’t give a flying fig at a rolling doughnut who wins just as long as the race is exciting and not a runaway. That’s what keeps the TV contract dollars inflated and puts butts in the seat.
If anything, I think, in an unremarkable and tepid season of racing that NASCAR would actually love to see Busch make the Chase. Think about it. A driver suffers grievous injuries before the season has even officially kicked off, but makes a determined comeback, wins a bunch of races and competes for the big prize. Mickey Rooney got filthy rich making movies with that sort of plot-line. The problem here is when the mainstream media, unused to covering the sport, is herded into a small room for some media availability with Busch, a good number of them are going to be put off, wondering how this guy who’s as likeable and intelligent as a banana slug warrants their attention and a few inches of ink.
Of course there have been other “Kyle Busch Rules” over the years as well. One of my favorites was the rule wherein if you’re moonlighting in the Truck Series and a championship contender in the series roughs you up early in the race, it’s not OK to just flat out park him by sending him windshield deep into the wall under caution. If you do, you’ll have to… gasp… sit out a Cup race. That incident with Ron Hornaday Jr. probably should have cost Busch his day job, which would have made him unique in that he’d been terminated by the biggest team for all three manufacturers in the course of his career. Frankly I don’t know if porcupines can become rabid, but if there is in fact a rabid porcupine out there, I don’t doubt he’s signed a driver development deal with Joe Gibbs Racing. Having been taught by the master, Tony Stewart, when he was with that organization, they’ve perfected the art of damage control and excusing away the inexcusable.
So as he gets ready to reap the rewards of making NASCAR’s ridiculous system of crowning a champion, perhaps it behooves his wife to carry two pacifiers so when either of her two family members start acting like imbecilic, infantile crybabies, she can pop one in their mouths to keep them from annoying anyone.
Some quick hits:
If I was still writing race recaps (and I thank Mike Neff for taking the cross of that deadline off my shoulders) this week’s In a Nutshell would have been: “Well that didn’t work, now what?” Despite great expectations worthy of Dickens’s Pip, the high-drag package that debuted at Indianapolis did little to nothing to improve the quality of the racing. If there were any slingshot passes I must have been napping and missed them. As per typical as of late, the only real drama was the first few laps after a re-start and in varying pit strategies playing out. You can’t fault NASCAR for conducting the experiment but it throws a big question mark into ring leading up to the same package being used at Michigan. Michigan has a bit more banking and a more conventional oval shape but clearly changes to the package have to be considered prior to that race. For all the talk about the high-drag package leading up to the event, there was little to no mention of it after the race, at least not on TV. Not surprisingly, social media outlets lit up with fans posting near unanimous dislike of what they’d seen.
I understand Indy is a great big place with a whole lot of seats, but the place looked near empty on Saturday and Sunday. Perhaps the late start time and a threatening weather forecast helped dissuade walk-ups from attending the race.
I’ve been told that I don’t understand TV broadcasting, and I freely admit that’s the case. I still don’t get how you can make a show about famous people when they’re only famous because they have a show despite a stunning lack of any appreciable talents. But I really don’t get why the NXS race on Saturday was on the NBC mothership while Sunday’s Cup race, one some folks will still term a “crown jewel” of the sport, got relegated to their cable sports outlet. I checked. Sunday NBC was showing volleyball, bicycle racing, oh and oddly enough, auto racing though in this instance it was something called “Global Rally Cross.” (I have no idea what that is, but I bet it’s covered in MTV’s fingerprints.) Really? Has stock car racing fallen that far down the sports totem pole? “Notice to our passengers, This is your captain, we’re just stopping for some ice. Thanks for choosing the Titanic for your cruising voyage.” I suppose I’ll leave TV decisions to the TV folks. These are after all the same folks who decided “Joey” was can’t miss “must see TV” right?
For the record, the Brickyard earned a 2.9 overnight rating, the highest of the nine races broadcast on cable channels this year. Given the typical bump in the ratings once the smaller markets weight in it will likely nudge those final numbers over 3.0. But the fact remains the ratings are substantially lower than they were on ESPN last year and down from a 4.6 back in 2011. I’m Utterly amazed. It appears that a whole bunch of those folks who said they were checking out did in fact leave.