The Track That Matters

Kevin Harvick (4), en route to victory at Darlington, passes Kasey Kahne. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevrolet)

Kevin Harvick (4), en route to victory at Darlington, passes Kasey Kahne. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevrolet)

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Clinton, S.C., Sunday, April 13, 2014, 9:08 a.m.

I can’t judge a NASCAR race at Darlington Raceway. I love it too much. It dissolves me in emotion. Memories flood back of Cotton Owens, Dale Earnhardt, Neil Bonnett and Tim Richmond, all men I saw win there (Owens as an owner) and all of whom have passed away since.

On Saturday night, Kevin Harvick tamed the track too tough to. He led 238 of the 374 laps. Harvick and his Stewart-Haas team earned $328,708 for 367 of them, and thanks to a woolly overtime, the final seven were free.

Darlington is the only track where one driver dominating numbs my interest not the least. At home, it perturbs me when the cameras ignore what I want to see, or move away from what I’m enjoying, but Fox did a decent job of finding the action, probably because it’s what covering Darlington demands. Besides, if I really want to watch it my own way, I ought to get my ass down there.

I’ve decided I’m not going back to “the track,” which is to mean “tracks in general,” without a better reason than that. I expect my next live attendance will be at some place like Greenville-Pickens (asphalt) or Laurens (dirt).

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88) came within a lap of winning for the first time at Darlington. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88) came within a lap of winning for the first time at Darlington. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

It hurts a little – just a little, mind you – where Darlington is concerned.

At most tracks, with Harvick scattering edible dust in his wake, I would have started reading a book, or playing my guitar, or checking on a ballgame. Darlington held my interest. I was only distracted by that video game, “Need to Tweet.”

For those among you who cannot grasp the majesty of Darlington, there’s nothing I can do. If you don’t see the subtleties, you probably never will.

Winning most races is impressive. Winning Darlington is majestic. Watching Darlington is metaphysical.

To me. I didn’t learn independently. My daddy taught me, prying open messy boiled peanuts and swilling beer on the back straight. He’s gone 20 years, the back straight is the front straight, the one on the left is in the middle, and “the guy in the rear … is a Methodist.”

Bojangles and Budweiser ... what a smooth combination for Kevin Harvick. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevrolet)

Bojangles and Budweiser … what a smooth combination for Kevin Harvick. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevrolet)

Against all odds, I had a hunch, the kind I normally only got when I was at tracks, that Harvick was going to win. Sure, he started on the pole, but no one had won at Darlington from the pole since 1997. Harvick himself had never won a Sprint Cup race there. I’ve always thought there are two sides to statistics. On the one hand, a bountiful record is an indicator of prowess. Sometimes a fruitless record is an indicator of lack thereof. In Harvick’s case, though, I felt he had always had what it takes to win at the oldest and weirdest superspeedway.

He was due. That’s what I was thinking when Phil Kornblut asked me on South Carolina SportsTalk Friday night. I don’t consider myself much of a prognosticator. In fact, I don’t think the average writer is any better at picking winners than the Cub Scout leader sitting with Pack 3497 on the back straight.

No, Freddie, we’ll have sandwiches at the halfway point. Just stay hydrated. You’ll be fine. Who’s gonna win? Oh … Harvick. Brandon! Don’t make me come down there. Behave!

Earlier this year, the one week I got the pick right, Phil ran out of time before he asked me, or, more likely, I used up the time with my big mouth.

I don’t know if the pavement is aging or the cars are better – I suspect it’s some mingling of both, though I don’t know if the recipe has two cups of old and one of new, or vice-versa – but the racing roused me. I watched it with ardor and confined my departures to commercials and caution flags.

Again, though, I can’t judge. Darlington is Mecca to me, or, since I’m not Muslim, Mecca is Darlington. Skip the religion. Darlington is a mecca, not Mecca. It’s secular, but there’s a little spirituality. When I think the word – Darlington! – it sends chills down my spine and sometimes my eyes moisten. It’s similar in my psyche to Fenway Park, Ryman Auditorium, the Jefferson Memorial and my alma maters, Clinton High School and Furman University.

In my mind, Kevin Harvick finally arrived. Cue the fight song.

Take my books … please. The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope are available elsewhere on this site, at amazon.com, bn.com and independent bookstores such as Fiction Addiction in Greenville and others too numerous to mention. Here in town, you can pick up a signed copy at L&L Office Supply.

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A Diamond Off the Old Block

Casey Elliott during one of the stopping points en route to his Darlington victory. (NASCAR photo via Getty Images)

Chase Elliott during one of the stopping points en route to his Darlington victory. (NASCAR photo via Getty Images)

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Clinton, S.C., Saturday, April 12, 2014, 10:24 a.m.

I started attending races at Darlington Raceway in 1970 – and stopped in 2013 – but the first time I wrote about one was the CRC Chemicals Rebel 500 in 1981. Darrell Waltrip won it, and a young driver, Bill Elliott, started on the pole.

What I most remember about that race was the realization that the only driver I’d ever seen who reminded me of David Pearson at Darlington was Elliott, who would not win a Winston Cup race anywhere until two and a half years later. He wound up winning five times at the track.

That spring afternoon made me an Elliott fan. The first time I saw Elliott win, as in, being there, was at Charlotte in 1984.

I’m sure when I wrote that I’d covered a race in 1981, several writers who are covering NASCAR now thought, Gee, I wasn’t even born then.

That’s okay. The next generation has fully arrived. Bill isn’t racing, I’m not going to the track to write about it, and Chase Elliott has won consecutive Nationwide Series races.

On this morning, I’m more cognizant than normal of the concept of age.

VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200

The start of Friday night’s Nationwide Series race at Darlington Raceway. (NASCAR photo via Getty Images)

Chase Elliott, 18, still has to do homework. I’d claim he has to recite poetry or diagram sentences, but I’m not sure they do that anymore.

I’m old. I adapt to new technology at precisely the moment when everyone else already has.

"NAPA knowhow, NAPA knowhow ..." (NASCAR photo via Getty Images)

“NAPA knowhow, NAPA knowhow …” (NASCAR photo via Getty Images)

I have never met Chase Elliott and possibly never will. I can tell, though, that he is no clone of his father. Chase is the beneficiary of the preparation that all racers receive in NASCAR’s modern, corporate age. When Bill came along, racers were alarmingly what they were.

Bill was moody. He had an icy stare, and when his ass was on his shoulders, he would have considered a query on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity ignorant. (Not that I would ever ask such a question, or that he would’ve been wrong if I had.) On the other hand, when in a cheery mood, Bill would walk up and shoot the bull a while. Most everything is in between now. No one bites heads off, but it’s hard to prove because they seldom have conversations with media types who are rumored to make less than $100,000 a year.

Perhaps the last driver who gets pissed off and lets people see it is Tony Stewart. Dale Earnhardt was excessively guilty of honesty, too. Those two made the job … interesting. Earnhardt distributed his mood, regardless of the situation. Most of the brats of today just blow up when they lose their tempers, which happens when they lose. They’re all jolly good fellows when they get their ways.

A world of difference in personality spans Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. So, too, I suspect, is there a difference between Elliott Original Recipe and Elliott Extra Crispy. One obvious reason is that sons benefit from the experience of fathers, and they have advantages their dads didn’t. No one’s ever looked down their noses at them. Racing has become a respectable profession, which often happens when populated with the affluent.

The trick is to capitalize on the expertise and advantages of the world-famous daddy without succumbing to the wretched excess of opulence.

By George (Bill’s late father), I think Chase Elliott’s got it.

If you’d like to read my more literary offerings, give wellpilgrim.wordpress.com a look every now and then.

The Track Too Tough To Cover

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These stately grandstands weren't at Darlington when I was growing up. It was then the back straight, and I sat in its rickety predecessors.

These stately grandstands weren’t at Darlington when I was growing up. It was then the back straight, and I sat in its rickety predecessors.

Clinton, S.C., Thursday, April 10, 2014, 5:33 p.m.

Darlington Raceway is my favorite track. This is only in part because it is great, though it undeniably is. It has to do with it being the place where my daddy took me over and over, and with being a South Carolinian because my native state is, like Darlington, rife with contradiction.

Whoever heard of a race track that was shaped like an egg?

Comparatively speaking, other tracks have straightaways. Darlington has sidewalks. The asphalt is theoretically wide, but very little of it is usable. Little of its water is potable, so to speak. The groove is little more than, well, the track.

Darlington is the only track that always gives me something to watch, which makes watching it on TV awful because I only see what TV chooses to show me, and, respectfully, that is most often not what I want to see.

This was Darlington's "board" ... in 1956.

This was Darlington’s “board” … in 1956.

Darlington is complex and hard to understand in an age when most fans don’t care to pay attention, so busy are they with their portable devices.

Yet I don’t want to go there anymore. It’s not much more than a two-hour drive from my house. Even though I love it more than any other track, the last couple years I covered its races, I commuted back and forth. Why? Because, as a writer, Darlington is one 1.366-mile pain in the ass. It is The Track Too Tough To Cover.

The last thing anyone in NASCAR wants to encourage is the watching of its races from the press box, probably because those who watch from the press box might see things that aren’t on TV. Darlington features a unique press box that offers a breathtaking view of the wrong side of the track. Pit road and the start-finish line cannot be seen from the press box.

That might be a '73 Mercury David Pearson is driving, but Carl Edwards still can't pass him. This photo was taken in 2008.

That might be a ’73 Mercury David Pearson is driving, but Carl Edwards still can’t pass him. This photo was taken in 2008.

The front and back straights were flip-flopped in 1997, but no more convenient press box has ever been constructed. Not too long ago, it was a fairly simple matter to hike over from the opposite side and cross the track, but then they closed that gate and built a new tunnel, only they didn’t allow anyone to drive through it, which, in turn, meant one could spend a half hour trying to snake through the mass of infield humanity in a car, or walk around the entire outside of the track – infield media center, inside of turn one, to press box, outside of three – and thus expend valuable time either way.

Which I still did, because I’m that much of a press-box stickler and I love Darlington so much.

Now that I don’t write about racing for a living, life is too short for that.

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It Stands On Its Merits

Tony Stewart, who won the pole in Texas, hasn't won yet. In 2000, he won none of the first 10 races but three of the next 16. (HHP/Tim Parks photo for Chevrolet)

Tony Stewart, who won the pole in Texas, hasn’t won yet. In 2000, he won none of the first 10 races but three of the next 16. (HHP/Tim Parks photo for Chevrolet)

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Clinton, S.C., Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 10:45 a.m.

The NASCAR season to date has been spectacular in that something memorable has happened in each of the seven Sprint Cup races. A different driver has won each. Some of the excitement has been contrived, but, after all this is NASCAR.

The season has been dominated by weather. Only Mother Nature has won more than once.

Joey Logano, come on down! (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Joey Logano, come on down! (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

The simple majesty of the season is, however, insufficient. Good isn’t enough. Neither is “as is.” NASCAR officials, and many without formal affiliation, must persist with delusions of grandeur.

What if a different driver continues to win every week? The obvious answer is that, if so, by season’s end, Danica Patrick will have won. Hang in there, Parker Kligerman. Your time is nigh.

In 2000, different drivers won the first 10 races. They were, in order, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt, Ward Burton, Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and Jeremy Mayfield. The first two-time winner was … Earnhardt Jr., who won for the second time in his career at Richmond after getting his first at Texas.

To fill the Chase with winners, after 26 races this year, 16 different drivers will have to win, and one of them would have to be the point leader. If the point leader is winless – Nos. 1 and 2 are now – then it would take 15 winners.

There are already seven winners. On the surface, one would think, well, it only takes eight or nine more. This is as unsustainable as deficit spending, in fact, less so, because deficit spending has been going on for decades, both in our government and our personal finances. If you really are morally opposed to deficit spending, don’t buy a house.

Back to 2000, when 10 different drivers won the first 10 races. By the time the 26th race had rolled around, Wallace had four victories, and Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton, Gordon and Tony Stewart had all won three.

Stewart hadn’t won any of the first 10 races. Two-time winners were Earnhardt Jr. and Mayfield. Single winners were Jarrett, Earnhardt Sr., Ward Burton, Martin, Matt Kenseth and Steve Park. The total winners after 26 races – it was in New Hampshire – were 13.

It’s not happening. If it does, something is fishy. Period. Define “fishy”? A teammate with a victory allows one without to win, or he doesn’t try quite as hard to catch him. That may not happen, and we may not know it if it does. Bonus points for winning have value, but, then again, so does being in the Chase, and the value is in money, not points. Points are just potential money, not cash on the barrelhead. Until the Chase, points are play money, or at the very most, Bargain Bucks.

Funny. Jimmie Johnson doesn't look like a 300-pound gorilla. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

Funny. Jimmie Johnson doesn’t look like a 300-pound gorilla. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

And who keeps cash on a barrelhead? Besides the Louvin Brothers, neither of whom is alive?

It’s newsworthy that there have been seven different winners in the first seven races, the most since 2003 (nine). It’s a coincidence, though. It isn’t surprising that Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Joey Logano have won. It is surprising that Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth haven’t. I’ll hazard a prediction. By regular season’s end, Johnson and Kenseth will have victories and likely more than one. I’d put multiple-victory money on Kyle Busch and Keselowski, too.

It wasn’t too long ago that some fans thought Earnhardt Jr. would finish first or second in every race.

It’s all been great. Can’t we just appreciate what’s happened so far for what it is?

The best depiction of this festival of optimism is a quote from Robert Kennedy, who said, “There are those who look at things the way they are and ask why? … I dream of things that never were and ask why not?”

It’s a nice thought, but this is NASCAR, not Camelot, and it was written by George Bernard Shaw, not Kennedy (who credited him at the time, which is something NASCAR would never do).

If you’re interested in a broader range of my writings – oh, short fiction and the like – take a look at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com from time to time.

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Who’ll Stop the Rain?

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The Elliotts and the Earnhardts didn't always fraternize in victory lanes. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

The Elliotts and the Earnhardts didn’t always fraternize in victory lanes. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, S.C., Sunday, April 6, 2014, 9:45 a.m.

It’s raining in Texas. It’s cloudy here and is supposed to rain tomorrow.

That’s the news, sports fans.

Texas Motor Speedway has lights, which could make this yet another long day’s journey into night. There may be a race on Monday. Some of you will know by the time you read this.

I can’t think of a poetic device to prevent this. A few I’ve had to look up, like onomatopoeia.

What must sustain us – as for me, personally, I may get some seat time with my lawn tractor – is the memory of Friday night, when what few people who realized the race wasn’t on Saturday saw a great race that was also a great story. The son of a man who was one of the more popular drivers in history claimed a stirring victory in the Nationwide race.

It wasn’t Dale Earnhardt Jr.

This photo of Bill Elliott was from 2012. Who's the kid? (John Clark photo)

This photo of Bill Elliott was from 2012. Who’s the kid? (John Clark photo)

Chase Elliott at 18 did an awesome imitation – “awesome” is an overused word, but, really, what other could I use? – of Bill at 28. Rich Little was envious.

NASCAR officials often perplex me, but more so now that I am away from the grind and relying on dull, emotionless transcripts bereft of facial expressions. I also never have transcripts sidle up alongside to ask in a half-whisper, “You heard what they done to [so-and-so]?”

After I never say “no,” the source never begins every single time with, “Well, what I heard tell is …”

Sitting at home means playing it straight. B-O-R-I-N-G.

I don’t understand the winds of change brewing out in Texas along with the thunderstorms.

The racing has been lovely. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

The racing has been lovely. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

NASCAR officials made changes in the offseason that make Obamacare seem like a test of the Emergency Broadcast System.

None of the six races has met expectations. All six have exceeded them. NASCAR needs 16 winners to fill a Chase, and it’s already got six. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Daytona 500. Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth haven’t won yet. Both Busch brothers have.

Please don’t confuse me with someone who likes the new Chase. I’d rather they bring in bells, whistles and Pat Sajak and just make it a real game show. But … from what NASCAR, Mark Goodson, and Bill Todman would have expected, it’s a regular The Price Is Right.

Apparently, NASCAR officials want to slow the cars down. Why? Oh, the leakage is all about manufacturers wanting six-cylinder engines, the “green initiative” (as everyone knows, NASCAR no longer puts up with any sort of emissions), concussion studies, “cost controls,” and how, ad infinitum, “you can’t tell the difference between 195 and 180 miles an hour.”

Who’s “you”? Fans? Okay. Drivers? They can tell the difference. They have to be better to go faster.

NASCAR officials have apparently improved the racing. While acknowledging the truth of this assertion, they think they can still make it better.

Cost controls? The reason they can’t possibly work is that NASCAR keeps changing everything before anyone saves any money.

Hey, it’s raining in Texas. My novels may not be the very best, but they are definitely better than rain-delay TV. You can download The Intangibles and/or The Audacity of Dope for your electronic device at amazon.com.

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At Long Last No Worries

werelost175

 

 

Clinton, S.C., Friday, April 4, 2014, 1:45 p.m.

It’s Opening Day at Fenway Park and, by extension, in my living room. Boston is commemorating a world championship, memorializing policemen, firefighters, and the Marathon tragedy, bringing the Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics into the act, and giving the avuncular Mayor, hizzoner Thomas Menino, his last hurrah.

I've never lived anywhere that wasn't in the Carolinas, but I've been a Red Sox fan since I was a fan at all.

I’ve never lived anywhere that wasn’t in the Carolinas, but I’ve been a Red Sox fan since I was a fan at all.

It’s much more than a baseball game, though the ballclub is exactly the World Champion.

Little (comparatively) pennants cascaded down the Green Monster for antiquity, that being the championships of 1903, 1915, 1916, and 1918. Then the pennants, as big as the whole wall, fell in order for 2004, 2007 and 2013, each draping over the previous one after billowing a while in the breeze. The Boston Pops provided the soundtrack, dressed in Red Sox jerseys of their very own.

Pedro Martinez was there. So were Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek, and, ubiquitously, Cowboy Kevin Millar.

The Dropkick Murphys performed, and their version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” even though the Pops accompanied, sounded like the original English drinking song, and that was fine, because that’s what our national song originally was. Little school girls, wearing colorful dresses, danced around the on-deck circle to the Murphys’ feisty refrains.

I was thinking last night that being a Red Sox fan has changed. It used to be more stressful, an addiction forged from an atmosphere of desperation. I used to wring my hands and say, “Just one! Before I die like my daddy did!”

Now, I really don’t think three World Championships are too many. I wouldn’t mind four, even.

The bad times don’t bother me as much. 2011 might have killed me had it not been for 2004 and 2007. At long last, it is an atmosphere, whether in the clubhouse or my easy chair, that is conducive to winning.

Take my books. Please. You can buy my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, here on this site, at amazon.com or bn.com, and at fine independent bookstores. You can read some shorter fiction at wellpilgrim.wordpress.com.

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The Mention Was An Honorable One

Nowadays I mainly sing at book signings, but this photo was taken in Charlotte at Puckett's a few years ago. (John Clark photo)

Nowadays I mainly sing at book signings, but this photo was taken in Charlotte at Puckett’s a few years ago. (John Clark photo)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, S.C., Thursday, April 3, 2014, 9:11 a.m.

Last week I learned that my song, “The Paved Road,” won honorable mention in an American Songwriter lyric contest. I passed this information along, but I didn’t receive the actual results until Wednesday.

No, it was not I. I've never even driven a Lexus.

It’s about a quarter mile from my house to the paved road. (John Clark photo)

I was a little low-key about the “honor” – I think I tweeted that my song was better than all those dishonorably mentioned – because it was the first time I entered the contest, which is held several times during the year and I wasn’t sure how much of an honor “honorable mention” was. If there were 100 songs on the honorable mention list, or instance, it would have suggested that the judges said, “hey, it rhymes all right, add it to the honorable mention.”

Blair Bodine, a woman from Nashville, won for a song called “Lonely Pretty Things.” Nick Deutsch of New York City finished second for “Crazy Ride,” followed by Joe Farren of New Lenox, Fla., for “Away Forever” and Dan Divine of Moundville, Mo., for “Dirt.”

It amused me that a song named “Dirt” came from Moundville.

My song was one of 10 to be named honorable mention, which made me feel better because one of 14 “winners” – oh, no, honorable mention didn’t earn “valuable prizes” – out of hundreds of entries wasn’t half bad. It was good enough to allow me to rationalize “Who knows? If a judge had liked my kind of music a little more, maybe I would have won,” and for those of us who don’t win “valuable prizes,” being able to speculate is mildly gratifying.

Some of the honorable mentions bettered me in titles, though I think “The Paved Road,” as in “hoping I can get … to the paved road” was appropriate.

However, another of the honorable mentions, Mark Stepakoff of Wellesley, Mass., wrote “When Vernon Moved from Tupelo,” Mike Leech of Fairfax, Vermont, wrote “Pillbillies,” and best of all, Max Tell of White Rock, B.C. (that’s Canada, not a comic strip) wrote “The Sasquatch that Botched Hopscotch.”

It didn’t surprise me that a sasquatch botched hopscotch but rather that someone wrote about it. I’m guessing the song is humorous.

For your perusal, here are the words of “The Paved Road”:

First thing that I saw / When I wrote up this morning / Was bad news on the TV I left on the night before / It’s the same old sad story / Somebody shot somebody / Most of the time the victim is a junkie or a whore.

CHORUS: Life is hard / No matter where you go / It’s a tortured path / Tough row to hoe / When the wheels spin / Got a heavy load / Hoping I can get / To the paved road.

By the time I ate my breakfast / It was snowing in Milwaukee / And when I ate my lunch, shots rang out in Labrador / All that rang at my house / Was an offer of new credit / Which I deserved about as much as any drunken troubadour.

Well, the woman that I loved / Didn’t quite return the favor / And the woman that loved me left me tinged with regret / As I ruminate about the fate of my sad depression / My life seems to more worthy than an empty silhouette.

Like any man I yearn / For some measure of fulfillment / My ambition stretches far beyond just paying all the bills / As I wonder how the hell / I can make my fortune / My life’s nestled in a valley surrounded by hills.

Here’s an old video of me singing it shortly after it was written:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxD08yGV7Nc

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The Prodigal Brother

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Clinton, S.C., Monday, March 31, 2014, 8:36 a.m.

While perusing the overnight emails, looking for some words to wrap a blog around, these words of Gene Haas advanced to the fore. The co-owner of Kurt Busch’s triumphant Chevy gave the company line about Busch’s breach in the comedy of manners that occurred on Martinsville Speedway’s pit road early in the race between the eventual winner and Brad Keselowski.

Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski: Therein lies the rub. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski: Therein lies the rub. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

“I’m sure he (Keselowski) sees it differently, but I will be honest with you,” said Haas, sounding very much like partner Tony Stewart. “I have been racing with stuff for a long time. Drivers run into us all the time, and I think that is just part of racing. As far as Kurt Busch handling it, I think he did a great job, and we have obviously found a solution for Kurt Busch. When he is in [the] Winner’s Circle, he doesn’t bitch about anything, so that is where we need to keep him.”

Haas underwrites a trio of drivers – Stewart, Busch, Kevin Harvick – for whom happiness is never farther away than the aforementioned winner’s circle, and one, Danica Patrick, who is cheerfully rationalized right out of the top 20. Many observers are so observant of Patrick’s moments of dim illumination that they’d all go blind if the sun ever shone. Twice, already, Stewart-Haas Racing has won. The skipper of the flagship, Stewart, is still a little shaky at the helm after his injury layoff. Harvick and Busch the Elder are Chase-bound. Patrick has a damn fine sponsor and a damn green car that is clearly visible no matter where on the track and in whose way it might be.

Oh, maybe she’ll come around. Maybe the glaciers will freeze again.

Haas deserves credit, though. His coalition government is holding together, and he is probably most responsible since he controls the purse strings. Its cohesion cannot but be tenuous. The personalities won’t allow stable government, just government that’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

Only one driver wins each week. Haas, whose fortune is in part due to the fact that he can do math, said, “Every time you win, you typically lose three times.”

Therein lies the rub, and forever shall it lie. This is a team whose happiness is fleeting.

10:08 a.m.

Kurt Busch has always been misunderstood, or perhaps the correct term is that he hasn’t been fully understood.

Kurt Busch didn't let a little tiff stop him at Martinsville. (Getty Images photo or NASCAR)

Kurt Busch didn’t let a little tiff stop him at Martinsville. (Getty Images photo or NASCAR)

During the term of his career, Busch has regularly made himself available for what, in NASCAR, are basically acts of civic responsibility. Track officials have often called on him to make promotional visits, sign autographs, and even sell tickets. He has always been a wonderful fellow when things are going his way.

Same with Stewart, same with Harvick, by the way.

When a race is on the line, and the pressure is on, Kurt Busch’s campfire often spreads into the surrounding forest. He’s paid for his transgressions. Joining Stewart-Haas has put Busch back in the forefront, as his inspirational victory at Martinsville attests. He’s back where his prodigious talents belong.

Busch outdueled Jimmie Johnson, which involves more than tugging on Superman’s cape. It involves yanking it loose. Busch isn’t the only driver to bristle at Johnson’s unprecedented success.

“You would think it would be worse today with not winning for two years,” he said. “It flashed through my mind when he passed me that I’m hungrier than he is. I’m ready to tackle 10 prime-rib steaks right now. I was hungry, and I wasn’t going to let this slip away with it being so close.

“You know, a few years back when we were battling, I was speaking for the fans. ‘Anybody but the 48,’ [because] when you have the same winner time and time again, it can get stale, and I wasn’t doing my job well enough on that team to challenge Jimmie for the win and to knock him off the top. When you win as much as he has, he has that target, and you want to go there and knock him off his podium.

“It was great to have raced him, and there was that respect today, because we don’t come from the same garage, but we do have some ties. We do have Mr. H (See Hendrick, Rick), we do have Tony Stewart and Gene Haas, and there is a little bit of that camaraderie of teammates back and forth, and you don’t want to start it off on a bad foot like that. But that’s an epic-type battle at a short track, with a six-time champion to go back and forth and exchange the lead, a couple taps, a couple moves, a little bit of a chess game. … I gave it all I had, and it felt good. It felt really good to give it my all, and deliver, and to win, knowing that after this two-year run, it can still be done.”

Keselowski says he's tired of Kurt Busch's "recklessness." (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Keselowski says Kurt Busch is reckless. (Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Keselowski, meanwhile, remains “tired of his recklessness,” and this brand of “tired” isn’t fatiguing. The escalating rivalry isn’t going away and will likely be contested with the minimum allowable civility.

Here’s how Keselowski, himself Chase-bound, as well, described the two faces of Busch the Elder: “He does awesome things for charity, and he’s probably the most talented race-car driver, but he’s also one of the dumbest, so put those three together.”

I heard an ESPN anchor say this morning that Keselowski threatened to rearrange Busch’s face. It was vice-versa, though the temper cooled when the checkered flag waved and victory begat relative tranquility

There’s another Busch brother, Kyle, who’s liable to find his way in, and the knife could cut either way. They’re all racers, not shopkeepers, and this is the way NASCAR is supposed to be.

Stewart-Haas Racing is composed, individually and collectively, of burning desire.

The next race is in Texas. For now, find yourself a book to read. I can help.

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Bee Gees, Bee Bees, Other Silliness …

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Denny Hamlin (left) explains everything to Jimmie Johnson. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Denny Hamlin (left) explains everything to Jimmie Johnson. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, S.C., Sunday, March 30, 2014, 9:28 a.m.

I started a blog, which started the whole world … blogging. I’m sure you all remember the early Bee Gees hit. Bee Gees stood for Brothers Gibb. That’s why I’ve sometimes called Kurt and Kyle Busch the Bee Bees.

That and the “Jive Talking.”

The reason for the start of this column is that it’s the second try. The “first lead” turned into the chorus of a song that almost certainly won’t be completed today owing to the intrusion of an almost-lethal dose of NASCAR. Not only is the Sprint Cup Series planning to complete at least 500 laps at Martinsville Speedway, but the Camping World Truck Series has budgeted at least 250 circuits after the Cup race is over.

All racing and no song (or fiction) writing makes Jack a dull boy, but not I! I’m in it for the long haul.

Another reason the song won’t get finished today is that it has nothing to do with NASCAR.

It’s nice to get a song from the abortive start of a NASCAR blog. I seldom get such inspiration from Fox Sports 1, which is understandable as inspiration is not the purpose of Fox Sports 1, and, furthermore, Fox Sports 1 seems uncertain about its own purpose. It seems illogically devoted to the strange bedfellows of automobile racing, major league baseball and worldwide soccer.

You may be able to tell this blog is still in search of definition as so far I have only digressed.

It’s time for one of the inspiration timeouts that are scheduled four times a half.

10:28 a.m.

Hasn’t this been a silly week?

Denny Hamlin got all hot and bothered because, apparently, at some remote outpost of the solar system and social media, “they all said” there was something fishy, not to be confused with something sharp and rusted, about his missing the race in Fontana.

People have a right to even their ridiculous, conspiratorial opinions. Hamlin’s just got to let it go.

For what it’s worth, here’s the balance. People will think what they want. As long as there is no specific person who says something happens, it should be ignored. “Party animal stays out all night and is too hung over to race” is a scenario that makes little sense. Plenty of allegations that do make sense are hindered by being untrue.

I understand Hamlin’s frustration, but by haranguing a mostly innocent audience, he created the old “Denny Hamlin lashed out at critics who allegedly claimed …” stories. There was no story until the story of there being no story popped up like a shower on the radar screen.

Martinsville's Saturday action: The factory Air Titan team lines up for the start. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Martinsville’s Saturday action: The factory Air Titan team lines up for the start. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Herewith are other mild observations:

The chief effect of knockout qualifying is that television now considers it suitably compelling to be replayed during rain delays.

NASCAR can do nothing to stanch its bleeding except let the wounds heal. The best solution is not an artificial limb. The races are good. By and large, the people who left did so for good reason. Gimmicks ran them off. Gimmicks won’t bring them back.

Two more times, and I’ll have Curt Menefee’s entire interview with Jimmie Johnson memorized. If it was a song, at least there’d be something I could use.

I once got a snippy email complaining that I referred to Juan Montoya instead of Juan Pablo Montoya. This morning I heard that he now prefers to be Juan Montoya in Indy cars. At least he doesn’t insist on being called Geoffrey.

Thanks for reading. I’ll find out later if you’re a lovely audience.

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Those All-Important, Cliche-Ridden Bonus Points

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Tony Stewart (left): "To be honest?" I didn't even go into Kurt Busch's various offenses. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Tony Stewart (left): “To be honest?” I didn’t even go into Kurt Busch’s various offenses. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, S.C., Friday, March 28, 2014, 12:53 p.m.

“Quite frankly,” Buddy Baker likes Tony Stewart “to be honest.”

Those are two NASCAR luminaries’ favorite clichés. I enjoy listening to Buddy on SiriusXM, and I listen to him enough to know how fond he is of saying “quite frankly.” As I haven’t been to the track and attended the media conferences in quite a while, I’m not sure if Tony Stewart still replies to a question with a question.

“To be honest?”

No, Tony. We all want you to be a politician.

I’m just noting this. I’m not passing judgment. Most people are cliché ridden. For instance, I say “actually” too often. When I listen to myself on tape, I always cringe when I hear that word come out of my mouth. Why do I hate myself for saying it? It could be because, when I was a kid, a popular sitcom was Gomer Pyle, USMC, and Gomer had a girlfriend – which he doesn’t have in real life – named Lou Ann Poovy, and she constantly said, “Wayull, Gomuh, actually …” Somehow, even though Private Pyle was stationed far away from Mayberry, it sounded as if Lou Ann was somehow from there, too.

Cliches cross all borders of education, income and prominence. Howard Cosell loved “plethoras,” especially the veritable ones. Cosell had one of the more idiotic clichés of all time.

“Tell us, Champ, in your own words …”

As opposed to … the words of Johnny Carson. Or Thomas Jefferson. Or Carol Channing.

"Remember, guys, just two tires on the right side." (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy Racing)

“Remember, guys, just two tires on the right side.” (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy Racing)

The great writer Larry McMurtry often finds matters “vexing.” Larry McReynolds loves to claim possession: “our race leader,” “our points leader,” “our Sprint Cup champion,” the one who gets at least two right-side. Goodyear Racing Eagles and fills up with Sunoco Racing Fuel.

As opposed to three right-side Goodyear Racing Eagles.

There’s Larry, there’s Darrell, and there’s his other brother, Michael.

A penalty might be having to go to the tail of the longer line (there are two, you might recall), but the announcer will always say “tail end of the longest line,” a needless superlative.

Then there’s that NEW TRACK RECORD! They never mention all those drivers who set old track records.

Cliches aren’t all bad. They can be used for effect. I used to be fond of saying, when all hell was breaking loose (as opposed to all those partial eruptions of hell), “Another … big … day.”

Another of my favorite clichés, self-evidently, is “as opposed to.”

Yet, still, I persist in writing novels. The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope are available here if you’d like to buy an autographed copy and have me ship it to you. If you’ve got a Kindle, they’re available at amazon.com, not to mention a growing number of bookstores.