Here in Topeka

David allegedly slays Goliath. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, July 22, 2018, 8:35 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

It’s rainy outside. It’s rainy in New Hampshire, and I’m thinking of the words to Loretta Lynn’s old song, “One’s on the Way.”

Then there’s Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”

From time to time, usually on social media, someone young and tragically hip ridicules the fashions of the past: shorts that were too short, ties that were too wide, an absurd fascination with plaid sportcoats, etc.

Meanwhile, I’m old enough to recall, even as I chuckle at all the mistakes of the past that make me cringe, that, 40 years ago, those duds seemed way cool. It’s all a matter of fashion.

(Monte Dutton photo)

NASCAR went out of fashion.

Back in relative antiquity – oh, circa 2012 – I was considered by some to be an aging radical of the stock car movement.

Remain calm. All is well.

Brad Keselowski unintentionally mimics Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

It’s easy to identify the wide, wide world of excuses why NASCAR has fallen faster than Bill Cosby. There’s no need to list them here. They’ve been listed since the sport topped off in the middle of the last decade, tilted downhill and picked up speed like Merle Haggard’s “snowball headed for hell.” I tried to address them with two stock car racing novels, Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated, in 2017.

Now I’ve become a sad voice of moderation. I still watch the races. I still like the sport. I liked it better in the 1990s. I must not be too off base. America liked it, too.

Old-time fans grew disillusioned. Kids determined it was no longer lit. The sport’s crack marketers opted for a policy of denial. They stopped divulging unimportant details such as how much money everyone made and how many people were watching. TV announcers became cheerleaders. Hyperbole works so much better when satirical. When NBC’s Rick Allen screamed “David beats Goliath!” at the end of Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, it sounded as if he was serious.

Christopher Bell celebrates. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Had I not started laughing at the equating of the mildly impressive with the biblical, I might have dwelt on the impressive abilities of young Christopher Bell.

Oh, the TV announcers, they try. Lord, how they try to whip up chicken salad from … hmm … in the interest of civility … hardboiled eggs.

The race didn’t need chicken salad. It was fried chicken on its own merits.

This blog is being written in anticipation of alternating between the British Open, Chris Sale pitching for the Red Sox in Detroit and checking back to see if it’s still raining in Loudon. NBC Sports will attempt to keep me there by means of the pulse-quickening anticipation of seeing which T-shirt Dale Earnhardt Jr. is wearing and which cap he’s got on backwards.

Someone important probably thinks the kids will love it because they have “short attention spans.” Here’s what I know. A kid who can play a video game for longer than it takes Tiger Woods to play his round at Carnoustie does not have a short attention span.

Someone important thinks auto racing, among the more technologically advanced of the world’s spectator pastimes, is a casualty of technology.

The technology is oppressive. It’s the presentation that is being dumbed to death.

 

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. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Life is like a heap of boiled peanuts, though I don’t know exactly why. (Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, July 20, 2018, 3:51 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I hate the All-Star Break. The game’s fine, though I didn’t get to watch it this year because I was watching Laurens City Council go into executive session and then two men debating whether or not the county’s two public school districts ought to be combined.

The City Council took no action when it emerged, and Districts 55 and 56 aren’t going to be combined any time soon. They almost were earlier this year, but I’m not going into those complications right now. I enjoyed watching the debate, which one of the debaters said was really “a forum.” A funny thing happened on the way to the forum: I didn’t get to watch the All-Star Game.

Things seem a bit out of kilter. (Monte Dutton photo)

Baseball often makes up the background of my day. Afternoon games are on while I’m writing something like this. I don’t pay close attention. In general, I just look up when announcers start yelling and/or crowds start yelling. Other backgrounds that I like are the constant drone of fans during World Cup matches and, the past two days, the martial music and quiet remarks emanating from the Scottish golf course called Carnoustie through the miracle of TV.

The Boston Red Sox resume at 7 p.m. When last I watched the Red Sox – they’ve been my favorite baseball team since I was nine years old – they had won 12 out of 13 and 17 out of 20. At the moment, all that could possibly be better for the Red Sox would be Dustin Pedroia playing in more than three games this year and Eduardo Rodriguez not hurting his right ankle.

(Monte Dutton photo)

It’s hard to beat a 68-30 record and a 4-1/2-game lead over the New York Yankees. In fact, no other team beats it. Nothing teaches the merits of enjoying good times while they last than being a fan of the Battlin’ Bosox of the Fens.

It’s a long season that has so far been marvelous. It’s nice to have a baseball team in Boston to keep me passionate about something.

For 20 years, life revolved around NASCAR. Comparatively, it seems rather gentle on my mind these days. I still follow it closely. It remains important to me, but the sinking feeling is oppressive. It’s the same feeling I have about most of the world.

(Getty Images photo for NASCAR)

Football season will soon be here. Today I have buried myself in relatively menial tasks because I lack the motivation to do anything particularly creative. I value the televised background – Columbo reruns, the Open, a World Cup without the United States, old movies – because it helps me bide my time against the more significant backdrop of politics. The tone of this week was set by two men standing behind podiums in Helsinki on Monday.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I’m awaiting the will again. I can’t help but repeat the same phrase over and over in the privacy of my mind.

Nothing. Ever. Works.

It seems as if it’s the Red Sox and I against the world.

 

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. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

My writing on other topics that strike my fancy is posted here.

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NASCAR Needs Others to Pick Up the Pace

Crew members push the Toyota of Martin Truex Jr., which then won everything but the land-speed record. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, July 15, 2018, 11:04 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Who could possibly dislike Martin Truex Jr.? He’s a pleasant fellow who laughs easily, gives to charity, is kind and agreeable to those around him, and, most pertinent to the subject at hand, drives a Toyota somewhat Camry with great verve.

Fans who dislike Truex mostly do so for lateral reasons. They don’t like Toyotas, or they don’t like people from New Jersey, or they don’t like Truex preventing their own favorite drivers from winning. They hold it against Truex when he does what he is supposed to do, which is to win races without being unduly concerned about stinking up the show.

A stunk-up show tends to reduce the variables that can prevent a deserving driver from winning.

On Saturday night, near the banks of the Ohio River, in front of crowds of fans and television viewers whose numbers were not the best, Truex put a garish whipping on the rest of NASCAR’s best and fastest.

Kevin Harvick pits during the Quaker State 400. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Truex was really good, and, without any blame in the matter, made many others look bad by comparison. He was suitably sheepish.

Really, the last three years [I]have been just having the time of my life, and [I’m] just lucky to have great people around us, a great car owner,” he said. “Barney Visser gives us all the tools we need, and [we’ve had] great partners throughout the years to continue to build this team up.

They call it The Streak.(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

[I] just feel really lucky. I’ve been on the other side of it before, where teams were struggling and struggled to get in position to win races, and having a lot of things kind of going against you and kind of fighting that uphill battle, so it’s amazing to be on this side of it. I can’t tell you how proud I am of all the guys on our team and what they’ve done, and I honestly just enjoy every single one of these wins like it’s my first because you never know when they’re going to come to an end. You never know when you’re going to have your last one. You never know what’s going to happen next. [I’m] just trying to ride the wave of momentum and enjoy it all, and my team is just so bad-ass, I can’t even explain it. They’re amazing. [I’m] really lucky to be a part of that.”

Among people and entities made to look bad by Truex were other drivers and teams, NASCAR commercials that led fans to believe the race was going to be something akin to an action-adventure film, announcers trying desperately to make it look like anyone else could plausibly win and television viewers wishing they had dropped by the liquor store on Saturday afternoon.

Martin Truex Jr. won for the fourth time. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Truex led only 174 out of 267 laps, mostly because occasionally, he had to pit, and sometimes he didn’t make it out of the pits first.

On Twitter, a frequent refrain was, NASCAR has to do something!

(Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

No, it doesn’t. NASCAR has done quite enough. Other teams have to do something. In the movie True Grit, after Rooster Cogburn shoots a rat dead in the presence of young Mattie Ross of Dardanelle in Yell County, Ark., she tells the tomcat in Cogburn’s untidy abode, “This is supposed to be your job,” and she could have been sitting in the Kentucky Speedway grandstands.

It’s not Truex every week. Sometimes it’s Kyle Busch. Sometimes it’s Kevin Harvick. Twice it’s even been Clint Bowyer. Three drivers have combined to win 14 of the season’s 18 races, and five have won 16 of them.

Victory lanes have had the level of privacy this year normally associated with Mount Rushmore.

 

 

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. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country. Beginning on Monday and running through Friday, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is available for a free Kindle download.

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

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Close to Home and Far, Far Away

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, July 13, 2018, 8:27 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I really wanted England to reach the World Cup finals. It was like everything else now that my job responsibilites keep me preoccupied. I’m forever editing, choosing photos, and interviewing someone on the phone. The TV is on, and I look up when announcers start yelling.

Out on the edge of my consciousness, it seemed to me that Croatia gradually took control of the semifinal match. Croatia is fortunate. If its team had been this good four years ago, Russia would have invaded or at least demanded annexation.

The Boston Red Sox have won 10 games in a row. They are 37 games above .500 for the first time since 1949. They have nine or more straight games twice in a season for the first time since 1948. I wasn’t born in 1948-49. Thus am I unprecedentedly happy in a small way.

I’ve seen parts of four youth baseball games in the past two days. The local teams both split and saw their seasons end. With Clinton’s Dixie Youth O-Zone team (11-12 ages), the loss, in a game to reach the state finals, was controversial and excruciating, though I was monitoring it on something called Gamechanger because I’d had to get back home to edit some news releases and the like. Last night the Laurens Little Leaguers (9-10) fell, 5-2.

Two teams, one representing each town, remain alive and will attempt to advance to even more far-flung locales this weekend and the next

High school football will be here soon.

It’s a long way from soccer in Russia to youth baseball in Moncks Corner. I’m not at either place, but I’ll be following the far paviiions, as well as the baseball in Fenway Park and the racing in Kentucky.

 

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. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

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

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Throw Caution to the Wind

(Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, July 8, 2018, 11:45 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Dale Earnhardt once said he could see the air. I remember the time he said so after a victory at Talladega. In the press box, where winners once held their post-race conferences, I asked him about it, and he said he didn’t mean it literally. He could see the effects of the air better than others.

The Coke Zero Sugar 400 was contested in air. An air of desperation. I could see it on a TV from 437 miles away.

As in the case of the Daytona 500 at the season’s outset, the winner, Erik Jones, survived it as much as he won it. He deserves credit. Negotiating a minefield is hard.

The owner of Jones’ Toyota, Joe Gibbs, said, “It’s just this year has been extremely hard because we’ve had, really, four people winning all the races, and so it doesn’t leave room for anybody else.”

To be precise, four guys – Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., and Clint Bowyer – have won 15 of the 18 races. The playoffs begin after eight more. The usual suspects mentioned above, particularly the first three, are going to be favored in all of them. For all the drivers in all the cars who have been buffeted about in the wake of the Big Three all year long, Daytona International Speedway was the last best window of opportunity and, for most, the window of doom.

If they melted down all that crumpled steel, they could almost offset a tariff.

The winner exults. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Jones, last year’s rookie of the year, found the window of opportunity and the first Monster Energy Cup victory of his career.

As his crew chief, Chris Gayle, said, “Erik is as laid-back a guy as you will ever be around, but, behind the wheel, very aggressive.”

Oh, the chaos. Oh, the anarchy. Oh, the tumult. Oh, the turmoil. Ten times did the yellow flags wave in protest, and six times did they wave for crashes involving multiple cars.

Democracy is messy. Give a chance to those who seldom get them, and they will literally throw a caution flag to the wind.

A.J. Allmendinger finished third, Chris Buescher finished fifth, Ty Dillon sixth, Matt DiBenedetto seventh, Jeffrey Earnhardt 11th, Brendan Gaughan 12th, D.J. Kennington 13th, Darrell Wallace Jr. 14th and Ray Black Jr. 16th. Only Allmendinger and Buescher have ever won a Cup race.

Erik Jones in Victory Lane. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

The winner was in a wreck. Most of the top 10 were in wrecks. Most of those in the nether reaches of the standings were in several.

Jones counted it down afterwards.

“[I] was 15th, and [I] was 12th and then [I] was seventh and then [I] was fourth and then [I] was second, and it kind of kept inching forward, and on the last restart, I was, like, we’ve got a legitimate shot at this point.”*

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who has won two of these horsepower-restricted, crash-enhanced races before, caused more trouble on Saturday night than termites. Don’t be too harsh. Life at Daytona and Talladega has turned him that way. He took the blame, not that he could have avoided it.

The shark on the outside is driven by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“It was fun for a while,” Stenhouse said. “I was frustrated with myself causing crashes like that. You don’t ever really want to do that.”

He also said he didn’t feel any need to “smooth things over.”

“No, it’s aggressive speedway racing. We needed to win to get in the playoffs, so it is what it is.”

Barney Fife might have said to Andy Taylor of Stenhouse what he said of Ernest T. Bass: “He’s a nut.”

A.J. Allmendinger (Getty Images for NASCAR)

After his early crash, Allmendinger said he probably missed seven after that, including a few that didn’t happen because of avoidance

“It is very aggressive,” he added. “The urgency, whether it’s to stay up front, even if there’s a lot of time to get back to the front, I’m not really sure why, but, to me, that’s what’s causing it. … It was a destruction derby out there instead of a Cup race.”

Truex, who is the reigning champion but has never won a plate race, finished second.

“Man, they destroyed some cars,” he said. “That was insane. Cool to get to the end. I wish I could have done a better job for my team. I have to get better at the blocking. It never has been my strong suit.”

Chase Elliott, who started first, crashed out on the 54th lap and placed 34th. One positive was that he got to watch the rest of the race through something other than windshield and mirrors.

What was he thinking?

“… We are not going to have anybody left before it’s over with,” Elliott said.

*All reports are that Jones was alone in the car, so I took the liberty of changing his “we” to “I.”

 

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. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

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

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Twenty Years Ago, Daytona Beach Was a Fiery Place

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, July 6, 2018, 9:20 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I never wrote about a Firecracker 400 that began at 10 a.m. When I signed up with the NASCAR media gypsies full-time in 1993, the race started at 11 a.m.

It was wonderful. Hot as a firecracker but wonderful. The race never moved to night, or, as we came to know it, thunderstorm standard time, until 1998, and then it was in October. It wasn’t supposed to be.

After I landed at the airport behind the race track that July, I picked up a rental car and drove to a Mexican restaurant. When I walked out and looked to the west, I thought I was about to witness the worst thunderstorm in history. Angry clouds of black, purple and crimson swirled angrily.

It wasn’t a thunderstorm. The orange groves were afire. That night law officers banged on my motel-room door and informed me that I needed to evacuate. I wound up rooming with a friend out on the beach. I was stranded in Daytona Beach, penned in by flames. The next day, I played a bizarre round of golf. It was 100 degrees, the air filled with smoke. I felt as if I were in some war-torn, tropical country where revolutionaries had reached the outskirts of the capital.

The morning paper listed a short-track race in New Smyrna Beach. A friend and I drove down to find the track empty and locked. I wrote about fire. I-95 was closed. I ended up driving up the coast to Jacksonville, where the way home was finally clear. The rental car wound up being turned in at Greenville-Spartanburg Airport. I think it was a Ford Contour.

Daytona International Speedway’s first Cup night race didn’t go off until October 17. Jeff Gordon won it. I was there. I don’t remember anything about it other than I was there.

(Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Twenty years ago, the race cars were Monte Carlos, Tauruses and Grands Prix. Gordon was winning his third championship in four years. Johnny Benson Jr. drove for Jack Roush and Betty Crocker. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in the Busch Grand National (now Xfinity) Series. Tony Stewart was, too, occasionally. That year Austin Cindric, Noah Gragson and Kaz Grala were born.

I had not yet written my first NASCAR book. I had not yet picked up a guitar. Occasionally, driving home late at night from a track, I tried to play a harmonica. I didn’t know a chord from cordwood.

Bill Clinton was in the White House. Houston was in the National League.

Yet it doesn’t seem so long ago. Almost nothing does anymore.

 

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. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

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

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‘Oh, Doctor, You Have Healed What Ails Me!’

This was one to celebrate. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, July 2, 2018, 11:59 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

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 kid loves that wall. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

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.

Kyle Busch’s Toyota leads the cavalry charge. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

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.

(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

“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.

The Kyles (Getty Images)

“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.

 

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. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

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

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A Very Different Tale of Two Seasons

(Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, July 1, 2018, 8:12 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The first aspect of Chicagoland Speedway that impressed me was how large Chicagoland is. As my father might have said, it’s a pretty fair jump from the Windy City.

The first time I sat in the press box, I trained my binoculars on the hazy distance, looking for the skyscrapers of Chicago. I thought I found one and tried to fine-tune the focus with the image quivering in the heat waves.

Turns out, it was a silo.

Ryan Blaney at Chicagoland speed. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Chicagoland and Kansas speedways opened in tandem. The Jewel of Joliet – my visits would suggest there’s little competition in figurative jewelry – opened at the Cup level on July 15, 2001, with a victory by Kevin Harvick. The first major race at the Bonanza of Kansas – it’s the best I could do on short notice – fell to Jeff Gordon’s assault on Sept. 30 of that same year.

The two aren’t complete clones – Chicagoland has a back straight with gentle curves in both ends – but they appear to have been designed with considerable collaboration. Commerce bustles around the Kansas track, but Chicagoland remains relatively remote in Joliet, known to many as home of the prison where Jake and Elwood, the Blues Brothers, received their paroles at the beginning of a movie.

Here we are in 2018, where Harvick, who won the first two Chicagoland affairs, is dueling for a Monster Energy Cup championship with Martin Truex Jr., who captured the past two.

(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

The third member of the contemporary Great Triumvirate, Kyle Busch, has won once at both tracks in between.

I doubt the members of the original Great Triumvirate – John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster – imagined race-car drivers, or even drivers, as they fretted about the possibility of sending the federal cavalry to put down Indian uprisings in both locations.

Once again, it’s the best I could do on short notice.

Where I live, I have learned the peril of dismissing all short towns as just alike, and I also know that tracks aren’t made of gigantic cookie cutters. The one used for Chicagoland had a couple dents in it.

(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

NASCAR seasons aren’t just alike, either. This year six drivers have won all the races, and four – the modern triumvirate plus Clint Bowyer – have staked their claims to all but two. The most recent victory by an outlier was in April.

One year ago, at this point, 11 different drivers had won, and the biggest winner was this guy named Jimmie Johnson, who had nailed down three. Truex had two. Harvick had one. Kyle Busch had zero, but Kurt Busch had one.

Another familiar pattern was a race that was relatively undistinguished until the final laps, at which point most of hell broke loose. This year a form of hell breaks loose for most of the day, at which point someone runs away with the fervor of Jake and Elwood from the Joliet penitentiary.

After this point in 2017, the action stabilized. Here’s hoping the reverse happens this year, too.

 

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. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

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

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A Wee Bit of Gamesmanship

Martin Truex Jr., en route to victory. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, June 25, 2018, 10:49 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

The widely anticipated road race in Sonoma, California, on Sunday was compelling, if not notably exciting. For once, the high-speed chess was in neither Daytona Beach, Florida, nor Talladega, Alabama.

Martin Truex Jr., the reigning Monster Energy Cup champion, won the Toyota/Save Mart 350, measured in kilometers as opposed to its 218.9 miles. Truex’s canny crew chief, Cole Pearn, was its mastermind.

Watching Pearn’s cool head in action made me think of Bugs Bunny. As Elmer Fudd might say, Pearn was the race’s “wascally wabbit.”

Martin Truex Jr. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Not only did Pearn set Truex’s tactics. He induced those of his pursuers. Pearn pulled a faster one Truex’s Toyota, which was plenty fast on its own. Pearn’s educated guess was that there would be no fourth caution flag. He played the percentages, which, in fact, won the race for Truex.

The method was in the messaging. The messaging was, uh, pit this lap, pit this lap, pit this lap … uh, don’t pit. Other teams own these instruments known as scanners. Many of the fans own or rent scanners. Television monitors these scanners. They all thought Truex was going to pit right up until … he didn’t.

To make a long story, described in detail in many other places, short, Kevin Harvick, who was leading, pitted with 37 laps to go. In part, this was because Truex’s crew was apparently going to do the same. Tires were placed on the wall. Crewmen gritted their teeth in apparent anticipation. Once the Fords of Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer – and many others – pitted, Cole instructed Truex to wait nine more laps.

If there had been a late caution flag, Harvick or Bowyer, may have won. There wasn’t, and they didn’t. Truex’s Toyota crossed the finish line 10.53 seconds before Harvick. TV announcers spent a lot time making remarks such as, “Hey, Truex is way ahead, but there’s a hell of a battle for 11th!”

The winner had to gloat a little.

“Yeah, we’re in California,” Truex said. “They went to acting school this week. They were in L.A. for a couple days durig the off weekend learning how to do screenplays and such.”

Perhaps you’ve seen a rerun of the Perry Mason episode, “The Case of the Simulated Stop.”

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Truex pronounced himself guileless and obedient to his tactical master, Pearn.

“I just drove the car,” Truex said. “That’s what I do. Cole and I have a great relationship. I never question him when he’s calling races. … So, yeah, he told me to pit, and I was, like, okay, I’m going to pit, and then he said, don’t pit, so I’m, like, fine, I’m just going to stay out.”

“It was a flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of call,” Joe Garone, the Furniture Row president, said.

“I think you’ve got to take the opportunities when they present themselves,” Pearn said.

For once, Wile E. Coyote really was, in fact, “a super genius,” and the Roadrunner ran off the cliff.

 

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. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

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

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Take Away the Uniqueness and It Loses Some Allure

Sonoma Raceway(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, June 23, 2018, 4:11 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I’ve never differed from the basic opinion that road racing is a nice change of pace. It’s like having a junkballer, a submarine pitcher or a knuckleballer in the pitching rotation. I love the two road courses on the Monster Energy Cup Series. I’m not averse to another. The Charlotte “roval” is going to be an appealing hybrid. I can’t say whether I’ll like it or not. I’m looking forward to find out.

When I traveled all the tracks, I didn’t think being there meant as much at road courses. It frustrated me that I just sat in the media center and watched TV. Naturally, for those who watch all the races there, it’s not an issue, but I never liked letting TV dictate what I saw. It’s impossible to see the whole track at road courses. Now I watch them all on TV. I miss press boxes, towering high above the track, because they were the basis of my love of the sport. My suspicion is that most of the fans who love road courses do so because they’re watching on TV. To me, stock cars are indigenous to ovals. Watching them on road courses is a trip to the zoo. I like zoos, but the animals seem happier in the wild. As a stock car racing venue, Sonoma is a great place to visit.

(Monte Dutton photo)

I miss taking a ferry across the bay to see the Giants, or crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to experience the uniqueness and culinary possibilities of San Francisco. I miss driving the Pacific Coast Highway, and Tony’s, the little seafood joint on the water in Marshall, and watching people play music on the sidewalks of Haight-Ashbury, and the fog that seems like it’s a living being as it rolls in. And looking down upon the Golden Gate from the Marin Headlands, and Muir Woods, and Alcatraz, the only edifice in the entire area that isn’t gorgeous, and Angel Island, and the ostentatious affluence of Marin County.

I miss nothing about San Francisco International Airport. I’m no great connoisseur of Wine, but I like its Country.

Martin Truex Jr. at Sonoma Raceway(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Not every driver is adept at road courses, but there are a lot more than there were in the early 1990s, when I first started attending them. Until the past decade, the number of potential winners was much smaller. Now it’s as hard to predict as a plate race. The biggest reason is that road racing is much easier now that tap dancing on the pedals isn’t so difficult. The clutch has become unnecessary. Another reason is the tactical possibilities. Hardly anyone loses a lap on a pit stop. It’s better to pit under green than to pit under yellow. Pitting under green at the right time means idling right past those who have to pit under yellow.

It’s cultural exchange, on track and off.

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. It’s right up to date with the current political landscape in the country.

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

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