Logano’s Turn to Be a Talladega Genius

Fans cheer the flyover prior to the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, April 30, 2018, 12:16 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

Talladega Superspeedway is a moving target in several ways.

Metaphors proliferate. A parking lot going 200 miles an hour. High-speed chess. High-speed Tetris. High speed, for sure.

After Joey Logano broke a long dry spell by winning the Geico 500, crew chief Todd Gordon said, “We came to a race track where Joey is one of the best plate racers, Brad (Keselowski), as well, and they work off each other.”

Every time a race is run at Talladega, particularly in the spring when new rules are in place, unexpected changes occur in the style, the balance of power, the ability to pass or lack thereof, and which drivers are adept and which aren’t.

This time Joey Logano’s number popped up. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Four of Jamie McMurray’s seven career victories have occurred at “plate tracks,” two apiece at Daytona and Talladega. It is popularly believed that McMurray is adept, but what has he done lately? In his last four visits, his “finishes” are 19th, second, 37th and 28th. Jimmie Johnson’s last six placings (because “finishes” often don’t mean finishing) are 18th, 22nd, 23rd, eighth, 24th and 12th.

It’s not that those numbers are surprising. Many drivers have Talladega histories that might as well have come up in the Powerball tube. McMurray, though, touched off one of Sunday’s two major crashes, and Johnson, the seven-time champion, caused the other.

McMurray also flipped 11 times in a Friday practice crash.

In the last 10 Talladega races, the leaders in terms of average finish are: (1.) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 11.2; (2.) Kevin Harvick 12.0; (3.) Kurt Busch 12.5; and (4.) Ryan Newman 12.9.

Logano’s average is 15.6. Seven drivers are better. Keselowsk’s is 17.3. Thirteen are better.

The numbers mainly make numbers irrelevant. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won six times at Talladega, averaged 16.8 in his last 10.

“Lies, damned lies and statistics.” Mark Twain said it often and attributed it to Benjamin Disraeli.

I could’ve sworn it was Larry McReynolds.

A decent portion of hell breaks loose. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

If anything truly dominates Talladega, it’s a car, not a driver. Fords have won the last six. Chevrolets won 13 in a row from 1999 through the first race of 2005. Then Dale Jarrett won in a Ford, and Chevrolets won four more.

Two massive pileups notwithstanding, the race on Sunday was, by Talladega’s garish standards, uneventful. The inside line was mostly the place to be. No one seemed to have much appetite for the supposedly “all-important” stage points.

Fox commentators Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon tried everything shy of the Warren Commission to absolve Johnson of blame for a crash he most definitely caused. It’s all right. It doesn’t take much of a mistake to set off a Talladega dust storm, but Johnson made one, and there really wasn’t any need to claim a tornado swooped down over the third turn and disappeared as quickly as it arrived.

Does McGruffy-Wuffy have a tippy-wippy? Was Johnson covered for a zombie apocalypse in his policy? Who, in fact, did frame Roger Rabbit?

“Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer” was a song penned by Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh. It was about a World War II bomber, but it could have been about a stock car at Talladega.

And Kenny Wallace could have written it.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

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Never Average, Usually Wild

(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, April 29, 2018, 8:32 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Joe Garagiola said baseball is a funny game – once upon a time, I read the book – and Talladega Superspeedway is a funny place.

It’s hard to round up the usual suspects. By the time they’re detained, their lightning-fast race cars are often crumpled and disfigured. Those cars, even while they’re still intact, aren’t as fast as they could be. Their engines have these devices called restrictor plates, which used to be placed between carburetors and manifolds, but that was when they still had carburetors. Now they’re somewhere else, but the specifics of fuel injection elude me.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Monte Dutton photo)

All I really need to know is that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won last year. Stenhouse is a good driver, but his trusty mounts do not have the gallop speed necessary to win at most tracks. He also won at Talladega’s older brother in Daytona Beach, Fla.

What do these men have in common? Richard Brickhouse, James Hylton (R.I.P.), Dick Brooks, Lennie Pond, Ron Bouchard, Bobby Hillin Jr., Phil Parsons, Brian Vickers and David Ragan.

They all won there. Combined, they have won 13 times, and nine were at Talladega. For seven, it was their first, and for six, it was their only.

Are you tired of Kyle Busch after three straight victories? Did Kevin Harvick make you weary earlier in the year? Either may win the Geico 500. Those mysterious plates don’t hinder the best and brightest. They just elevate the better and brighter.

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

The site of NASCAR’s most frenetic races fills my memories and freezes them in time. The action and videos exist in my mind as moments and snapshots. Over two decades, only three times was I sick on a race weekend, and two were at Talladega. It was where I saw two dear friends for the final time, and both perished suddenly a few days later.

I remember exactly where I was when Davey Allison’s helicopter, Tony Roper’s truck and Jack Roush’s ultralight crashed. Roush lived. Roper perished in Texas, but I washed it on TV next to a swimming pool in Anniston. The memories are in color. The color is red.

Not all the memories are sad. Many others are funny. If ever Talladega hosted an average race, it was an anomaly. Lay all those races end to end, and they still point in all directions.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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A Glorious Anachronism

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, April 28, 2018, 10:57 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I thought about James Harvey Hylton the day before yesterday. Some local hardhead came up, and it made me think of what James called himself when I was wrting a long profile of him back in 1993 or ’94.

The Last of the Mohicans. That he was.

I’m not overwhelmed with sadness. James was 83 and a racer till the end. When he and his son, “Tweety,” perished in a highway crash this morning, they were headed back to Inman because ARCA ran a race at Talladega on Friday and James owned an ARCA team.

As I’ve gotten older and experienced the tragedies that all of us go through, I’ve come to reserve my deepest grief for those who don’t get a chance to live a life as full as Hylton’s.

Frank Sinatra never did it his way anywhere close to as much as Hylton did. When I still went to the tracks, I almost always strolled over to the ARCA garage to chat with him and Terry Strange, who considered James the closest thing to a father he ever had. Terry was seriously injured in the crash, too.

James Hylton (arcaracing.com)

I had even mentioned James in the blog this one was supposed to be and will probably be resumed tomorrow. He was in a list of unlikely Talladega winners. I remember distinctly James outdueling Ramo Stott, in the Talladega 500 on August 6, 1972 as I listened on the radio. He drove an orange Mercury sponsored by a short-lived soft drink named Pop Kola. He also won the Richmond 500 on March 1, 1970.

The only driver who ever won a championship in NASCAR’s premier series in No. 48 is Jimmie Johnson, but Hylton was runner-up in the standings three times – 1966 to David Pearson, ’67 and ’71 to Richard Petty – not to mention third four times and fourth once. His was a substantial career, and not only was he the last of the Mohicans. He may have been the greatest of NASCAR’s true independents.

James was 78 when he ran his last ARCA race, finishing 18th in a race known as the Kansas Lottery 98.9 – predictably at Kansas Speedway — on Oct. 4, 2013. He raced because it was all he ever wanted to do, and his personality was that of a cowboy, a guitar picker and a mountain trapper.

And, oh, yeah, a Mohican.

Once, at Charlotte Motor Speedway, James was frustrated after failing to make the field for an ARCA race. He slid behind the wheel of the old Dodge that he claimed had a million miles on it, ready to head home. A guard told him he couldn’t go out the chain-link gate he came in, and James told him, by God, he would. He backed that truck up, revved the engine and ran it right through the gate. I can’t find any evidence that he ever ran Charlotte again. I’m satisfied he didn’t pay for that gate.

(Getty Images for NASCAR)

James had a homemade dynamometer in the yard of his shop. It had a rusting tractor seat, a gear shift, a transmission into which his engines were inserted, and a huge propeller. He measured the horsepower from the revolutions of the propeller. He told me he got that idea from Robert Yates and insisted it was more accurate than those high-dollar dynos others used. He also mixed up a silicate solution that he poured into an engine to make a cracked block last for a while. He told me that stuff cost $40 a can at the parts trailer, but he could mix it up for a lot less, and the only difference was that his wasn’t tinted black.

It was fitting in more than one way that James died on the way home from Talladega and not just because it was the site of his greatest victory. He told me it was also the beginning of his end. Both of his victories occurred afterwards, but he was a ringleader in the group known as the Professional Drivers Association (PDA), which boycotted the first-every Talladega race. Most of the big names followed suit, but Big Bill France eventually crushed that union. Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and others worked their way back into NASCAR’s good graces, but James didn’t have their star power, and the powers that were eventually squashed him like an annoying bug. He thought they stole some of his sponsors and ran others away from then on.

James was bitter, but he didn’t give a damn what they did, and, in the hereafter, I hope he wins.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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Hail the Conquering Hero

Kyle Busch celebrates with the fans. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, April 22, 11:15 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Kyle Busch may be a flawed hero, but, at the moment, he’s the only hope.

That may be a consequence of immediacy, which seems to be all that matters anymore. In the Age of Technology, there is no past, no future, only present. Busch has won three races in a row. Kevin Harvick won three straight earlier in this very season, but no matter. Even before Busch increased the relevance of the title, Toyota Owners 400, the marketing engine was cranking. He and Dale Earnhardt Jr. publicly buried an old, rusty hatchet. The sudden Man of the People climbed into the grandstands to mingle with the fans.

Darrell Wallace Jr. leads a pack of cars. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Richmond Raceway’s return to the springtime night was a good, not great, race, but if a classic is run every week, it ceases to be a classic. Five days earlier, in the gloom of a Monday afternoon, Busch won a marvelous Bristol race in front of a crowd that rounded down to zero. Saturday night’s was merely disappointing, in spite of lovely weather.

At the moment, there isn’t much else out there, and Busch is basically it. His Toyota advertised three flavors of M&Ms. None was vanilla. He’s got that going for him.

Busch started 32nd. It’s not the disadvantage it once was, what with all the bells and whistles, but it’s good for the sport to see a fast car slicing and dicing its way through the field.

I kept my head down, kept myself focused all night long, trying to bring home a win,” Busch said.

Who could dislike this guy? (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Perhaps the excursion into the stands was a good test of how fans are finally getting accustomed to Busch’s contrary ways. Those who lingered were happy to see him. Those who didn’t were either in their personal vehicles, trying to get out of there, or stomping toward them with invective on their breaths.

Aw, what the hell.

Don’t worry,” Busch said. “I was definitely eyeing it out, like, who’s there, who’s there, who’s there.  Saw a lot of ‘18’ stuff, so I just decided to go up there, give some guys and some kids some high fives, what’s ups. Fortunately, I got back out of there. They held onto me for a second, then my brute strength ripped me out of their arms and brought me back to civilization on the race track.”

The masses may not be fully acclimated, but they’ve lost their interest in fistfights. It’s called progress. As Virginia’s Statler Brothers almost sang, “Junior’s gone, and Disney’s dead, and the screen is filled with sex.”

Harvick still lurks. Chase Elliott still runs second. Jimmie Johnson is starting to rustle. The other kids are removing the training wheels from their bikes.

It’s natural to play the hot hand.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

(Cover design by Steven Novak)

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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No Need to Stop the Presses

A Mustang leads a Camaro leads a Camry. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, April 20, 2018, 11:45 a.m.

 

By Monte Dutton

As of the end of 2017, 125,809 Ford Mustangs were registered around the world. The United States had 81,866 of them tooling around. Next year, oh, 10 or so, maybe as many as 15, will be lapping a variety of tracks in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races.

 

It’s no surprise. Chevrolet debuted its version of the Camaro in Cup this year. Camaros and Mustangs have been the model of choice in the Xfinity Series and its precursors since 2011. Once they enjoyed the company of Dodge Challengers until Chrysler left the sport in 2013. Toyota persists with its NASCAR version of the Camry, mainly because the Japanese manufacturer enters no equivalent to Mustangs or Camaros on the highways, let alone the raceways.

NASCAR needs more such fans. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

 

I modestly called for “muscle cars” or whatever one chooses to call them – “muscle cars,” “sports cars,” “baby grands,” or, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. might say, “whatnot” – in NASCAR’s second-string series for most of a decade before they were adapted for such competition. My idea was that the Busch (then Nationwide, then Xfinity) Series would be a great place to get kids involved. It would provide an identity to a series that mainly consisted of racing between less powerful, minutely smaller cars that looked just like those in the more significant races run the following day or night.

 

It didn’t happen. Next year it’s back to slightly sportier basics.

 

This leaves with me with mixed feelings. I guess the benefits of pulses that could mildly quicken overweigh the concerns of renewed sameness. Forty percent of me is happy. Thirty-five percent thinks nothing matters. Twenty-five percent sinks into a blue oval funk.

 

I hope it works. I hope anything works. Camaros and Mustangs beat electric driverless cars.

 

I mean, don’t they?

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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Watch What You Ask for: Kyle Busch Might Just Get It

Kyle Busch bows to the smattering. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, April 17, 2018, 10:01 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Kyle Busch wins a lot, particularly at Bristol Motor Speedway. Monday’s rain-postponed conclusion of the Food City 500 gave a unique flavor to his seventh BMS triumph. Neither Kyle nor his brother Kurt, who has won five times in the hills of the family’s own private Las Vegas, is warmly regarded in a locale that really shares little with their hometown.

The self-proclaimed Last Colosseum’s latest toga party was sparsely attended. Kyle enjoys bowing grandly when he departs his chariot, letting the masses know they might as well settle down because there’s nothng they can do to stop him.

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

A liberal estimate of those who trudged into the vast grandstands to sit through rain and finally get the goldarned race done was 8,000.

Hopefully, when we come back here in the fall time, August, we have a better opportunity to hear more boos after the race,” Busch said, most likely with some mischief in his vocal folds.

The Busch contingent, the Rowdy Nation, was reportedly little but loud. Sound gets amplified in the reverberations across vacant grandstands.

In the area where Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina meet, with Kentucky lingering nearby, a heap of people must have been out of sick days at work. It was a shame. TV ratings will reveal that millions of others missed a slobberknocker of a race.

Kyle Larson hangs on and winds up second. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Busch did his part. So did Kyle Larson, who seems to finish second every time they race there. Jimmie Johnson was third, six positions better than the seven-time champion’s best in the first seven races. Fords took five of the top 10, but none was better than fourth, and fourth was Ricky Stenhouse, another who wowed the smattering.

Notably unfortunate were Ryan Blaney, who dominated the Sunday activity before driving into a wreck he couldn’t possiby have avoided; Brad Keselowski, who won the two stages; and Darrell Wallace, who faded at the end to 16th but likely inspired many a fan who faced no traffic on the way home to proclaim, “One day, that’s kid’s gonna win here.”

Back home, I sort of wanted to cry. Such an extraordinary race. Such a small number to watch it.

Kyle Busch chases Darrell Wallace. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Fans said they wanted a Bristol race like the old days. They got it. Harry Hogge could have been the crew chief of every car on the track.

He didn’t wreck you, Cole. He rubbed you. And rubbin’ is racin’.

Thirteen caution flags. Eighteen lead changes. The only Toyota that finished in the top 10 was the one that took the checkered flag.

What sets Kyle Busch apart – and once distinguished his older brother – is what seems to be a natural ability to keep a car clean until the time when it needs to get dented.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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Even the Best Has Something to Prove

Jimmie Johnson sits in his car during practice for the Food City 500 at Bristol. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, April 13, 2018, 2:27 p.m.

Is this the week the mystery of Jimmie Johnson subsides? The dominant driver of his generation hasn’t won in 30 races. He’s won 83 Cup races and seven championships, but his best finish this year is ninth.

By Monte Dutton

He’s 42. He won the record-tying seventh title just two years ago. Are his skills starting to fade? Is the sport starting to pass Hendrick Motorsports by? Is the new Chevrolet Camaro, which has won only one of the season’s seven races to date, at a disadvantage?

Bristol Motor Speedway is a good place for Johnson’s troubles to end. He won the Food City 500 last year. Aerodynamics makes less difference on a short track. On the other hand, Johnson has only won at Bristol twice ever. The only current tracks where he has never won are Chicagoland, Kentucky and Watkins Glen.

Johnson is in phenomenal shape. He reportedly rode 100 mountainous miles on a bicycle recently, but cycling won’t make him better in race cars. He’ll just feel better when he’s in them.

This race track is one of my favorite ones to come to. It’s my favorite race track to watch a race,” Johnson said on Friday. “I’ve joked here in the past that I love to watch a race here and don’t necessarily enjoy driving in a race here. There isn’t another track in the country like this place to get used to it.

Some guys have taken to it really quickly. For me, it’s taken some time, and it’s been a crazy journey along the way.”

Johnson pits at Auto Club Speedway. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Richard Petty won his seventh championship in 1979. Dale Earnhardt’s was in 1994. Both spent a long time chasing an eighth. Earnhardt pursued it for the rest of his life.

The window of opportunity varies in time from one driver to another, but eventually it closes. If Johnson’s skills are leveling off, he hasn’t noticed.

We have high expectations for ourselves, first and foremost,” he said, “and we think that we should be in a position to win races every year and compete for race wins each weekend, so I think, within that, there are a lot of fair questions being asked. I think there is overreaction by fans and media on that last upper percentile of it, especially all the kind and wonderful people on social media and the things that they have to say. … There are small increments from good to great, and right now, we’ve just been in that good category. We need to be great. We want to be great.”

Jimmie Johnson (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

It seems absurd that one of the NASCAR all-time greats is feeling pressure. What does Johnson have to prove? Nothing in one sense, but every driver has to prove himself in another whenever he climbs into the car, no matter how short the ride or long the past.

By no means am I content with where I’m at and where this team is at in our performances, “Johnson said.We can’t work any harder. Manufacturer. Driver. Crew Chief. Team. Organization. We can’t. We are literally working around the clock and doing anything and everything we can. So, at some point you have to say, we’re all in. We just need time. We’ll get there. We need more from everywhere right now is our approach. There’s not just a silver bullet that’s like okay, boom, if it’s this, then everything would be fine. It’s not that.”

There’s one more factor. For the first time, Johnson’s team doesn’t have sponsorship next year. He has been identified, almost exclusively, with Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouses for his entire Cup career. Is Lowe’s moving on because its star is fading? That’s impossible to say because, even if it’s true, no one is going to admit it. Lowe’s may just believe it’s time to move on and that the benefit it derives from Johnson and NASCAR has run its course.

No matter the historic greatness of Johnson’s career, memories are short. At the moment, he is no better than his last 30 races. The man who has won everything has to win some more.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

 

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Happiness is Hard, but Simple

Kyle Busch poses in Victory Lane with his son, Brexton, and wife Samantha after winning at Texas Motor Speedway. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, April 9, 2018, 9:59 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I stared at the screen, seeing lucky stars. It was too good to be true. It was what I’ve written dozens of times.

After winning the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch said it himself: “This ain’t no ‘new Kyle Busch talk’ again, is it? That doesn’t exist.”

Praise the Lord and pass the gravy.

The younger of Las Vegas-raised racing brothers has never subscribed to the gentlemanly model of sporting heroes. He’s closer to the poetic model of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The was a little girl / Who had a little curl / Right in the middle of her forehead / When she was good / She was very good indeed / But when she was bad she was horrid.

Please do not succumb to the silly notion that Busch is being compared to a school girl. That would only make you, esteemed reader, the schoolgirl in question. It’s just the limerick that makes me think of him.

Busch is always proficient, and when he is good, which is to say, when he wins, he is just as good in the media conference. When he doesn’t win, he attempts to throw the world off its axis. He rubs it the wrong way.

For fans, not only is there no middle ground on Kyle Busch, but there’s none in his character, either.

Denny Hamlin (11) and Brad Keselowski were among many potential contenders eliminated in Texas crashes. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

All drivers want to win. Busch demands it. He abides nothing less. He wins enough to prevent his interior furnace from exploding.

In the final 25 laps or so, Kevin Harvick, three times a winner already in the Monster Energy Cup Series’ first seven races, gobbled up most of Busch’s lead. While Harvick and his trusty Ford had been traversing much of the country against scant resistance, Busch was finishing second three times and third once.

Adam Stevens, Busch’s crew chief, must have felt like Scotty in Star Trek.

I’m giving her all she’s got, Captain!

As the laps expired, the plot was simple. The variables were limited to two cars and two men in them.

The final few laps? Gosh, I don’t know,” Stevens said. “Once we made that last green-flag stop, I was committed to not pitting again. It was kind of out of my hands at that point. It was just to see if we could hold off the ‘4’ (Harvick). They had a really good car; they were fast. Seemed like we were pretty evenly matched. It was going to be a tall task to pass a car that was evenly matched, as it would have been for us to pass him.

Kyle got on the wheel, busted out those last 25 laps, and here we are.”

Busch is happy again. Happiness is never farther away than the next checkered flag.

 

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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Why Not Share a Little Pain?

Trucks at Eldora. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, April 5, 2018, 3:09 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

This is an old idea. I proposed it many years ago, before there were playoffs. The late David Poole proposed something similar before I did. Miraculously, even though David and I kept close tabs on each other, I didn’t know he had written something similar.

In reality, the notion wasn’t original to David or me. We both got it, in separate conversations over dinner, or at a ballgame, from the late Ed Shull, who, for many years, directed Gatorade’s NASCAR program and was a peach of a fellow. He’s one of relatively few people ever to pitch an idea that David and I both liked.

The idea was how to reconfigure NASCAR’s schedule in order to work in more tracks without placing too onerous a burden on the ones currently involved. Back when we originally wrote about it, the idea was to keep some room for tracks that were endangered and are mainly out of business now.

This morning, while I was writing a chapter of fiction, at some point when I should have been thinking about baseball, it occurred to me that these same principles might apply, now that the 2019 schedule has been announced with almost no change from the existing one, and adjustments that won’t occur have stirred up some discussion over adjustments that should have.

Charlotte Motor Speedway (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Thirteen tracks have two annual races. Ten have one. I increased the group of 13 by five, adding tracks that once had two a year: Atlanta, California, Chicagoland, Darlington and New Hampshire. Then I left the tracks in the NASCAR capitals of Daytona Beach and Charlotte with two each. The remaining 16 are grouped, mostly geographically, in twos, with each track getting a combined total of three each year. One gets two of the three one year, the other track the next.

The groups are: (1.) Atlanta-Darlington; (2.) Bristol-Martinsville; (3.) Las Vegas-Phoenix; (4.) Chicagoland-Kansas; (5.) California-Michigan; (6.) New Hampshire-Pocono; (7.) Dover-Richmond; and (8.) Talladega-Texas.

The above groups could be paired differently, but the basic concept leaves a 36-race schedule with four races at Charlotte-Daytona, 24 among the eight groups, five at tracks with one date (Indianapolis, Kentucky, Miami, Sonoma and Watkins Glen) and three vacancies.

That makes room for Iowa, a short track; Road America (Elkhart Lake, Wis.), a road course; and Eldora (Rossburg, Ohio), a dirt track. Or the road course in Austin, Texas. Or the dirt track in Knoxville, Iowa. Or somewhere in the Rockies or the Northwest where NASCAR currently doesn’t go. Or Canada. Or Mexico. I don’t know. Bahrain. Australia. Japan. Rockingham. North Wilkesboro. The Nashville Fairgrounds. Mid-Ohio. Lucas Oil Raceway Park.

Everyone’s arguing now. Might as well argue some more.

NASCAR can play those three hands with whichever cards it draws. The all-star races could be left alone – both are parts of annual festivals, in a way – or even shopped around as tryouts where tracks could prove their ability to draw viewers.

NASCAR’s All-Stars Come to Newton, Iowa! It’ll be bigger than the tent revival!

This is a fantasy blog. It doesn’t really mean anything, but people love to talk.

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy are posted here.

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The Future Isn’t the Past

Texas Motor Speedway (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, April 4, 2018, 9:45 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Are you ready for a rewind?

NASCAR doesn’t race on Easter weekend. If such a word as tradition exists practically anymore, this one persists. Every informal, unscientific internet poll I’ve seen shows that the fans loved Martinsville, and I don’t question the legitimacy. Clint Bowyer’s surprising victory was a rousing spectacle. Perhaps it would have been beneficial to use the next weekend to build on that momentum, but if the race at Texas Motor Speedway had been last Sunday instead of next, it might have been one gigantic buzz kill.

An off week settles things down. One of the overlooked facets of sports is that everyone exaggerates everything. If Kevin Harvick wins three straight races, stories pop up with headlines such as:

Where Does Harvick Rank Among NASCAR’s All-Time Greats?

Kevin Harvick celebrates with his crew after winning at ISM Raceway on March 11. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Answer: It’s impossible to determine until Harvick’s career is over. He’ll make the NASCAR Hall of Fame one day, but, by then, its membership will be swelled far beyond even what it is now. Harvick is a very good driver who has had a very good career. He has time to achieve greatness. Every driver has a clock ticking, but no one knows how fast it tocks.

Martin Truex, the current champion, won in Fontana, setting off a short wave of “here we go again” that lasted up until Bowyer tamed Martinsville with the season’s second of many Cinderella stories to follow. The period since set off a wave of demands for more short tracks, and this summer will bring, along with its hurricanes, a demand for more road courses.

In evaluating the best path to the future, the people who half-populate the grandstands and media centers are at a distinct disadvantage in the prognostication racket. They don’t have to pay for it.

The most lavish, expensive, fan-friendly, interactive facilities in NASCAR are large tracks that were not built with cash on the barrelhead. They have debt service. They know the difference between one race and two. They know the difference in ticket and TV revenue, along with all the lesser revenues.

The answer isn’t shutting down tracks. The answer isn’t a once-great track lying dormant, such as the one in College Station, Texas, where thousands of cars damaged by Hurricane Harvey now reside.

(Monte Dutton photo)

The answer is making the racing at those tracks better. It was not always deemed moribund. Some of NASCAR’s more memorable events occurred at Charlotte Motor Speedway. One cannot go to races at Charlotte, Texas, Atlanta, Chicagoland, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Michigan, Fontana or Homestead without hearing the same refrain: You should’ve seen the races we used to run here.

I’ve always loved short tracks. I grew up watching races at Greenville-Pickens Speedway. Darlington is my favorite NASCAR track, but Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond queue up next in my mind’s line. I enjoy the road races more on TV than being there because it always annoyed me that I couldn’t see enough of what was going on to suit me.

I’m looking forward to Texas. I loved going there. It was an event as much as a race. Seldom have I failed to find something that interested me. Flamboyance wafts in the Texas breeze.

NASCAR keeps tearing down what it needs to build up, and my reference isn’t just to grandstands.

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’ll be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

Lightning in a Bottle, the first of my two motorsports novels, is now available in audio (Audible, Amazon, iTunes) with the extraordinary narration of Jay Harper.

Just out is my eighth novel, a political crime thriller called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

My writing on local sports, writing, books, and other topics that strike my fancy are posted here.

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