(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

Odds & Ends Around the Track: Richmond Edition

Richmond Raceway is one of my all-time favorite tracks on the NASCAR circuit, but they need to officially drop one of their nicknames.

Its original nickname of “Strawberry Hill” is fine, even if I don’t automatically think of Richmond, Virginia, when I think of strawberries. “America’s Premier Short Track” is fine too, although I know even on the NASCAR circuit a few other places might argue with that nickname. The moniker that needs to go is “Action Track.” Sorry Richmond, but there is only one “Action Track,” and that one is located in Terre Haute, Indiana.

This News was Bulls–t

Unfortunately, too many days are remembered for losing a driver.

I will never forget getting the phone call on April 1, 1993, when I was told to turn on ESPN to hear the news about Alan Kulwicki. On May 12, 2000, I was packing for my cruise trip when I heard about Adam Petty’s horrible crash. I was getting ready for a big Fourth of July weekend when I heard about Swede Savage losing his battle five weeks after his horrendous crash at the Indianapolis 500.

I was watching the Chicago Bears take on the Denver Broncos when I heard the most BS of all BS news that we had lost Mike Stefanik in a plane crash. Unlike those other racing heroes whose horrible deaths are etched into my memory, I had many occasions to interview Stefanik. Mike was old school racing at its best. There was no finesse to his words, which seemed fitting since those ground-pounder modifieds he drove better than most had to be muscled around the track.

Unlike some brash and outspoken younger drivers, Mike didn’t whine about things just because he lost. He reserved his most tantalizing outbursts for especially outrageous moves made by his competitors. I will never forget that look on his face when he was taken out of a modified race at Daytona in the Battle of the Beach. He didn’t rant and rave and insult the reporter asking him the question.

Instead, Stefanik just stated it succinctly: “I don’t want to say anything because I’m just going to say the wrong thing here, I am that freaking pissed. It’s just bulls–t.”

It’s impossible to compare one era to another, but there is no doubt that Mike Stefanik is on the “Mount Rushmore” of NASCAR modified drivers of all time. Sadly, Stefanik barely missed induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame while he was alive, but that will be rectified soon. Gone but never forgotten, Coventry, Rhode Island’s Mike Stefanik was 61 years old.

Respect for the Little Guy

Usually I am in the minority sticking up for Kyle Busch after yet another one of his childish outbursts. When you are as passionate about winning races as he is, it is no surprise when you are good and salty after a loss.

But Sunday in Las Vegas, I think Busch clearly crossed the line. This is a driver who, because of his connections and talent, never had to race in less than the best equipment in his career, criticizing a driver in a much slower car who is just paying his dues.

Now, I don’t care if a driver is only in his seat because he could bring the money. There are plenty of drivers in all forms of motorsports doing that nowadays. But Busch and/or his spotter were responsible for his crash more than anyone else on the track. Lashing out at your fellow racers in such a situation where that driver held his line as he was being passed by another racer on the track is a low-class move.

Turn back the clock 30 or 40 years and even the most talented racers had to fight in bad equipment to get their next chance. Many drivers jump in these low-budget, slow rides because it gives them a chance to be inside the garage area to get their next job in this sport. Just like the up and coming drivers, the low-budget teams are also just trying to do their best to grow their organization.

In 2017, Furniture Row Racing won the championship. In its early days, the team’s cars were so slow they had a hard time making many races and had trouble staying out of the way when they did make the show. But being there every week racing at the NASCAR Cup level gave them a chance to grow their organization. Leavine Family Racing and even the team now known as JTG Daugherty Racing fielded two of the slower cars on the track in the beginning. Now they are fielding competitive cars. Maybe Busch needs to think about what it would have been like to have to pay his dues in low-budget cars and maybe, just maybe, he would have a little respect for the little guy.

Fantasy Insight – Richmond

Last Week’s Results

Win: Kyle Busch – Finished 19th

Place: Kevin Harvick – Finished second

Show: Martin Truex Jr. – Winner winner chicken dinner!

Long Shot: Ryan Blaney (25 to 1 Odds) Finished 10th

It is very easy handicapping NASCAR races this time of year because all you need to do is pick from the playoff drivers. The entire top 10 at Las Vegas last week were guys in the playoffs, and that is likely to be repeated this weekend at Richmond.

Back in the pre-playoff-points version of the playoffs when it was known as the Chase, a bad performance by a driver like Busch would have made the next two races must-win situations. Instead, four wins and 10 stage wins during the regular season make Busch a lock for the next round.

Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer are not so lucky, so they might be better picks since they need a win. They are also seventh and eighth respectively in most points scored in the last five races at Richmond. The top two in points scored in the last five races here are Harvick and Truex Jr. Good luck with your race picks this weekend.

Win: Harvick – Eight years since he won the fall race here.

Place: Denny Hamlin – Raced his way to fifth from a 30th-place start in the spring.

Show: Kyle Busch – Can’t leave him off the top picks every week at any track.

Long Shot: Bowyer (20-to-1 odds) – His kind of track and needs a strong finish.

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About Dennis Michelsen

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Dennis a.k.a. DMIC has been covering NASCAR racing since 1998. After spending 23 years as a professional weather forecaster, Dennis still didn't know what he wanted to be when he grew up, so he started covering auto racing full time. He is the moderator of the Race Track Business Conference - an all-day educational seminar covering the business of speed - and is the owner of DMIC Media & Marketing where he spends his time mouthing off about all kinds of sports. He is also the play-by-play voice for the professional Ultimate Disc team the Chicago Wildfire of the American Ultimate Disc League. Dennis can be heard every Saturday on The Final Inspection on 105.7FM The Fan in Milwaukee, Wis. talking NASCAR, and you can listen on the Radio.com app.

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