The Dimming of the Stars

Charlotte Motor Speedway. William Byron testing. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, May 19, 2017, 10:01 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I’m not going to reminisce about past NASCAR all-star memories. Most of them are distant.

I was in the grandstands the first time it was run at night. I’ve told that story before. I’ve told all the stories before. I remember those heady days when The Winston – it’s had many names, no telling what it is now – rivaled the Coca-Cola 600 that followed it. The longest, most grueling test of NASCAR’s Finest followed a slam-bang, thrill-filled extravaganza.

Turns out it’s the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race. It’s Saturday night.

Back in the 1980s and ‘90s, race fans took great pride in their all-star race. The stock car racers all did it for love, but love was even better after a $1 million payday. They didn’t go through the motions the way they did in the all-star matchups of baseball, football, basketball and hockey.

Now, 25 years after I watched Dale Earnhardt, Kyle Petty and Davey Allison wreck each other on the final lap – Allison won, though the concrete walls of the speedway knocked him cold, and the makeshift victory lane was a hospital bed – NASCAR All-Star has gone the way of all the other all-stars.

Chase Elliott (24) racing Kyle Larson in last year’s Sprint Showdown. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Money’s still unimportant. This is apparent because no one talks about it anymore.

The Winston Select Nextel Sprint Monster All-Star Race, combining all the titles from nicotine to caffeine and a heap of talking on the phone in between, has ranged from 70 to 113 laps and from one to five segments. Seven-time champions (Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt) have won it seven times (Johnson 4, Earnhardt 3).

On the other hand, Michael Waltrip won it in 1996 before he ever won a Cup race anywhere else.

The last three years the winners have been Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano. I couldn’t have told you that without the Internet. The most recent I covered was in 2012. The most recent I remember was a year earlier, mainly because the driver who won that race, Carl Edwards, practically destroyed the winning car sliding through the grass when the nose scraped up a metal drain. Or something.

Joey Logano won last year. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

The Winston used to be as addictive as cigarettes, and it wasn’t that much of a coincidence. Tickets were cheap, a lot of free ones were floating around, and the idea was to get people there and send them home wanting more.

The ultimate significance of the All-Star Race is its effect on the sport as it now stands. The game-show format changed racing and was slowly, over three decades, integrated into the conduct of all the races. This is also the root of the race’s problems.

Some drivers are there already. Some race their way in. Some get voted in. It’s as complicated as a presidential election. So is everything else. A man who masters crosswords puzzles isn’t going to get excited about a mere game of checkers anymore.

The easiest way to resuscitate this Monster would be to ease off on the mad science everywhere else.

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This is unlikely to happen.

So where does it go from here? More, ahem, innovation?

One segment through the infield? A-racing we will go, a-racing we will go, high-ho, the derry-oh, a racing we will go.

Run the race backwards? Run the race in reverse? Parallel-park on pit road? A wall of flame at the finish line? One segment consisting entirely of pit stops?

The Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race has already stretched all bounds of credulity, civility and civilization, and had all the other races advance into the new territory, accompanied by bureaucrats carrying government regulations.

Where once the race sat at the foot of a mountain, now it is perched on the edge of a cliff.

Ever since I started writing fiction, fans have asked me to write a novel about stock car racing. I kept it a secret while I was working on it. Now it’s out. Lightning in a Bottle is the story of the next big thing, 18-year-old Barrie Jarman.

(Steven Novak cover design)

Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy Cowboys Come Home, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles, and/or a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs. They’re all signed and reasonably priced. Lightning in a Bottle will be in stock shortly.

Signed copies of Lightning in a Bottle are also available at Emma Jane’s, 105 East Main Street on the Square, Clinton.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

If you’d like me to ship you a signed copy, you can find my address and instructions here. If you want to speed the process up, send me a note and I’ll hook you up with my PayPal account.

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Links to print copies are below.

(Joe Font cover design)

Cowboys Come Home is my brand-new, fresh-off-the-press western, a tale of two World War II veterans of the Pacific who come back home to Texas, intent on resuming their cowboy ways.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.(Melanie Ryon cover design)

Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.

The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.

Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.

Follow me at Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Twitter (@montedutton), Google+ (MonteDuttonWriter) and/or Instagram (Tug50).

I Feel Like I’ve Gotta Travel On

(Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, January 13, 2017, 10:52 a.m.

I haven’t been to a race track since Homestead, Florida, at the end of 2012. On January 4, 2013, the Gaston Gazette informed that my position would be discontinued on … January 4, 2013. When I think about it, it still grinds my innards.

By Monte Dutton

It’s been a while. It shows. When Carl Edwards announced his decision to step away from NASCAR, it somehow made me think about stepping back.

I realized how much I miss by not being there. I’ve been writing from home for The Bleacher Report and competitionplus.com for quite some time now. I realized it was more difficult, but the Edwards incident underscored how much the loss of the intimacy of being there was costing me. Jeff Gordon’s gone. Tony Stewart. Now Edwards. A generation is changing, and it’s a generation I’m missing just by reading transcripts and watching TV.

It set me to thinking, and that is often a dangerous thing.

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I’ve decided I’m willing to go back, at least on occasion. That, of course, doesn’t mean I will. I must have said a hundred times on radio shows, discussions with friends, etc., that everyone seems to want me back except anyone who could do anything about it.

I am well aware that the business has passed me by. I’m not sure there’s a journalism market for me any more. That’s why I went home to anonymity in the first place.

So, as you may have heard someone say to you before, if you hear anything …

(Alan Marler/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Why? Why? Why?

I’m finally tired of home. For the longest time, the surprise was that I didn’t miss racing more. When I was on the beat, I used to say that I’d been a gypsy so long that I wasn’t fit for anything else. It finally hit me over the past few weeks. I’m tired of being nobody. In retrospect, the cockeyed version of normality in my life was three days at home and four on the road.

The words I can’t believe are coming from my fingers: I miss travel. I have, however, visited such burgeoning metropoles as Saluda, Newberry, and Seneca during 2016. I even drove through Clemson once.

(Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)

Writing fiction means observing things other than Andy Griffith reruns on Sundance TV. As the late, great Hondo Crouch once wrote, “I’m out of soap.” The context might be helpful.

I’ve loved writing about local sports. It’s drying up, though. I don’t know why NASCAR should be any different. As noted above, it could be I.

As this has always been too low a priority in my mind, I held it back. I could use the money to grease the rusty skids of writing fiction. The royalties are rather sporadic.

I’m tired of slow pay and broken commitments. Last summer, I took a part-time job covering Laurens County for a nearby daily. I was happy with it because it was just about exactly as much as I wanted to write. I took it with the agreement that it would be year-round, not just football. That’s right. When football ended, it was, “Let’s rethink this thing.” Now, of course, losing that gig made it difficult to regain others, in spite of claims to the contrary.

So … to quote an old Johnny Horton song (and wish the subject was his, not mine):

I’m ready / If you’re willing!

(Steven Novak cover design)

Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy Cowboys Come Home, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles, and/or a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs. They’re all signed and reasonably priced.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

If you’d like me to ship you a signed copy, you can find my address and instructions here. If you want to speed the process up, send me a note and I’ll hook you up with my PayPal account.

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Note that my fourth, and best selling, novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, is on Kindle sale at $.99 through December 31. Links to print copies are below.

Cowboys Come Home is my brand-new, fresh-off-the-press western, a tale of two World War II veterans of the Pacific who come back home to Texas, intent on resuming their cowboy ways.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.(Melanie Ryon cover design)

Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.

The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.

Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.

Follow me at Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Twitter (@montedutton), Google+ (MonteDuttonWriter) and/or Instagram (Tug50).

They Both Wore Their Own Kinds of Hats

The high banks won’t be the same. (Monte Dutton photo)
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Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, January 11, 2017, 11:58 a.m.

Here’s what Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have in common, and it’s not much.

By Monte Dutton

Both, when they arrived at NASCAR’s highest level, were a sportswriter’s dream, and some of those then in the business couldn’t wait to tear them apart.

Tony arrived in 1999, more a white tornado than Ajax Cleaner.

“Ajax is the one with more ammonia!” as the ads said.

I was closer to the battlefield than most. I think we got along because we were both incurable smartasses. I was writing a book about Tony. That book would have been better if it was all I had to do, but there was this piddling matter of having to write three newspaper stories a day from the track. Some of our conversations went like this:

Tony: “That sonuvabitch. I’ll never talk to him again.”

Me: “Did you actually read what he wrote?”

T: “I don’t care what he wrote.”

I miss that Tony Stewart laugh. (John Clark photo)

M: “Well, the most objectionable thing he said was lifted with attribution from my column.”

T: “I didn’t read it.”

M: “Isn’t that a little like me saying you can’t drive a lick without ever watching you race?”

T: “I guess.” He’d smile. Get those dark eyes to stop flashing, and Tony could make fun of himself.

Somehow, I could reason with him. Maybe it was because he knew I wasn’t out to get him. Maybe he took my criticisms more constructively. I never found Stewart to be dishonest, though, as time went on, he learned grudgingly to be more honest in private than public. NASCAR never broke his spirit, but it trained him a little. A bit of a wall developed, but I doubt Tony built it. It was constructed around him. Perhaps the Mexicans paid for it.

Tony Stewart is the most interesting athlete I’ve ever written about.

When Tony once disparagingly referred to Carl Edwards as “Eddie Haskell,” he was typically gaudy and ill-considered. Carl isn’t the weasel of Leave It to Beaver. Carl is more like Theodore Cleaver, “the Beaver” himself, or older brother Wally. Carl can be a bit more of an Eagle Scout than the real world can withstand. Carl believes the good guys always win. It wouldn’t be enough to win the championship. Carl would want to ride off in the sunset.

Carl Edwards aspires to greatness by nature. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Carl never won the championship, but he still wanted to ride off in the sunset before he got too old to enjoy it.

I loved writing about both of them, but, more than that, I loved hanging out with them. I loved watching Nelson Stewart, Tony’s father, race a TQ Midget, with Tony fretting as if he were the parent and Nelson the son. I loved it when Carl showed up in the parking lot of Charlotte Motor Speedway, took my guitar and played it better than I could.

Now that I’m old, washed up and out of touch, I want Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards to have that delicious opportunity.

Last night, I played an old Hank Williams Jr. song I had almost forgotten:

You gotta say things you want to say / Go out and do things your own way / You can climb any old mountain once you’ve made up your mind.

Emphasis on old mountain. Tony belonged in the era of Curtis Turner and Junior Johnson. Carl wanted to stand up for truth, justice and the American way. Tony needed a jug of moonshine. Carl needed a cape.

(Steven Novak cover design)

Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy Cowboys Come Home, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles, and/or a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs. They’re all signed and reasonably priced.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

If you’d like me to ship you a signed copy, you can find my address and instructions here. If you want to speed the process up, send me a note and I’ll hook you up with my PayPal account.

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Note that my fourth, and best selling, novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, is on Kindle sale at $.99 through December 31. Links to print copies are below.

Cowboys Come Home is my brand-new, fresh-off-the-press western, a tale of two World War II veterans of the Pacific who come back home to Texas, intent on resuming their cowboy ways.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.(Melanie Ryon cover design)

Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.

The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.

Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.

Follow me at Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Twitter (@montedutton), Google+ (MonteDuttonWriter) and/or Instagram (Tug50).

In and Out, Up and Down, Left and Right …

(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)
(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, June 29, 2015, 10:29 a.m.

A few observations from Kyle Busch’s victory in Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, the road course in California’s Wine Country:

The chief question raised by the weekend is whether or not Kyle Busch can make the Chase. His Sonoma win was, of course, preordained by the vast number of observers who said he had no shot when he placed dead last in Michigan. That’s, in small part, because God has a sense of humor.

The out-again, in-again Kyle Busch celebrates his Sonoma victory.  (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
The out-again, in-again Kyle Busch celebrates his Sonoma victory. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Now the chorus has moved from hopelessness to hope, from doom to destiny, and from “no way” to “he’s going to make it.” The numbers still don’t favor him. Precision is impossible because 30th place in the points is a moving target. The driver occupying 30th changes, but the best estimate suggests that an average of about 13th or 14th will get him in. It sounds reasonable, but his current average finish, even after Sunday’s win, is 20.0, and his average for the entire 2014 season was 17.6.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

As Joe Gibbs, Busch’s owner, said, “I think it’s a great sports story because, if you think about Daytona, and for Kyle to come back from, really, a broken right leg and a broken left foot, the race we were really worried about when he came back was this race because it was going to be, obviously, road racing. It takes a lot of pressure on your foot, so I think this is a great story for us.”

It could, of course, be the beginning of an even greater story.

Another major obstacle comes up right away. Anyone can crash at Daytona, and many likely will. If Busch finds trouble there, he’s right back in “no way” mode. The chorus will change for the third race in a row. Moderation is rare in the media center, TV booth, and grandstands, not to mention the social media and blogosphere.

Is the blogosphere social media? Or is it just yet another stakeholder?

Now, where does Busch go, now that he has a win under his belt? He could become cautious which will seem, in his case, like a lion cowering at a kitty cat, or he could press the advantage. Let’s say he crashes at Daytona, has another bad finish or two, in the 10 remaining races, but wins two or three of them?

The ball may wind up back in Brian France's court. (Monte Dutton photo)
The ball may wind up back in Brian France’s court. (Monte Dutton photo)

If Kyle Busch is a multiple-race winner but not in the top 30, it will be very difficult for NASCAR to let that lie. Brian France has already granted him one waiver. The old “EIRI” for which NASCAR is famous — “except in rare instances” — has never been truer than in recent years, when a previous Chase field was expanded from twelve to thirteen because the final regular-season race (2013) was determined not to have been on the up-and-up.

One of the intents of the current, bloated Chase field, and the maniacal rules governing it, is to get the winners in and let them prosper.

I think the NASCAR excitement manufacturers will sit back and watch, hoping Busch makes it on his own, but, if he doesn’t, they’re going to be powerfully tempted to blur the rules again.

For the first time ever, the brothers Busch finished 1-2  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)
For the first time ever, the brothers Busch finished 1-2 (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images for NASCAR)

All right. Moving on, twenty years ago, coverage of races wasn’t quite so prone to overkill. Now it’s Kyle won, so let’s beat it to death. Let’s do what it takes to maximize the web hits. Kyle wins, and here’s what Junior and Danica have to say about it!

I remember when fellow could get his name in the paper by finishing eighth, as Kasey Kahne did at Sonoma. Now what papers are left don’t have much space, and Kahne gets on the web by having a girlfriend with a baby on the way.

Inquiring minds want to know!

Same season, different team for Carl Edwards.  (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Same season, different team for Carl Edwards. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Not only is it noteworthy that Kyle and Kurt Busch finished 1-2 for the first time in their careers, but that one race earlier they “bookended” the standings by placing first (Kurt) and 43rd (Kyle) in Michigan. The two have often been either close together or far apart, and it’s not chassis setups I’m noting.

Before the final restart, a social media acquaintance asked if I thought Jeff Gordon had a shot, as he was third at the time. I replied in the affirmative. Gordon finished 16th. Tony Stewart, who finished 12th, drives No. 14 and has led the same number of laps this year. I take no comfort in pointing out such details.

Clint Bowyer finished in the top five (third) for the first time all year.

Last year Carl Edwards somehow managed to win two races, and that’s how he made the Chase. This year, with a different team, he has already won but is 17th in the point standings, which, under the current format, is no more pertinent to the Chase than his 11 lead-lap finishes and his average qualifying performance of 9.6. In spite of switching from declining Roush Fenway to elite JGR, Edwards is having the same year.

No one is happier to be leaving California than David Ragan, in spite of the fact that Michael Waltrip had his back in the TV booth. The two know each other, I think.

“You have to hold your own,” Ragan said after being involved in two significant crashes. “If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change anything.”

Ragan wasn’t being facetious or coy. He was being honest. He has a reputation of being uncertain on road courses, and other drivers expect him to get out of their way. He’s got the best ride he’s had in a while. He’s trying to keep it. He did his best. It’s what we should expect.

Had the cards fallen a little differently, either Jimmie Johnson or Kurt Busch might have won. No change there from oval to road.

A.J. Allmendinger and Kurt Busch started on the front row. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
A.J. Allmendinger and Kurt Busch started on the front row. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

When I started writing about racing on a regular basis, road courses were often dreaded by fans who now adore them. When I started going to Sonoma and Watkins Glen, few were the drivers who could plausibly win. The biggest change is in the transmissions. The Jerico transmission showed up in the 1990s and made the footwork, the heel and toe switches from brake to clutch, two feet doing three jobs, unimportant. Changing gears is now greatly simplified. Now the road courses are such than most drivers, given track position, are capable of winning.

Guess who won last summer at Daytona? (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Guess who won last summer at Daytona? (Getty Images for NASCAR)

An obviously skilled road racer, Marcos Ambrose over the past few years and A.J. Allmendinger now, can surmount disadvantages in equipment that are apparent at other tracks, which, incredibly, is what last week’s Sonoma and next week’s Daytona have in common, not in terms of Allmendger or Ambrose, but in the case of other drivers who have exceptional skill at plate tracks.

David Ragan, for instance. And Aric Almirola, who just happens to be the winner of last year’s summertime race at vast, sprawling Daytona.

One final observation about both Sonoma and Daytona: These two tracks are bringing the fun back at a time when NASCAR desperately needs it.

 

For those of you obsessed by NASCAR, thanks for reading me here, but if you have other interests, if you actually still enjoy reading other things like short stories or books, give wellpilgrim.wordpress.com the occasional look. Better yet, consider buying one of the books of mine listed here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

 

Save the Goose!

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Kevin doesn't worry. He's happy. (HHP/John Galloway photo for Chevrolet)
Kevin doesn’t worry. He’s happy. (HHP/John Galloway photo for Chevrolet)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, May 25, 2015, 11:53 a.m.

On May 21, at Charlotte Motor Speedway in what NASCAR officials call “a driver availability,” i.e., a media conference, Kevin Harvick, the reigning Sprint Cup champion, said, “Wait a second. Let’s clarify the ‘aero push.’ Does anybody watch Formula One? It’s been there for years. It’s in IndyCars. It’s in racing. If you run behind one of your colleagues … you’re going to have an aero push.

“It’s never going to get fixed.”

In other words, live with it.

Kurt Busch leads Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Kurt Busch leads Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

“It’s always going to exist in racing,” Harvick added. “It’s never going to not exist. Your car is never going to run as fast behind another car as it does by itself. It’s just impossible. … I think these cars, over the last 20 years, have become more sensitive in aero push. I just think, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it was probably there; they just didn’t know, and we almost know too much about everything that’s going on now.

“I could make my car run fast behind other cars last week, but it’s just a totally different way of driving the car when you’re behind somebody than it is when you’re driving by yourself. Denny Hamlin (winner of the Sprint All-Star Race) made a good move, and he kind of caught me off guard. I felt like I had options to run all the way up against the wall, or I could run on the bottom. I could maneuver my car. It’s just that he kind of caught me off guard at the right time, and I was committed to the middle. … When you’re behind a car, you can’t overdrive it. It’s just something that’s always going to exist. It’s impossible to fix.”

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

In a way, this is certainly true, but in another, it’s a rationalization. It’s a matter of degree. Maybe it’s impossible to fix, but one would think it’s possible to control. Harvick was being honest, but there has to be hope.

In Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, a race of automobiles more aerodynamically and technologically advanced than those racing in NASCAR, the racing was extraordinary. For practically the entire distance, at least three cars dueled for the lead. They looked like earthbound fighter jets engaging in spectacular dogfights. They made NASCAR look bad. They made fans dread the Coca-Cola 600 that followed it on Sunday night, and, while the Charlotte race was a little better than the previous year, it required several cups of coffee to stay awake and sit through it. The Indianapolis 500 required a glass of milk – and, yes, for the winner, a quart – to settle one’s nerves.

In front of their TV sets, many NASCAR fans were pumping their fists the same way Juan Pablo Montoya was when he crossed the finish line. Their second emotion was fear, and embarrassment, that Charlotte was going to pale in comparison, and, sure enough, it did.

Carl Edwards knows how to throw a damn fine celebration. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Carl Edwards knows how to throw a damn fine celebration. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Carl Edwards won Charlotte on strategy. Montoya won Indy on guts.

NASCAR hasn’t fixed its problems. By and large, it’s tried to hide them by changing rules. Understandably, officials are defensive about this, and they cite all sorts of numbers about lead changes, cars on the lead lap, etc. Numbers do lie because if these rules – these bells of wave-arounds and whistles of debris – had been in place in 1975, lots of cars would have been on the lead lap, too. It’s like saying the Revolutionary War would have been different had the British had bombers.

Remember this guy? He showed out at Indy. (John Clark photo)
Remember this guy? He showed out at Indy. (John Clark photo)

Many fans are the same way. They say, “Get rid of these mile-and-a-half tracks. Give us more short tracks. Give us more road courses.”

They ignore the fact that intermediate tracks, the ones on which almost half of the races are contested, used to be better. Look at the history of the all-star race, once known as The Winston and now carrying Sprint’s name. They used to provide memories that live today of Dale Earnhardt outdueling Bill Elliott, Rusty Wallace wrecking Darrell Waltrip (“I hope he chokes on that $200,000”) and Charlotte’s first night race, when winner Davey Allison had to be taken to a hospital instead of to Victory Lane.

Now it’s hard to remember what happened in the all-star races of the past decade. It’s hard to remember what happened last week.

It’s the same track.

If nothing can be done about the racing, then nothing can be done about the sport’s gradual, excruciating decline. Many of the fans who loved NASCAR now merely like it. The ones who liked it don’t even check on it while they’re watching the NBA or NHL playoffs. One of my best friends used to fly a Tony Stewart flag at his business. This morning he told me he didn’t watch one minute of the race. He was home, but watching LeBron.

I often get accused of “going negative.” If so, it’s not because I hate NASCAR. It’s because I’ve loved it since my earliest memory, and it disgusts me to see what it has become. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t write about it at all.

During the 1990s, NASCAR officials began open season on the goose that was laying its golden eggs. She’s a tough, old bird, but she’s weary and wounded. She’s staggering, and someone had better cease fire and call in the medics.

I’d appreciate your consideration of my books, which are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

My short stories, essays and book reviews are at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com.

 

Edwards the Overachiever

Overlooked is how much Carl Edwards has made of what -- AFLAC! -- is apparently a lame-duck season. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Overlooked is how much Carl Edwards has made of what — AFLAC! — is apparently a lame-duck season. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, S.C., Friday, June 27, 2014, 4:14 p.m.

Take a look at the Sprint Cup point standings, and it’s hard to make a case that Carl Edwards’ team is off.

He has two victories and is sixth in the rankings, 71 points behind leader Jeff Gordon.

Yet Edwards hasn’t had a dominant car in any of the sixteen races contested so far, even though he won two of them. Edwards and crew chief Jimmy Fennig have made more of what they’ve had than anyone else. In points, Edwards ranks higher than Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Jamie McMurray, and Kurt Busch, all of whom have been regularly faster. Edwards is eleventh in money earnings.

It’s no wonder his talents are valued. It’s no wonder he’s likely to leave Roush Fenway Racing. No one should blame him when he does.

Ryan Newman hasn't often been the top priority at the teams where he has worked. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)
Ryan Newman hasn’t often been the top priority at the teams where he has worked. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

4:25 p.m.

Lots of great talents seem unfulfilled these days.

Kyle Busch, plucking Truck races like blackberries from the vine, but perpetually frustrated in the main events. … Ryan Newman, once the driver deemed worthy of Rookie of the Year over Jimmie Johnson. … Kasey Kahne, for whom nothing ever seems to work. … Denny Hamlin, whose last few years have been marred by injury in a sport where injuries have grown increasingly rare … Brian Vickers, his progress slowed by medical misfortune … and even Dale Earnhardt Jr., who, after all, has never won a championship.

It’s inevitable when one driver has won six championships in the past eight years, but it’s still painful to watch.

Kyle Busch seems so all alone. (John Clark photo)
Kyle Busch seems so all alone. (John Clark photo)

4:34 p.m.

There’s been plenty of time to think about the waste Kyle Busch has laid to the Camping World Truck Series. Lots of this time occurred watching Busch winning every race he enters.

My latest thought is that the biggest problem isn’t the presence of Busch. It’s the absence of another.

Busch’s record in Trucks and Nationwide competitition — wait, that’s the wrong word, competition – in Trucks and Nationwide activity, is amazing. Those numbers would count for more if others with his talent were interested.

Some balance has been restored to the Nationwide Series by the rise of Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson, not to mention the participation of Cup hands like Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, and Busch. The young stars of Nationwide are exciting to watch. The young drivers in Trucks watch Busch excitedly as the back of his Toyota gets smaller and smaller. It often looks as if he is racing Jamaican bobsledders.

It’s not Busch’s fault that he wins. The chief problem is others being unable to stop him.

Another is the resources of prominent Cup organizations being put in the field like Chinese infantry against the bedraggled militia of the regulars. A third is the utter domination of Toyotas in the Truck Series.

In Trucks, Busch doesn’t play for the Yankees. He plays for the Harlem Globetrotters.

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