Thoughts, questions and observations following Sunday's Sylvania 300, the first race of the 2005 Chase for the Nextel Cup:
From start to finish, this was without a doubt the most emotion-filled Cup race of the season. From Kurt Busch's early-race stomp and rant at Scott Riggs' crew chief Rodney Childers to the final laps of the Ryan Newman/Tony Stewart duel, what an unbelievable way to kick off the Chase. It's too bad we have to wait 26 weeks for a race like this, but if this is a sign of what to expect from the remaining nine races, look out!
- Watching Busch scold a hapless Childers after Riggs ran into Busch was reminiscent of watching helplessly as a mother scolds her child for some mild behavioral infraction in a grocery store checkout line. What was Busch trying to prove? Did he think Childers told Riggs to take him out? Busch was quoted as saying that Riggs "doesn't know where he is most of the time." Given the level of difficulty in seeing from inside a Nextel Cup car on the track, wouldn't you think that Riggs' spotter is the one to blame?
- Excuse me, but even though Stewart didn't win, he still has a 20-point advantage over second-place Greg Biffle. Still, can you blame Stewart for being in such a bad mood after the race?
- I'm still scratching my head over Jeff Gordon's rollercoaster performance. He started second and ran near the front for much of the race but still ended up finishing 14th. A few weeks ago someone in the Cup garage told me that the problem with the No. 24 car wasn't the crew chief. Rather, it was that the driver kept telling the crew chief what to do. I'm beginning to believe that may be true.
- Note to all of you who think that the emotional displays by Busch, Kasey Kahne and Robby Gordon make NASCAR look bad – take a hike. It's the best thing that could ever happen to what has become a politically correct, emotionless series. Publicly, NASCAR officials warn their drivers to behave (like they did twice during Sunday's race), but privately they know that Gordon's helmet throw will make every television sports show's highlight reel for the next couple of days, effectively reminding those stick and ball sports fans that in NASCAR, there are real people inside the sheet metal.
Lest we forget, it was the live broadcast of the 1979 Daytona 500 and its Allison Brothers vs. Cale Yarborough fisticuffs that catapulted NASCAR into the consciousness of everyday Americans.
- It was great to hear Chad Knaus talk about how much he will miss Robbie Loomis when Loomis leaves Hendrick to go back to Petty Enterprises. Knaus admitted that he was one of those who insisted that Loomis stay in the loop at the shop so that he could be a sounding board for Knaus and his entire team during the Chase. Good luck at Petty's shop, Robbie, they really need you.
- I've had it up to here with TNT and NBC broadcasts. The scenario has been pretty much the same every week in season's second half. At the start of the race, there are commercials every 10 laps. Midway through the race, the commercials come every five laps. And throughout the race, within seconds of showing a quick replay of what caused a caution, they quickly cut to a commercial break. It's not like that when FOX does the races. FOX also does a much better job of explaining technical details and race strategy.
I hear word has already been leaked to the staff at NBC and TNT not to expect to come back following the 2006 season. Good riddance.
- Did Carl Edwards participate in today's race?
- "When you just wipe somebody out, I don't care what happens. You know, Dale Jarrett, when he got back at Newman, that's just the way you've got to do it. If people are going to run you over for no reason and think they're going to get away with it, you just go out there and ruin their day, too. That's they way I feel." – Kasey Kahne after his run-in with Kyle Busch. It's the co-Quote of the Race.
"You know, everybody thinks Michael [Waltrip] is a good guy. He's not the good guy. The caution was out and he wrecked me. He's a piece of [expletive]. It is what it is." – Robby Gordon with the other co-Quote of the Race.
I just love Gordon for doing what he did and saying what he said. And I gained a whole new level of respect for Kahne. Sorry it'll cost you guys, but I think you just gained a whole new group of fans.
- Ironically, when Gordon was asked by the press earlier in the weekend to comment about his taking Greg Biffle, Jeremy Mayfield and Stewart out of last year's Loudon race, he said, "I'd prefer not to talk about, to be honest with you. What happened a year ago is no different than what happened to me with Sterling last week [at Richmond], and what happened to Ryan Newman with Dale Jarrett. But for some reason every time I'm involved with it you guys blow it completely out of proportion."
Not quite, Robby. But your theatrics are pretty entertaining, even if they earn you a huge fine and probation from NASCAR. Expect Kahne also to get a pretty hefty fine and probation for his antics.
- If you missed the Craftsman Truck Series race Saturday afternoon, shame on you. It was one of the best races all season – in any series. Seventeen lead changes among eight drivers. The race was won by Rick Crawford, who ended a 17-month winless drought. He also scored the first win this season by a Ford.
The points battle in the trucks is a tight one between Dennis Setzer and Ted Musgrave, who had a fierce battle for second place late in Saturday's race. Setzer leads by only 59 points with just six races remaining. Do yourself a big favor and watch the rest of the truck races this season. You won't be disappointed.
- Thanks to both Bob and Gary Bahre from the New Hampshire track for making changes to the track's layout – they have helped the racing. This used to be a one-groove track that made racing here boring. Now, there are at least two racing grooves and there were several times a few drivers made it three-wide. Nice job, gentlemen.
- By continuing to race on the track that killed his son, Kyle Petty shows that he is a stronger man than I ever thought anyone could be.
- It's a kinder, gentler Stewart these days. During the caution for the Gordon/Waltrip incident, Stewart said over his crew radio that he knows what it's like to be caught in a situation where you lose your temper. Then he laughed.
- I've said it before and I'll say it again: Stewart has taken on the role formerly played by the late Dale Earnhardt. He's become a bigger fan favorite while maintaining his status as a villain, and you love him or hate him. And now he's showing that he's quite possibly the best driver in the series. He's still my pick to win it all.
- Next stop: Dover.
- Rodney Childers