Monday, June 2, 2008

Racing, Wrecking, and Running Laps

Sunday's Cup race in Dover, Delaware was basically over before 20 laps had been run. Well, almost. The huge crash that happened on lap 16 occurred when driver David Gilliland spun Elliot Sadler. Sadler was hit hard by Tony Stewart, who basically had no where to go, and then all out carnage ensued. Kevin Harvick was involved, as was Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Labonte, Denny Hamlin, and about 6 other cars.

All but two of the cars involved would eventually return to the track, but Denny Hamlin and Elliot Sadler were done for the day. The cars that did return were in some cases just a lap or three down, or hundreds of laps, as was the case for Tony Stewart. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s 88 car had to be brought back to the garage on the hook, and when he rejoined the race, he was 10 laps down. For most of these drivers, it was simply a matter of running enough laps to make up whatever points could be salvaged from a disappointing day.

For those cars not involved in the 'Big One,' Greg Biffle dominated until he had voltage problems in the car and fell back. Teammate Carl Edwards took over the lead for a time, but eventually, after green flag pit stops, Kyle Busch took over the lead and never looked back. Kyle lead by as much as 7.5 seconds, and finally won by over 5 seconds over second place Carl Edwards. When the race was over, only 6 cars were on the lead lap. A victory in Cup series racing is nonetheless a victory, and Kyle Busch wins again. He's on a hot streak, and he remains basically divisive as ever. As Kyle climbed from his car near the Start-Finish line, he performed his now signature sarcastic bow, but apparently he did so before largely empty stands.

From reports I've read from fans who were actually at the track yesterday, many people began leaving the track after the big wreck. FOX TV tried, unsuccessfully to not show the largely empty stands by the time the checkered flag flew, but by just about any account that I've read, many long time Dover attendees were disappointed by the race.

There were some exceptions. I was able to surf some of the message boards last night, and read some interesting comments by fans of drivers such as Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, and others. Some were cheering Kyle Busch on, since their driver didn't have a chance to win. It's interesting to see the 'Anyone but Dale Jr.' or 'Anyone but Hendrick' sentiments expressed by fans who in once sentence are repulsed by Kyle Busch, but in the next sentence are cheering him on. Not much changes in the world of Nascar, I suppose, but I still find it amusing the lengths that some fans will go to when it involves hatred for another driver.

Nascar has always had its heroes and villains, and lately Kyle has certainly fulfilled the villain role. Kyle Busch is certainly a hero to others, for various reasons. He may be seen as the underdog, the man who overcame adversity to triumph. Some see Kyle as the man redesigned by Nascar to pump a little controversy into the sport. That, indeed, is an interesting thought.

Let's examine the history of Toyota in Nascar. It's a short history, so it won't take very long. In 2006, it was announced that Michael Waltrip was leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc., the company at which every one of his Cup victories were achieved, and was going to start his own team, Michael Waltrip Racing. What was even bigger news was that Michael was going to spearhead Toyota's new Nascar Sprint (then Nextel) Cup program. Michael was going to drive a car, as was former Cup Champion Dale Jarrett, and brother Darrell Waltrip's Trucks Series driver, David Reutimann. Michael's team wasn't going to be the only Toyota team on the block either, because Bill Davis Racing and Team Red Bull were also going to be running their own Toyota teams.

What occurred in 2007 was basically a huge disaster. Michael and many of the other Toyotas couldn't qualify for the races. They went totally winless in 2007, despite much hoopla in the press.

Fast forward to late 2007, when it's announced that Joe Gibbs Racing will switch from Chevrolet to Toyota, beginning in 2008. JGR had a huge asset, namely in head engine guy Mark Cronquist. Through Cronquist, Toyota made huge leaps and bounds in cranking out race winning engines, but only for one man, so far, on one team. Kyle Busch, in his new home at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Questions begged to be ask at this point include why does only Kyle seem to be enjoying such success while his teammates continue to struggle? According to most of the press, it's totally because of Kyle's raw talent. I'd like to know where all that raw talent was in Kyle's years Hendrick, especially when Hendrick was winning all those races last year? Sure, Kyle won some races at Hendrick, but suddenly now JGR has greatly surpassed Hendrick in teams, engines, car setups, and just raw talent? Methinks that someone's being given an advantage here. As a matter of fact, I think I smell a rat.

Nascar's total control over the rules of this sport make it difficult to know exactly what's happening behind the scenes. I may be totally incorrect in my suppositions, but I've watched this sport for a very long time, and I've seen things just as strange happen. I've only got my intuition to go on, and my past experience when it comes to these kind of things. Does Nascar sometimes give certain manufacturers advantages? Of course they do. They are just less public about it these days.

I'd like to share some words from an old American Army general officer, long dead now. But the words ring true, even today.

"For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting."

General George S. Patton

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