For the last several years, it seems like the words “new” and “Kyle Busch” have been paired up annually around this portion of the season. It’s usually around Charlotte or Darlington where Busch has his first major episode and we quickly laugh at the notion that it was even possible for him to sincerely do a 180 with his anger management. Just like previous years, Busch has started the first few weeks off without incident, and has even gone longer than the past without making headlines for the wrong reasons. However, we haven’t heard anything about a “new Kyle Busch” this year. Maybe it’s because some people can only be tricked so much and have finally stopped falling for this gimmick, or because of his episode with Ron Hornaday in the Truck Series last fall, along with his brother Kurt realizing what can happen for bad behavior, Kyle has been forced to play nice for good.
It never really occurred to me until the conclusion of the Sprint All Star Challenge Saturday night, but I’ve got a couple of beefs with NASCAR’s exhibition weekend. For starters, the drivers racing each other are no different than any other week. Gordon, Johnson, Stewart. These are the names we hear and think about that headline this generation’s group of all-stars. However, we see these same names compete against each other along with the same 40 other racers in the field each and every week. It’s kind of an oxymoron when you think about it, since these same “all-stars” are racing each other in every race. The only difference is that the actual All-Star event is an abbreviated race with a shortened field and it’s a time where “debris” (competition) cautions are acceptable and without controversy, because they don’t count.
The month of May is one of my favorite times of the race season. The Indy 500-Coke 600 doubleheader on Memorial Day marks the biggest the weekend of the year for motorsports and the All-Star Race is a nice, enjoyable break from the stresses of points racing on a week-to-week basis. Additionally, this is the point on the calendar where there are enough races on the books so that the statistics for each driver are no fluke, good or bad (exception: Jeff Gordon). It is right before the summer stretch, where teams try to either make up or hold their ground on the top 10 in points. With NASCAR’s new “wild card” rule, drivers also feel a greater sense of urgency to get to victory lane in hopes of qualifying for the Chase.
Prior to the start of the Aaron’s 312 at Talladega, there was a beat-the-clock challenge between a Nationwide series regular and a fan. The object was to name as many states as possible in a span of 30 seconds. The fan went first, and named about 20 of the states. Not bad, considering the brief amount of time she had to name them. The driver she was faced against was Danica Patrick, who reeled of 49 of them in alphabetical order, only missing one state. It was quite impressive actually, and if the racing thing doesn’t work out, she would certainly make a good geography teacher.
Junior is back!
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It has become a recurring statement in four of the last five seasons, ever since NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., teamed up with racing mogul Rick Hendrick in 2008. With Earnhardt driving in the best equipment, fans and media alike have high expectations going into every year for the driver, only to end it on a sour note.
So, is this the year that _really_ marks the return of Earnhardt?
What do Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards all have in common? From 2007-2011 they were the dominant drivers in the first 26 races of their respective seasons, establishing themselves as the guys to beat going into the Chase, only to come up short. While we are just eight races into the 2012 campaign, Greg Biffle already appears to be making the strongest case to be this year’s champion. However, he’ll first have to buck a trend that has plagued the other regular season contenders for the past five years as he tries to become the first man ever to secure a championship in all three of NASCAR’s national touring divisions.
For the last several years, there has been talk about a “new” Kyle Busch during the early weeks of each new season. Of course, each time we saw the Kyle Busch of old eventually make his way back to the limelight, revealing that he was never gone at all. Things hit rock bottom last Fall when the worst of Kyle Busch showed up and he intentionally wrecked championship contender Ron Hornaday under caution at 150 mph, crippling his effort during the Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. Busch has had his share of controversy before, but his actions here have given him no more mulligans. Any other outburst will almost certainly lead to Busch’s firing from Joe Gibbs Racing.
One off week down, one more to go. Hopefully, you were able to spend your Easter holiday with loved ones and managed to survive the weekend without any NASCAR racing. Now we have just one bye week for the remainder of the season, and I am confused. Not because I question the scheduling of the events this year, but because normally I would be thrilled to hear this early in the year that there is only one more off week. Being that there was no racing this past weekend, I figured it would be a good opportunity to write about my passion for NASCAR – how and when it began and whether I still have that same love I did in my “rookie” days.
For a long time, Michael Waltrip was considered to be the greatest Cup driver to have never won a race. It’s a moniker no racer wants to have, but with over 400 starts and 15 years of NASCAR competition under his belt, it fit no one better. Along with his likeable, humorous personality and seeing how his brother Darrell had achieved so much success in the sport, it was easy to be sympathetic towards the younger Waltrip and many wanted to see him make a breakthrough.
He finally picked up that first points-paying victory 11 years ago, in the Daytona 500 of all races. It was supposed to be one of the greatest moments in NASCAR; however, the world would soon learn of the passing of Waltrip’s car owner and friend, Dale Earnhardt in a crash on the final lap. He had finally won, but never got to celebrate; the sympathy continued.
The 2012 season is five weeks in and we are already seeing similar storylines to the previous year. We have the parity, with four different winners in five races in which every manufacturer has visited Victory Lane; strong starts from unexpected drivers like Martin Truex, Jr.; “feel good” stories such as now part-time driver Brian Vickers getting a top 5 in his only race this year; and disappointing starts from drivers expected to compete for the championship (see: Jeff Gordon). But one story that’s new, even with his Chase success is the strong start for defending champion Tony Stewart, winning a season-high two races already.
In the waning laps of the Kobalt Tools 400, FOX’s Mike Joy mentioned how Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson were the modern day version of Richard Petty and David Pearson when it comes to 1-2 finishes.
Though Stewart and Johnson’s combined total, thirteen, is much less than the 63 times Pearson and Petty occupied the top two spots, it made me realize we were in a for a treat in the final laps. After all, they have won the last seven championships and have more wins than any other driver since Johnson’s arrival to the Sprint Cup scene ten years ago. That’s right; for the last ten years, no one has been better than these two in terms of wins, championships, and thrilling performances. They are the modern day version of Petty and Pearson in more ways than just 1-2 finishes – they are the best out there.
So where does that leave the “other guy,” the man that once dominated this sport who many believe will go down as one the top-5 greatest drivers of all time when he decides to hang up his helmet for good?
The beginning of NASCAR season is usually the best time of year for most fans and drivers. The biggest race of the year, the Daytona 500, kicks things off and everyone is on a clean slate, erasing any bad memories from the previous year. However, it doesn’t take many weeks for some to endure hardships early on while others experience highs that they didn’t get enjoy the previous year. With that said, even though we are only two weeks in, there are already several drivers who should be optimistic about the weeks ahead while others need to be concerned.