NASCAR Hoorahs & Wazzups: Now That’s What I Call “March Madness”
By Dave Grayson
With all due respects to college basketball’s annual super tournament, that takes weeks to complete, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series displayed their own version of “March Madness”, at the Auto Club Speedway, that contained far more excitement and it only took two hours, 57 minutes and 19 seconds, during the course of a single Sunday afternoon, to complete.
During the Auto Club Speedway weekend at Fontana, we watched a driver sweep both NASCAR events: something that is extremely difficult to do. We watched NASCAR’s most popular driver stage a come from behind effort and leave Fontana as the new series’ points leader. We watched two drivers, still angry at each other from last week’s race at Bristol, put on a stunning race for the win only to have it turn out wrong. We watched an emotionally charged altercation on pit road after the race had concluded. We all got treated to one of the best races we’ve seen in quite some time.
That’s what I call “March Madness.”
HOORAH. The Auto Club Speedway’s victory lane is shiny and super clean. That’s because Kyle Busch swept it with a very large broom. Kyle Busch’s performance, during the NASCAR weekend at Fontana, was nothing short or stellar. His excellent weekend began by winning the Royal Purple 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race. It was the driver’s third win, in five starts, this year, his 54th career series win and he presented Joe Gibbs Racing with their ninth, consecutive, Nationwide Series win at the Auto Club Speedway.
HOORAH. The following day, Busch led 125 laps, of 200, to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ Auto Club 400. He literally stole the show on the white flag lap just seconds before race leader Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano wrecked each other. It was Busch’s 25th career win, that ended a 31 race win less streak, and his second win at the Auto Club Speedway. Despite Joe Gibbs Racing’s Nationwide Series’ dominance at this track, this race was their first ever Sprint Cup win there as well as Toyota’s first win at the track. Joe Gibbs Racing now has at least one win at every track on the modern day Sprint Cup schedule. Sweeping a NASCAR weekend is a difficult performance to pull off. The fact that Kyle Busch has now done it nine times in his career is simply amazing.
WAZZUP. In the days preceding the Auto Club 400, and right up to the singing of the “National Anthem,” we were bombarded with video, and editorial speculation, regarding the hard feelings between drivers Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano that stemmed from the Bristol Motor Speedway race held the week before. Hamlin attempted to do the right thing by rendering an apology for his actions, via a media interview, which Logano reportedly rejected. The hype that said expect some form of retaliation between these two drivers at the Auto Club Speedway hit a fever pitch.
WAZZUP. If these two drivers were going to launch a retaliation move against each other during the Auto Club 400, they had plenty of opportunity to do it. There were frequent times during the event when they were racing each other. The final acclaim occurred on the final lap. The two drivers were side by side racing for the win. That’s when contact was made. Logano slid into the turn four wall but was able to recover for a third place finish. Hamlin slid down turn four and hit the inside wall hard.
WAZZUP. The front end of Hamlin’s Toyota managed to find a section of retaining wall that wasn’t reinforced by a energy absorbing SAFER Barrier. This is an issue that needs to be addressed right away. If any track, on NASCAR’s national touring schedules, has an unprotected retaining wall, with even the slightest possibly of being reached by an out of control race car, then that wall needs a SAFER Barrier. Hamlin sustained a back injury from the wreck and collapsed to the pavement the moment he exited his wrecked car. After spending the night in a nearby hospital, Hamlin was diagnosed with a L1 compression fracture in his lower back and will be seeking medical treatment from a North Carolina based specialist.
WAZZUP. Anyone who thought the Hamlin/Logano wreck was an act of retaliation probably needs to take another
at the video highlights. What we saw here were two drivers racing hard for the win on the final lap of the race. They were two drivers doing the job they get paid a lot of money to do.
WAZZUP. During a post race interview, Logano, commenting on Hamlin hitting the wall, said “he probably shouldn’t have done what he did last week, (wrecking Logano at Bristol), so that’s what he gets.” The comment raised an immediate reaction among the media and the fans. Logano was harshly criticized for being so insensitive to the fact that Hamlin was injured in the wreck. In the name of fairness, Logano at the time was not aware that Hamlin was in the process of being transported to a hospital when he made the remark. That fact was later confirmed by Roger Penske, Logano’s team owner.
HOORAH. After the race Roger Penske, in an interview with the “Associated Press,” defended his driver and said: “Joey is a great driver and what happened at the end there wasn’t anything more than hard racing. I stand behind him and I think he’s going to go down as one of the greatest drivers to ever race.”
WAZZUP. As they say during those late night television infomercials: “but wait, there’s more.” How surprised were you when Tony Stewart parked alongside Joey Logano’s car, on pit road after the race, with the intent of verbally and physically abusing Logano? It seems that “Smoke” was a little “smoked” over a blocking move Logano made on him during the final restart of the Auto Club 400. Again, in all fairness, there were only 11 laps remaining in the race and, again, what we had here was a driver going for the win and doing his job. From the Saturday night local track level to the NASCAR Sprint Cup, blocking is very often a part of racing especially during the waning laps of a race.
WAZZUP. There was a lot of pushing and shoving on pit road between Stewart and his team members against Logano and his guys which dissipated rather quickly. Stewart immediately granted a live television interview following the incident at a time when retreating to his car hauler for a brief cool down period should have been his first choice. However, from that shoot from the hip live interview came the following Tony Stewart classic sound bite: ”dumb little s**t runs us clear down to the infield. He wants to b***h about everybody else, and he’s the one that drives like a little p***k. I’m gonna bust his ass.”
HOORAH. Okay, that statement was actually very funny and, again, classic “Smoke.”
HOORAH. Someone in the Fox Sports broadcast truck was a Johnny on the spot with the censor button. You need cat like movements to bleep out that many cuss words in a span of a few seconds. Apparently it’s okay to say the word “ass” on Fox Sports.
WAZZUP. Wait a minute, wasn’t that Tony Stewart who threw a block, while defending his race lead, last October at Talladega? Why yes, I believe it was. The result of that move was a 25 car, “big one,” pile up.
HOORAH. The SPEED Channel made very quick work of searching their archives and locating that Talladega video so “everyone” could refresh their memories.
WAZZUP. Tony Stewart also pointed out that, in the heat of the moment, Joey Logano threw a bottle of water at him “like a little girl.” Okay, I have to admit that Logano’s water throw was indeed a little on the girly side and definitely needs some work.
WAZZUP. Wait a minute, wasn’t that Tony Stewart who, last year, threw his helmet at Matt Kenseth’s race car? Why yes, I believe it was. Expect the SPEED Channel to pull that video from the archives very soon. Stewart’s helmet toss contained a stunning amount of aim and velocity and was considered to be Olympic athlete quality. Here’s an idea, when the drama between these two drivers settles down, and it will sooner or later, maybe Stewart can give Logano some tips on the fine art of throwing things at race drivers.
HOORAH. So, who are the big winners from all of this driver drama? First off there’s the Auto Club Speedway who wound up with a racing show that fans and media will be discussing at great length over the next two weeks prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ return to action. The other big winner is the Public Relations Department, and ticket sales office, at the Martinsville Speedway, the scene of the next Cup race on April 7th.
HOORAH. The element of all of this driver drama nearly overshadowed the fact that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has a new points leader. On the final lap of the Auto Club 400, Dale Earnhardt Jr saw the incident between Hamlin and Logano coming and made quick work of moving into second place with the checkers only 50 yards away. It was a very strong run for a driver who hasn’t had a lot of good racing luck at this speedway in the past.
WAZZUP. The in house girl friend, still a card carrying, T shirt wearing, member of the Junior Nation, is beyond thrilled with this news. Every time I leave my racing office and walk into the living room, she wags her index finger at me and shouts JUNIOR!!!!! That’s only fair, her favorite driver has been very strong so far this year.
Some final Fontana footnotes:
HOORAH. The Auto Club Speedway’s massive two mile oval was considered to be the next major test for NASCAR’s new Generation-Six race car which passed that test with flying colors. According to NASCAR’s data base, there were 41 passes for the lead which tied a speedway record. There were also a recorded 3,721 green flag passes in the race, the most since 2010.
HOORAH. According to regional newspapers located in the Fontana area, a reported 85,000 fans attended the Auto Club 400. In this day and age filled with harsh national economics, those are very strong numbers. Those numbers are in direct proportion to the hard work by the speedway staff and their efforts to promote the race. Those fans were treated to a thrilling race that will be included in the season highlight reel at the end of the year.
HOORAH. The national television ratings were reported to be a whopping 32 percent up from last year’s race. In all honesty, it has to be pointed out that ratings from the 2012 event were hampered by inclement weather. None the less, the numbers for the 2013 event were very strong. Fox Sports and NASCAR had to be thrilled with the results.
HOORAH. The dedication levels of true NASCAR fans has never ceased to amaze me. A case in point was the very large group of fans who gathered at a Bass Pro Shops store in the community of Rancho Cucamonga on the Thursday night before the race weekend. The eager fans were there to meet drivers Tony Stewart and Jamie McMurray. Many of them reportedly lined up in front of the store 20 hours before the start of the meet and greet. Some were even reported to have camped out in the store’s parking lot the night before the event.
HOORAH. Cheryl Hackett and Richard Dogero are a Riverside based couple who has been together for approximately eight years. Their mutual love of NASCAR racing was one of the factors that cemented their relationship. Early Friday morning, prior to the scheduled practice sessions, they were married in the Auto Club Speedway’s victory lane. Good luck and God bless Mr and Mrs Dogero.
WAZZUP. Over the years this race track has been heavily maligned by critics regarding the quality of the racing there. The fact of the matter is: that situation has tremendously changed for the better over the past few racing seasons. I personally am done participating in any conversion with anyone who tries to tell me the Auto Club Speedway can’t produce good racing. The 2013 Auto Club 400 was one of the best NASCAR Sprint Cup events we’ve seen, from any track, in quite a long time. Anyone who didn’t enjoy this race probably wasn’t a NASCAR racing fan to begin with.