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NASCAR Darlington postscript

by Dave Grayson
Monday, May 09, 2011

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Regan Smith got his first win
"Thunder In Carolina" is the name of a 1960 movie starring actor Rory Calhoun. The majority of the film was shot at Darlington Raceway and depicted an underdog race team trying to make it to the NASCAR limelight. The sentiment from that old movie certainly rang true last Saturday night at the conclusion of the Showtime Southern 500 when victory lane was emotionally charged by the presence of a first time winner.

Unfortunately this magic moment was overshadowed by the arrival of NASCAR's latest feud after the race which came on the heels of round two of the feud that stemmed from the Richmond race the week before.

But first let's accent the positive:

THUMBS-UP to driver Regan Smith for accomplishing the one goal every NASCAR dreams of: the first ever win in a national touring series. The fact that his first ever win came at a historic race track that helped create the Hall Of Fame heroes of the sport didn't escape Smith's attention. "Legends win this race," he said "I'm not supposed to win this race, I've never even had a top five."

THUMBS-UP to Pete Rondeau, the race winning crew chief, who made the gutsy 'all in" call to keep his driver on the track, during the next to the last caution flag late in the race. That call gave Smith the track position he needed to set up the winning move over runner up Carl Edwards.

THUMBS-UP to Edwards, for showing a great deal of class, by being the first to congratulate NASCAR's newest first time winner. There were quite a few Sprint Cup drivers who visited victory lane to offer their congratulations and Smith admitted that he was overwhelmed by the respect from his peers.

THUMBS-UP to Furniture Row Racing team owner Barney Visser who first put this organization together back in 2006. At a time when nearly all of the Sprint Cup teams are headquartered in the general area of Charlotte-North Carolina, Visser chose to keep his team close to his home of Denver-Colorado and that alone presents a challenge for this small, single car, team that only has 64 employees.

Visser gets another THUMBS-UP for enhancing his team with the presence of sub contractors. The team receives their chassis and race parts from Richard Childress Racing, the power plants from Earnhardt-Childress Racing Engines and their pit road crew is supplied by Stewart-Haas Racing. That's some very heavy back up.

A special THUMBS-UP goes out to the race winner's mom who had a very special reason for not being in victory lane with her son during Mother's Day weekend. Lee Smith, who normally attends all of her son's races, is an animal rights activist. She was in Tuscaloosa-Alabama helping to rescue lost animals who were separated from their families in the wake of the devastating tornadoes that landed in that area.

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From one of her greatest hits, legendary singer Bonnie Raitt sang "let's give them something to talk about." THUMBS-UP to Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch for giving us something to talk about. Who's to bless and who's to blame in NASCAR's latest driver feud is a debate that will rage on for the next several days.

However, WHAT'S-UP with the collateral damage that came from all of the beating and banging between these two drivers? In addition to placing their fellow competitors in dire straits, the real victim was Harvick's Richard Childress Racing team mate Clint Bowyer who suffered a hard hit into the inside front stretch wall.

Kyle Busch sends Kevin Harvick spinning while Jeff Gordon just misses him
WHAT'S-UP with the extended contact, after the yellow caution flag was thrown, when Busch hooked Harvick's car and sent him head on into the outside front stretch wall in front of oncoming traffic? It was a very dangerous situation.

Then there was the matter of the extracurricular activity between these two drivers on pit road after the race. Whether or not that's a WHAT'S-UP or a THUMBS-UP I suppose depends on how you feel about pit road contact or how you feel about the individual driver. Harvick climbed out of his car and threw a left hook past Busch's window net. Whether or not the punch connected is uncertain. It was hard to tell from the camera angle.

Busch does deserve a WHAT'S-UP for pushing Harvick's unmanned race car out of his way. The car rolled to the left and bounced off of the pit road wall. The problem here was the fact that there were a lot of people, especially media photographers, standing there when the Harvick car was launched.

Then there was the matter of the members from the two team's pit crew squaring off against each other in the garage area. A genuine THUMBS-UP goes to that NASCAR official who placed himself between the two groups and ordered them to stand down. I wish I had that gentleman's name. He was standing in the midst of angry people considerably larger than he was. He deserves a lot a credit for a job well done.

Needless to say both drivers were summoned to the NASCAR trailer after the race. Afterwards, both drivers had smiles on their faces but had very little to say about what was discussed inside of the trailer. Has NASCAR's latest driver feud been resolved? I hardly think so.

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Even the "Twitter" comments were rather sparse regarding this incident. It seems everyone was being rather careful regarding how they approached this controversial topic. But THUMBS-UPS goes out to a few "Twitter" accounts that provided some entertaining reading.

There were two comments from Kevin Harvick himself who tweeted "great car and it got a little exciting at the end. I love racing." In his second tweet Harvick, during the course of wishing everyone happy Mother's day, took a chocolate covered opportunity to endorse one of his sponsors while slamming one of Busch's sponsors. In that message Harvick wrote: "if we get our moms candy make sure it's Reese's Pieces and not M&M's. Right?"

However Mrs. Harvick was a little more forthcoming in her "Twitter" messages. Right after the on track incident she wrote "are you freaking kidding me?" She followed that message with a second comment that read "good way to hurt somebody #18, (Busch). Nice hook on the front straightaway, A-hole."

When it comes to candid, and often hilarious, comments you can always count on Kenny Wallace. Calling the incident great for the sport, Wallace wrote "my friends do not over analyze the Harvick-Busch fun. It's two great drivers going at it. I have seen this movie before." He backed that message up with a second tweet that read "my favorite part was when Harvick's crew ran after Kyle Busch's car like the "Keystone Cops." ha ha ha hilarious." This is why everyone loves "Herman The German."

The most unique "Twitter" message of all came from "Queers 4 Gears Dot Com." Yes, you read that right. This is a website for racing fans from the gay and lesbian community that, over the past two years, seems to be picking up a lot of avid readership. Their message stated "call your Congressman and ask him to pressure President Obama to release the photos of Kyle and Kevin in the NASCAR hauler." You just have to love that.

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If you think that drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman are thinking THUMBS-UP to Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch for diverting the attention away from them you're probably right. Montoya and Newman are of course the principals in NASCAR's other driver's feud that stems from the Richmond race.

On Friday NASCAR officials called the drivers to their trailer where they were informed that this was their final warning and their on track activities during the Darlington race would be closely monitored. This was followed by published reports, led by "Fox Sports Dot Com", that said there was actually a physical confrontation between these two drivers. When asked about it after the meeting, a surly Montoya reportedly said "I'm not going to tell you s***, let's leave it at that."

WHAT'S-UP with Montoya allegedly saying "Newman hits like a girl?" Considering Newman's overall size and shape, I find that very hard to imagine.

On Friday Kerry Tharpe calmly said "the meeting did not go as well as we had hoped it would." However, the issues of these two driver feuds are far from over. Early Monday morning Tharpe announced that NASCAR plans to take a very close look at both of these off track incidents to determine if any further action is required.

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In some final thoughts this week WHAT'S-UP with the horrible circumstances that plagued Richard Childress Racing during the Darlington weekend? In addition to the aforementioned crash damage to the Harvick and Bowyer cars, there was also a late race blown engine in Jeff Burton's Chevrolet. This is a driver and team whose bad racing luck defies believability.

Even the organization's fourth team, the #27 Chevrolet of Paul Menard, had some tough moments on, of all places, pit road. Following some contact from another car, Menard spun on pit road and entered his pit stall sideways with the nose of car facing the pit wall. Fortunately all four tires were inside the lines of the pit box so the team was allowed to complete the stop without a penalty.

Then, later in the race, a Menard crew member was attempting to remove a piece of tape from the front grill of the car. The jack man released the car, Menard hit the gas to leave the pit box and came very close to running over the crew member. You can bet "RC" was more than happy to leave South Carolina Saturday night.

WHAT'S-UP with that unusual race accident between the cars of David Ragan and Brian Vickers? Following some contact Ragan's Ford slid sideways and hit Vicker's Toyota. The nose of the Ford ran down the left side of the Toyota and, like a giant can opener, literally peeled the sheet metal off from the front to the rear bumper. The contact also destroyed the energy absorbing safety foam installed in the driver's door. There were multiple pieces of blue foam flying through the air and landing on the track. Even by Darlington Raceway standards this was a rather bizarre set of circumstances.

We close this week with a GOD BLESS to Kate and Carl Edwards who welcomed their second child. Michael Edwards became the newest member of the NASCAR nation last Wednesday weighing in a eight pounds and six ounces. All members of the family are reported to be just fine.

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