Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Return of the Bad Boy

Sometimes even your favorite driver can be a bonehead. I was reminded of that while I was watching the Daytona 500 last Sunday.
Tony Stewart had an excellent car for the race. He moved effortlessly from a 17th position start to take third place by lap 25. An incident on lap 27 is important to note for future reference, because Smoke later said this is what got him angry: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. took the lead from Matt Kenseth on the frontstretch with Stewart directly behind him. Coming out of turn two, Kenseth was racing beside Stewart, and Tony got loose. Stewart’s car almost went into the infield, but Tony executed a characteristically good save and got back in line in the 5th position. By lap 28, he had taken the lead.
On or about lap 47, Stewart’s car drifted to the outside, while Jeff Gordon, who’s car was tight and couldn’t turn went up in front of him. The commentators said that Stewart should have let up off the throttle, but I think he was trying to save the car from hitting the wall. Anyway, Stewart hit the back of Gordon’s car, and both cars hit the wall, bringing out the caution. Much to Jeff’s credit, he reported over the team radio that it was his car that got tight, and that the accident really wasn’t anybody’s fault. It was Gordon’s car which received the most damage, the damage being heavy enough to knock him out of contention for the win.
After repairs, the race restarted on lap 51, with Tony “Smoke” Stewart starting back in the 27th position. But Tony was a man with a mission, and he immediately began moving up in the field with a vengeance.
Meanwhile, by lap 59, Matt Kenseth had retaken the lead. His Ford Fusion was definitely the car to beat. But Stewart’s car was apparently affected very little by damage, and at this point he had already moved into 17th position, and was still rapidly moving up through the field.
A big, scary wreck of the sort that can be expected at a restricter plate race, occurred around lap 77, when Dale Jarrett’s car got into the back of Jeff Green’s #66 car. Green went hard into the infield, then even harder back onto the track and into the wall in front of traffic. One of the things that is wrong with restricter plate racing is that the cars are packed so close together that the accordian effect can not be avoided. Several good cars, including some of the crowd favorites were caught up in the wreck. Joe Nemecheck, Carl Edwards, JJ Yeley, and Kyle Petty, along with Green, were all essentially taken out of the race. The only consolation, if there is any, is that no-one was hurt, and that, if this was the “big one” bound to happen at Daytona, it was not nearly as big as it has been in past restricter plate races.
The race restarted on lap 85, with Matt Kenseth still in the lead. By the next lap, Kevin Harvick had taken the 1st position. The lead changed several times after that, with Kenseth again leading the pack by lap 90. By this time, Stewart had moved up into 7th.
By lap 104, Mark Martin, who was working as a drafting partner with Tony Stewart, took the lead with Stewart pushing him to the front.
It is here I will interject some personal notes: As a long time Tony Stewart fan, there have been more than a few of what I like to call “awww Tony moments.” Those are the times when my favorite driver lets his infamous temper take him over. He becomes a single minded fool, with the only thought in his mind being to “get back” at a driver who “done him wrong.” Retaliation becomes a much stronger motive to him than winning the race or getting a good finish. What was about to happen became, to me, not just an “awww Tony moment,” but an “awwwwwwwwwww (expletive) Tony, what the (expletive) are you thinking,” moment.
Cutting in front of Matt Kenseth, Smoke clipped the front right fender of Kenseth, sending him into the infield. Kenseth spun back across the track and into the outside retaining wall. Stewart was penalized, and in serving the penalty, ran over the jack and received another penalty.
In the post race interviews, Jeff Gordon said that he was as much at fault as Stewart was, in the lap 47 incident, and Stewart blamed it on the damp conditions. Okay, I’ll buy that. But, Stewart fan or not, I think it’s wrong in any race, for any driver to make an offensive move as blatent as the one he put on Kenseth.
On another personal note, after the 2009 season, when Smoke is expected to retire from full time NASCAR racing, Kenseth is destined to become my new favorite driver. This may seem ironic, but it isn’t anything new; Matt Kenseth has been one of my favorite drivers since he was still in the Busch series.
Well, I guess I’ll get over it. Kenseth said he won’t hold a grudge and I believe him. But now, I have to listen to people like the guy on FSN’s Around the Track, who is a habitual Tony basher, use this new fodder against my driver the entire season. No doubt, any little racing incident will cause Darrell Waltrip, Fox’s expert race analyst, to bloviate about the common denominator. And, when I log on to the Tony Stewart fan forum on NASCAR.com, I’ll have to wear my helmet and flak jacket in protection from the Tony bashers who show up there. Well, I don’t have to do any of that, but my love for racing, and for Tony, is such that I will.
On a much happier note, congratulations to Jimmie Johnson on his first Daytona 500 win. Congratulations to RCR’s rookie Clint Bowyer for his top ten win in his first Daytona 500 race, and to Elliot Sadler for his top 5 finish. Well done to Robby Gordon, who didn’t even make the 500 last year, for a top 20 finish, and to my favorite underdog, Kirk Shelmerdine, for a lead lap finish, after he had to get money from his fans to get tires.
In the words of Dale Jarrett, “that’s just racin,’” Next Sunday we get the first real race of 2006, in California, with no restricter plates, and the cars can run wide open on the straightaways, and drivers’ skills come into play negotiating the turns and the traffic. Hopefully, we can all move on, without grudges and without feuds, and enjoy the rest of the season.


Babs said...

Good take on it all Jim. It was insane some of the Tony bashing going on. I may be a little ticked off at him, but I don't wish him or his fans any harm.

Clance' McClannahan said...

Fabulous and insightful post Jim. Your insights are some of the Best of the best in the blogging world.

RevJim said...