Last night's race at Richmond looked like it was going to be a flag to flag romp for Denny Hamlin, but that was not to be. With only laps to go, Denny cut a right front tire, and tried to stay out for the finish, even though he was rapidly losing spots. When the tire finally went, Denny got into the wall, a little, and stopped on the track. Nascar had little choice but to bring out the yellow flag. Once the caution was out, Denny drove to the pits for fresh tires. Nascar was not pleased, and parked Denny for 2 laps for intentionally bringing out a caution. Nascar does indeed frown on that, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. found out a few years ago when he admitted on the radio that he had looped his car to bring out the yellow flag. We all live and learn, I suppose, but what happened after the restart was proof that not all drivers learn.
When Denny Hamlin cut a tire, it allowed Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch to pass Denny. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the lead, and was driving away by about a tenth of a second gain per lap. When Denny brought out the caution, Jr. had over a full second lead over Kyle Busch.
Throughout the Earnhardt Nation, I think hearts began to sink. I don't think anyone who has been watching Nascar more than a few races doubted that Kyle Busch was going to do something, either on the restart or immediately afterwards, and we didn't have to wait long to find out that we were all right. Kyle was trying to pass Dale Jr. on the inside in Turn 3, and got into Jr.'s left side and spun out Dale Jr. Kyle was passed during that scuffle by Clint Bowyer, who eventually won the race, after charging through the pack all day, just biding his time. Kyle Busch finished second, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 15th.
The predictable cans came flying over the fence after Dale Jr. got spun. My friends, I'm as passionate about this sport than anyone, but I really hate to see this, because it has become almost standard practice now to label fans of Dale Jr. as drunks and people that willingly endanger the lives of not only race car drivers, but the safety of other fans. I go to all the races I can, and I have been known to partake of adult beverages at times, and in some cases way too many. I think it's a shame that because of the not so smart actions of a few, the entire fan base of one driver gets labeled as a bunch of drunks. I know that all the fans throwing debris over the fence are not Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans, because a couple of years ago, we saw a fan decked out in Jimmie Johnson colors being led away in handcuffs, long before Dale Jr. and Jimmie became teammates. What does concern me is perception. A few people in the media blame it all on the Earnhardt Nation, so that gives all it's members a bad name in the eyes of a lot of casual fans.
Kyle Busch, when interviewed after the race, was seemingly sarcastic about the entire affair. He seemed more concerned with the one finger salutes that he was receiving from Earnhardt fans even before the accident, than he was about the accident itself. Kyle made somewhat of a half apology, but was not very sincere about it. One suspects that Kyle was probably disappointed that he did not win the race, but he appeared to be not very sorry about wrecking the race leader. One comment, in his half apology, was the observation that now he, Kyle Busch, was going to have to "deal with it," meaning the fallout from wrecking a guy who hasn't won in 71 races, and who happens to be Nascar's Most Popular Driver for several years running.
Did Kyle Busch wreck Dale Jr. on purpose? It's possible, but only Kyle knows the answer to that, and he's not going to admit it if he did. Friday night, in the Nationwide race, Kyle got into a little dust up with Steven Wallace, which led to Kyle putting his face right in Steven's after the race, while Steven was still in his race car. Something was said about bulls, and horns, but I suspect that Kyle's biggest threat is not the horns on a bull's head, but what the bull leaves on the ground. Steven grabbed Kyle by the helmet, and Kyle backed up in a hurry, but came back to the car as team members arrived to break up the possible fight. Kyle did not get wrecked in the action on the track with Steven Wallace, and after only momentarily losing a position to Steven, hit Steven in retaliation, and regained the spot.
I've been reading certain fan's comments about Kyle Busch being the new "Intimidator". I have to laugh at that, because Kyle's main claim to fame is that he is willing to slide his car all over the track, and hit people. If he wins, great. If he wrecks himself, he throws a temper tantrum and storms away, but not before making outrageous statements in front of live microphones and cameras. Kyle does have a reputation as a hard charger, and other drivers probably do hate to see him in their mirrors, but not because of Kyle's intimidation factor, but more likely because they know he's a wreck waiting to happen. As a long time Dale Earnhardt fan, I find the comparisons between Dale and Kyle to be insulting, at best. Dale drove rough, and he drove hard, but he also drove smart. Kyle just drives rough and hard, and there are countless examples of that behavior during his Nascar career.
In Texas last year, a car spun in front of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jr. lifted to slow down as he drove into the smoke. No one could see for a few seconds, and Dale Jr. wisely slowed down to miss the accident. Kyle did the opposite, by driving blindly into the smoke with the accelerator pegged to the firewall. Naturally Kyle hit Dale Jr. a ton, wrecking both cars pretty badly. Back in the garage, cameras showed Kyle climbing from his car, roughly shoving past his crew members and storming away. As it turned out, Kyle left the track.
Near the end of the race, the 5 team of Kyle Busch got the car drivable again, but just barely. They went looking for their driver, but he was on his way home. Dale Jr., the driver Kyle had just taken out of the race, climbed into the car and finished the race. In that instance, Dale Earnhardt Jr. showed his class, and Kyle Busch showed his ass.
I think that Kyle Busch still stings from being released from his Hendrick ride last year to make way for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Some of the remarks he's made since the announcement that Dale Jr. would be joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008 led me to believe that he still harbors some resentment. Though Kyle has done very well at Joe Gibbs Racing, there appears to still be somewhat of a chip on the young man's shoulder.
Last night, Dale Earnhardt Jr. handled the disappointment with his usual class, not placing blame on Kyle, stating that he had not yet seen the replay. "If I do want to talk to him, I'll have to stand in line," he quipped. When he was being interviewed, he was asked if Kyle Busch was going to need extra security. "We all will," Jr. answered.
Though Dale Jr. remains 3rd overall in Cup points, Kyle Busch now is in first place. I have to admit that I was glad that Kyle Busch ended up not winning last night, because if nothing else, it was a mistake he made, if not an outright low blow to Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kyle races in all 3 of Nascar's top series, and he's made quite a few enemies in all 3. I hope this young man will eventually mature and gain the respect of not only the fans of the sport, but his fellow drivers as well.
On a side note, Michael Waltrip was parked by Nascar in the latter stages of the race after colliding with Casey Mears, and then standing on the gas, pushing Casey's wrecked car down the backstretch. I knew Michael was having a bad day, but I didn't know he was having that bad of a day. Oddly enough, older brother and FOX commentator Darrell Waltrip for once had nothing to say about it.