Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, July 2, 2018, 11:59 a.m.
Fans are unreasonable by nature. If they weren’t fanatical, from which “fan” is derived, all sports would die. Passion and reason are often antithetical. Few of the virtues overlap.
If a Kyle Busch fan didn’t say “that damned Larson” first, and if a Kyle Larson didn’t say “that damned Busch” later, there would be evidence that NASCAR isn’t just declining. It’s dead.
What happened at the end of Sunday’s Overton’s 400 – in my postrace Facebook Live show, I called it something else, Overlook or Overlord or Overhaul, maybe all three – was evidence of what the late Dudley Moore, as Arthur Bach, asked.
“Isn’t fun the greatest thing you can have?”
The driver who lost at Chicagoland Speedway, Larson, thought it was fun.
“I mean, I hit him first, so … I roughed him up. He roughed me up. That’s racing. … That was hard racing. I had a lot of fun,” he said.
Junior got it right. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was describing the shindig on TV, screaming, “Slide jobbbb!” as if he were the late Keith Jackson screaming, “Touchdown, Aluuhhbammmma!”
Keith’s voice was a little deeper. When Junior gets up in age, his may be, too.
I was by myself, imagining a press box gaggle.
“Uh-oh … Uh-oh … not gonna work! Not gonna work!”
Oh, it worked, just not in the short run. Just not in the interests of both parties.
Emotions dictated my sentiments. That’s right. Even I, the seasoned, world-weary journalist. I don’t know what I want till I see it. I wanted Larson to win because he has become my favorite part of NASCAR. He’s 25, for real. I’ll probably think of him as 25 when he’s 45, in the off chance that I live that long. Jeff Gordon never aged much in my eyes. Larson rose up from the dirt tracks – around Sacramento, not Lavonia, but I don’t care if he came from dirt tracks around Medicine Hat, or Qatar, for that matter, where there may not be dirt tracks but there is definitely dirt – and I love watching him ride the rail, high, wide and handsome, as Ray Melton used to say.
“Best” involves many factors. “Exciting” is easy. These Kyles, Busch and Larson, are NASCAR’s most exciting. They are, respectively, the hope of the present and the hope of the future. Busch won. He’s the best now. His crew chief, Adam Stevens, called him “a one-in-a-million talent.” The United States is somewhere north of 327 million. I doubt there are 327 Kyle Busches. In NASCAR, there may be one more. Others are rising. Others are falling. It’s a moving target, but I doubt it’s ever added up to 327.
They were both trying to win. Both weren’t going to be happy about slamming, to and from. It was love and war, where’s all fair, according to Cervantes, Joe DiMaggio and Hemingway, at least.
“I was, like, surely he’s not going to drive into the side of me,” Busch said. “Then he did. After that point all games are off, right now, all bets are off. It’s wide-open here on out, back to the checkered flag.”
Only gloves were still on.
Some will speak of ethics, and fair play, and whether the race was good and clean.
Stevens said, “If you flipped those roles, would it happen that way? It’s quite possible. It seemed like just a hard racing move to me.”
The fans can make wild proposals, in part, because they don’t have to pay for them. Getting rid of intermediate, uh, “cookie-cutter tracks” is impractical. Races at those tracks used to be better. The economical way is to get them better again.
The biggest feel-good story is that a pair of rampaging Kyles made it seem possible.
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