Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Tale Of Two Championship Series

It was the last race of the ARCA season, and the championship had come down to the wire. All Scott Speed needed to do to clinch the title was finish seventeenth or better, and all Ricky Stenhouse, Jr had to do was hope that something would happen to make sure he could make up the 90 point deficit he held. .

From the very beginning of Sunday's race at Toledo Speedway, it looked as though Stenhouse was out to make sure Scott Speed wouldn't finish seventeenth or better. Starting in the second row, along with Speed, he rode Speed's bumper lap after lap, beating and banging aggressively until only a little more than twenty laps into the race, he rode Speed's bumper all the way into the wall.

It is possible that Speed's car could have been repaired well enough to finish seventeenth or better, but Speed himself felt that it would at least take twenty laps to repair the car well enough to the point where he could make it around the track. So, already two laps down, he took his crippled car back on to the track, waited for Stenhouse to pass him, then gunned the throttle and knocked Stenhouse's #99 car hard into the wall. Needless to say, neither Speed nor Stenhouse won the championship. Justin Algaier, who entered the final race fourth in the championship points, won the race and the championship.

In my mind, retaliation is never a good thing. It is a poor display of sportsmanship, and endangers not only the two cars and drivers involved, but often results in damage to the innocent bystander who might get collected in the wreck. But that doesn't mean it can't be justified. If Stenhouse had won the championship after wrecking Speed, something would have been terribly wrong.

As Brad Daugherty pointed out on ESPN's NASCAR Now, every stock car has either been on the giving or receiving end of retaliation, at some point in his or her career. However, retaliation doesn't always have to result in a wreck. I'm thinking about Jeff Burton's retaliatory bump of Kyle Busch's car after Busch used his bumper to move Burton out of the way earlier, in the race at Kansas a few weeks ago.

Jeff Burton lives by the rule "you get raced the way you race." He was upset by the way Busch had passed him, but he didn't wreck the 18 car. Instead, he bumped him just enough to let him know he was displeased, and to get the car loose enough for him to pass.

Burton is quite possibly the most unique driver in the sport. Where every other driver sees racing as primarily a physical sport, Jeff Burton takes the cerebal approach. He studies every track, and every driver. He notes where his best line is, and how he races against each driver's unique style. He remembers how his car handles at every turn, and the effect of traffic on the handling of his car. He plans, and he is always ready to advance his position when the opportunity presents itself. He seems to never be caught by surprise. He knows the car in front of him is going to get loose in turn three, because he has been watching it, and he will be there to pass when that other car does get loose.

He avoids trouble in much the same way he gains positions. He pays close attention to the way the cars in front of him are moving up and down the track. He sees it when a driver gets too close underneath another driver's car and compensates to avoid the inevitable spin, or, at least, the wobble. As good at car control as most of the other best NASCAR driver, Burton is always prepared to thread the needle when the need arises.

All this is part of why Jeff Burton is the second favorite driver of many a NASCAR fan. If he were to win the championship this year, something which he has a very good chance of doing, there would be very few fans who would be unhappy. He now stands a mere 69 points out of first place in the championship points. All he needs to do is keep on doing what he is doing.

1 comment:

Racedriven said...

I agree with you fully. First I now have to wonder just what type of driver Scott Speed is going to be in the Cup Series not only for the rest of this season, but full-time next season as well. I though Speed could have let Stenhouse Jr. pass him and slide in behind him and get to Stenhouse Jr. that way.

Stenhouse Jr. wrecked Speed period, no question there and Speed wrecked Stenhouse Jr. period.

Stenhouse Jr. winning the ARCA Championship would have been a huge black eye for ARCA, he didn't deserve it, but I will say congrats to Justin Allgair for winning not only the race, but the champion, that was good to see.

When it comes to my favorite drivers in the Cup Series, its Dale Jr., plus I also watch Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton, plus Mark Martin, that's just the way I am. Jeff Burton is a class act on and off track and if Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Burton win the champion, perfect.

Enjoy and I can't wait for Martonsville tomorrow.