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Montreal and Michigan: Some things worth repeating

by Dave Grayson
Tuesday, August 23, 2011

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Steve Wallace
During the NASCAR weekend, at both Michigan and Montréal, we observed a bizarre bad hair moment as well as the driver frustrations of trying to make the Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship line up. From that came several comments that deserved to be repeated. Here are just a few of them.

In the moments that followed the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Montreal, Jerry Baxter was a very angry man. Baxter is the crew chief for Pastrana-Waltrip Racing's Nationwide Series team. He was manning the pit box at Montreal for driver Patrick Carpentier. Baxter really wanted to help deliver a win, or at least a rock solid finish, for his driver because it was Carpentier's final race before he officially retired from driving after spending 27 years in the sport. Sadly that didn't happen. Carpentier found himself in an altercation with Nationwide Series regular Steve Wallace. The fact that Carpentier had to settle for a disappointing 32nd finish while Wallace survived the incident and moved on to finish fourth did not escape the notice of Baxter.

After the race Wallace was sitting in his car on pit road with the window net down and his helmet off. The ESPN Television cameras made quick work of presenting an angry Baxter charging towards the Wallace car. We all expected to see a right hook punch being thrown at the driver. Instead Baxter decided to pull Wallace's hair. Once we all got over the surprise of this move it was actually pretty funny.

In the aftermath of this incident, Steve Wallace reminded us that "only girls pull hair." Later, from his "Twitter" account, Wallace wrote: "my hair feels okay, a lil' sore, ha ha."

On the Tuesday following the race, Baxter issued a formal apology, issued by Pastrana-Waltrip Racing, that said: "I'm sorry for what happened after the race on Saturday, and I take full responsibility for my own actions. I called Steve and apologized. I was frustrated and let my emotions get to me." Wallace responded with another "Tweet" that read: "just talked to Jerry Baxter, he's going to give me my hair back, ha ha."

Also weighing in on this issue was NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Kenny Wallace, the uncle of Steve Wallace, via his "Twitter" account. In his first message Kenny Wallace praised Baxter for his apology. Apparently someone sent Wallace a "Tweet" asking him what his brother Rusty Wallace, Steve's dad and team owner, thought about this incident. Kenny Wallace responded with: "Rusty and Steve have THICK skin. Steve finished fourth. That's what Rusty thinks"

This is not the first time Steve Wallace has found himself in the eye of a racing storm. He seems to thrive on it somehow and proved the point via another "Tweet" where he wrote: "cars run on fuel, I run on controversy and 5 Hour Energy, (his team sponsor), baby !"

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There are only three races left on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule before the official line up for the 2011 Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship. There are a handful of Cup drivers who are seriously feeling the stress of making that all important Chase line up with time running out. One of them is Tony Stewart, the owner-driver of Stewart-Haas Racing. Amazingly, Stewart is still seeking his first win of the 2011 season. Several weeks ago he was in the top five in the points standings and looking good to earn a Chase berth. Now he's currently tenth in the points standings and worried about staying there so he can participate in the championship run. He has repeatedly blamed this nail biting situation on inconsistent team performances.

Despite a solid ninth place finish at the Michigan race, Stewart simply wasn't happy and, in an eyebrow raising comment, said: "I will be perfectly honest, at this point of the deal, if we're going to run this bad, it really doesn't matter if we make the Chase or not. Our stuff is so bad right now, we're wasting one of those 12 (Chase) spots right now."

Some observers referred to this comment as a "meltdown." Actually it's not, Stewart was remarkably calm when he made that statement. Those of us who recall his early days in NASCAR, when he was driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, remember times when he was often referred to as "Tony The Terrible." Now some of those moments were meltdowns.

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Also feeling the strain of making the Chase line up is driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. During the first quarter of the season NASCAR's most popular driver was as high as third in the points standings and his massive fan club, known as "the Junior Nation", was elated. Then a free fall began and Earnhardt now finds himself ninth in the standings and only six points ahead of Stewart. He was working on a needed top ten finish during the Michigan race. A late race caution set up the race's green-white-checker finish. Prior to the restart Earnhardt was summoned to pit road by crew chief Steve Letarte for two tires and a splash of gas. It was a gamble that sadly didn't work. The potential top ten turned into a 14th place finish.

After the race, Earnhardt diplomatically said "we probably shouldn't have made that last pit stop." Earnhardt said he was pretty much mired down in the field for the final restart adding "we took two tires like a lot of guys and just didn't have the good fortune at the end of that green-white-checker. We were on the bottom behind the #00, (David Reutimann), and some other people that were slow as hell and just couldn't go nowhere."

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If Stewart and Earnhardt are feeling some major stress, then one has to think that Denny Hamlin may be getting a little frantic regarding his Chase aspirations. Hamlin was a heavy pre race favorite to win the Michigan race. He already has one win this year and a second win would have propelled him from 11th in the standings into the top ten. At the very least a win would have virtually locked down a wild card berth in the final Chase line up. Unfortunately disaster stuck for Hamlin when he smacked the wall during the Michigan race and he wound up with a devastating 35th place finish that dropped him from 11th to 14th in the points.

In the late 1960's the Beatles came up with a great song that said: “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends." After the Michigan race Hamlin received some very encouraging words from a very good friend: NBA basketball legend Michael Jordon. It seems that Hamlin and Jordon are not only very close friends they are also involved in some business investments with each other. Jordon sent his friend a text message that Hamlin shared with his fans on his "Twitter" page. That message read; “Tough day my friend. Still in this thing. Stay positive."

That's good advice for us all and it's a comment that deserves to be repeated.

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