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