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NASCAR Texas postscript

by Dave Grayson
Monday, November 08, 2010

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During the previous NASCAR weekend at the Texas Motor Speedway we watched a driver back up his personal prediction. We learned how races, and possibly championships, are won and lost in the pits. We learned that sometimes freedom of speech is necessarily free. We saw a new version of "have at it boys" and then discovered that sometimes race drivers fight like girls. With those thoughts in mind, let's begin with:

THUMBS-UP to Denny Hamlin, the winner of Sunday's AAA Texas 500. The "all we do is win" mind set this team adopted quite some ago was clearly in place when Hamlin collected his series high eighth win of the season and 16th career Sprint Cup win.

Hamlin deserves another THUMBS-UP for clearly backing up his personal prediction regarding the final three Chase races. After crossing under the checkers last Sunday at Texas, Hamlin came on his radio and said "I told you we were going to pick it up with three, (races), to go: it's on."

For those of you into professional wrestling you're probably aware of a famous saying that wrestling icon Rick Flair has used for years: "to be the man you have to beat the man." That's exactly what Hamlin did last Sunday in Texas. With Chase rival Jimmie Johnson finishing ninth, Hamlin's now the new points leader and goes into next weekend's race at Phoenix leading the standings by 33 points.

THUMBS-UP to the race winner's crew chief, Mike Ford. Making your official NASCAR 200th start as a crew chief is certainly a milestone to be proud of. But add winning the race and taking over the championship points lead to that and it truly becomes a very special day.

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But there are many observers that will tell you that a Roush Fenway Ford should have won at Texas. WHAT'S-UP with Greg Biffle's hard luck with his broken lower gears? After collecting bonus points for leading the most laps, a very strong potential race winner was extremely slow on restarts because of the gear problem. In the waning laps of the race Biffle was making a strong run to the front only to helplessly watch the final caution flag of the race present itself with seven laps left. Despite this aggravation, Biffle still managed a fifth place finish.

THUMBS-UP to the other Roush Fenway driver who looked like he was going to win at Texas during the final two laps. Early in the day Matt Kenseth was a lap down and it appeared the team was in the midst of another mediocre race that has plagued them all year long. But, in the final moments, Kenseth was back on the lead lap and, with some good pit work and adjustment calls, actually took the lead from Hamlin. Unfortunately a "Hail Mary" type move to clear Hamlin found Kenseth brushing the backstretch wall. Despite the turn out Kenseth was all smiles after the race. That hard charging second place finish had to feel like a win for this team.

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WHAT'S-UP with the performance of Jimmie Johnson's pit crew at Texas? Talk about a bad day at work. During their first seven pit stops the performance of this championship crew managed to cost their driver highly significant track position during four of them.

THUMBS-UP for crew chief's Chad Knaus sudden, and very surprising, decision to swap his team for the available Rainbow Warriors from Jeff Gordon's team. Following a crash that sidelined Gordon's car, the Rainbow Warriors were suddenly available and a deal to swap pit crews was quickly arranged.

THUMBS-UP to Gordon's crew for their stunning performance on pit road. Their first effort got Johnson down pit road in 12.6 seconds which allowed him to pick up positions. The second stop clocked in at 12.3 second while the final stop, a two tire change, was performed in a stunning 5.9 seconds.

A major move like this may seem unorthodox to some but, with a championship on the line, decisions like this are often vital and could loom large when the final points are counted at the end of the season. No one connected to a major sport likes being benched but the #48 deserves a THUMBS-UP for their understanding of the decision. They even "fist bumped" the #24 guys during the changeover.

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That, in turn, leads to a WHAT'S-UP with the sudden availability of the #24 team. Following a lap 191 caution flag, caused by Martin Truex Jr hitting the wall, the cars of Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton collided in what turned out to be a very hard crash. At first, the video replay appeared to be an act of retaliation by Burton. It turned out that there was contact between the two cars from a previous lap and Gordon was pretty steamed about it. Following the yellow flag Burton pulled alongside Gordon to let him know he was sorry about that contact. That's when the two cars got together and hit the wall.

Two ambulances came out onto the track to transport the drivers for the mandatory trip to the infield medical center for a check up. But Gordon walked right by his ride and physically attacked Burton on the backstretch while officials made an effort to pull them apart.. WHAT'S-UP with that move? Is that what they call fighting? Frankly, I've seen ladies in a bar room brawl put out a stronger effort?

Related to this is a THUMBS-UP to NASCAR's "have at it boys" policy initiated last January. It was that policy that allowed ESPN to present a boxing match in the middle of a stock car race if, again, you can call that fighting.

WHAT'S-UP with putting these two angry drivers in the same ambulance for the ride to the medical center?

After the mandatory checkup a still angry Gordon said he's now lost a lot of respect for Burton. But a THUMBS-UP does go out to Burton for taking full responsibility for the incident and explained that their bumpers hooked up when he pulled alongside Gordon's car. He also said that Gordon had every right in the world to be angry with him.

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WHAT'S-UP with Kyle Busch exercising his self proclaimed right to free speech? That's what he called presenting the middle finger to a NASCAR official standing in front of his car on pit road. Busch was called back to pit road to serve a penalty after getting caught speeding while exiting the pits. The angry driver shouted a flurry of expletives over the radio and then presented the offensive hand gesture to the NASCAR official.

There's no defense for this. The Busch car had an in car television camera in it and the entire nation witnessed the act. Someone needs to remind the "Rowdy One" that the tiny green light means the camera is on. That prompted ESPN broadcaster Marty Reid to apologize to the viewing audience for the offensive display.

THUMBS-UP to NASCAR for refusing to tolerate such a display by penalizing the driver two laps for what they termed "unsportsmanlike conduct.". There are now reports that additional punishment may be levied later this week. If that happens then they'll receive another THUMBS-UP for that action as well.

The shame of it all is the fact that Busch had a very strong car capable of winning the race. Had he kept his middle finger to himself he could have rejoined the race at the tail end of the lead lap and become a factor in the finish. It's now likely that Busch just realized that sometimes freedom of speech isn't necessarily free and, dependent upon NASCAR's decision on additional punishment, it could get even more expensive.

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