NASCAR Sonoma Postscript

Kyle Busch leads Kurt Busch
Kyle Busch leads Kurt Busch

I had the pleasure of spending this past week at the picturesque Sonoma Raceway covering the Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Taking advantage of the opportunity to take fresh rubber after a late caution, Kyle Busch stormed past leader Jimmie Johnson after the final restart then held off the charge from brother Kurt to score his 30th career Sprint Cup win. It was Busch’s first win since sustaining a broken leg at Daytona in February.

Given, that my traditional has beat has been the Verizon IndyCar Series, you might imagine, many asked for something of a compare and contrast analysis between a NASCAR and IndyCar weekend. This was my second time covering a NASCAR weekend, as I was at Dover last month.

In all honesty, there were many more similarities than differences. I was told going into the weekend that the NASCAR paddock was less friendly than in IndyCar. While the availability of drivers was not what it is in IndyCar, I personally did not find people in the paddock as a whole to be more or less friendly than IndyCar. For example, I approached two crew chiefs of some renown both of whom were quite gracious. There were some clear differences, many of which you might expect such as the prevalence of greater corporate sponsorship. Joe Gibbs for example had M&M's, FedEx, Dollar General, Toyota, and Stanley all on ONE SHIRT. That's 4 American Fortune 500 companies, and the #6 ranked company on the Global Fortune 500 companies list just on Coach Gibbs’ shirt.

Other very apparent differences included traffic getting into and out of the track and local media coverage. Granted, the traffic element is in part a Sonoma issue as the track is nestled in the middle of wine country and has very few entry ways in and out. Still, planning around anticipated traffic on IndyCar weekends is a phenomenon largely confined to Memorial Day weekend and the Indy 500.

As for local media coverage, this may have been an exception due to the media coverage of local boy Jeff Gordon retiring. But Gordon was not the only driver to be featured. I saw local papers that ran features on Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson and Carl Edwards. Where often times the focus for IndyCar in local markets highlights the event itself, local media clearly caught on to the stars of the events and their stories. The contrast in this regard with IndyCar was quite apparent.

But at the end of the day it was a motor race, and overall a lot more similar than different to other races I’ve covered.

Now, one thing I will remember the weekend for was a particular topic of discussion…

The Confederate Flag

Speaking of the drivers, many of them were asked to given their opinion on a subject that was a hot topic of discussion and one I'm going to assume you have some familiarity: the current debate about the Confederate Flag at NASCAR races in light of recent happenings in South Carolina and elsewhere.

Personally, I found the interest in what race car drivers thought of a flag to be somewhat curious. But I suppose that very dynamic is a reflection of what we discussed above in that the drivers are clearly front and center as the stars of the sport – a clear hallmark of the NASCAR's success.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Obviously, it's a tricky subject in NASCAR land as much of the sport's traditional fan base is rooted in the Deep South. As you might imagine, many drivers gave non-endorsing and non-committal answers on either side.

Anyway, the debate has intensified even since Sonoma when this week as NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France has expressed a desire to remove the flag from all NASCAR races.

Now, I could look at France's sudden desire to put this discussion front and center with more than a fair degree of skepticism. For one, NASCAR has long turned something of a blind eye to the matter. Without ever endorsing the Flag, the sanction has long stated that is was somewhat powerless to do anything about its display at races. Second, under France's leadership there has seemingly been a movement to capitalize on public opinion at a given moment. The very obvious convenient timing to suddenly adopt such a moral crusade will certainly have the skeptics wondering if Integrated Marketing Communications is salivating over the chance to count a few more social media impressions.

And last, is it more than a little arrogant for NASCAR to inject itself into a social debate? Should and/or does anyone really care what a motorsports sanctioning body thinks about a flag?

Now, I'm not Mr. Politically Correct and I also believe many people claim certain symbols are offensive advantageously to gain political or social advantages they are undeserving of. I don't believe that with the Confederate Flag. To me, it is a symbol people understandably find disenfranchising. Also, for those who cite free speech, that is to me a moot point in this case. A citizen’s freedom of speech is constitutionally protected against the government, not at motorsports events.

The Confederate Flag has been part of NASCAR since the 1950s
The Confederate Flag has been part of NASCAR since the 1950s

Ultimately, the debate comes down to one real simple matter. Whether you believe it's silly for a motorsports sanction to mandate something such as the display of a flag, or whether you look at France's timing with a skeptical eye are to me somewhat secondary. The removal of the Flag is simply the right thing to do. While the sanction can't legislate morals it can legislate against actions that are fundamentally divisive and disenfranchising at its events. It can say NASCAR events are not the outlet for such displays, and that a symbol which clearly disenfranchises is not welcome.

It can and it should. If Mr. France so happens to be a decade or four late with his sudden sanctimonious stance on the matter, well better late than never.

Good Kurt/Bad Kurt

Speaking of late, the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season got off to something of a late start for one, Kurt Busch.

Of course, both the prodigious talent and volcanic temper of Kurt Busch have been well-documented in great detail. And generally speaking, the helicopter view on Busch is when he's good, he's real good, and when he's bad, he's really bad. The preceding describes the 36-year-old Las Vegas native both on track and off.

Well, right now all indications are Busch is one of his happy places. He was very at ease during the weekend at Sonoma and fast in every session. He also spoke of the chemistry in #41 wing of the Stewart/Haas camp being as strong as ever, equating it to when he was with Jimmy Fennig during his 2004 championship season at Roush.

Busch obviously has some stiff competition to contend with, not the least of which is teammate Kevin Harvick, who has shown no signs of a championship hangover. But right now, the driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet is driving as well as anyone.

Baby Bro'

As good as Kurt Busch was this weekend in Sonoma, it was brother Kyle who took the checkered flag in the Toyota/Save Mart 350. Somewhat to my surprise, it was the first time the brothers Busch had finished 1-2.

With Kyle winning his first race since returning from his gruesome leg injuries sustained at Daytona, and Kurt seemingly rounding into form, it was a good weekend for the Busch family. We’ll see how long such form lasts.

Brian Carroccio is a senior motorsports columnist for AutoRacing1. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com

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