Some days, the schizophrenia of NASCAR Nation worries me.
For months now, I have heard fans say they want NASCAR drivers to be outspoken, opinionated and genuine. They decry what they believe to be an insideous NASCAR plot to turn the inhabitants of the Nextel Cup garage into a group of "Stepford Drivers;" all quoting the politically correct company line, while saying little (or nothing) of real importance. And yet, the minute a driver pops off with anything more than another mind- numbing round of Geoff Bodine sponsor-speak, many of those fans line up to cut his throat.
They’ll need two knives this week, courtesy of Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch.
Stewart railed against Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin after their early crash in Saturday night’s Pepsi 400 at Daytona, saying, “All of a sudden he just stops on the exit of Turn Four, in front of 42 cars. He can’t expect all of us to drive around him. He wrecked two really good race cars.”
Stewart continued, saying, “(Hamlin) tried to wreck us in practice on Friday and didn’t get it done. At least he finished it off today. He’s a young guy and he wants to be successful, but I don’t know if he knows what the definition of team is right now.”
Busch, meanwhile, accused his Hendrick Motorsports teammates of abandonment in the final laps of Saturday night’s race, leaving him with minimal drafting help that played a role in his narrow loss to Jamie McMurray.
“We worked together, we got in a line, (and) we ran around the race track,” Busch said of his teammates. “Then things started getting crazy, they went their way and I went my way. Jeff (Gordon) has the philosophy that if…I can help both of us progress, I'll do it. But otherwise, you're on your own. So I was on my own all day.”
Busch also said he attempted to congratulate Gordon on pit road after the race, only to be “blown off” by the four-time Nextel Cup champion.
Were Stewart and Gordon justified in criticizing their teammates Saturday night? Maybe, maybe not. But either way, they ought to be able to speak their minds.
Stewart is developing a propensity for running into the back of other cars, then blaming the run-ee for not getting out of his way. It’s an interesting point of view, and almost certainly flawed to some degree. It is, however, his opinion, and I salute him for expressing it without undue regard for the resulting public outcry.
Busch’s remarks were more justified, in my view. When it came down to crunch time at Daytona, his lame-duck Hendrick “teammates” froze him out, just as they froze Brian Vickers out of team meetings when he announced his intention to jump ship at the end of last season.
That is their right, of course. Gordon, Johnson and Mears are free to draft with anyone they want, whenever they want. The fact that they cost Rick Hendrick a few thousand dollars in winner’s purse is okay with me, if it’s okay with Rick.
Gordon offered an interesting glimpse into his personal mindset after the race, saying, "When I lost my drafting partner and my teammates Casey Mears and Jimmie Johnson; I knew we were in trouble.”
No mention of the Shrub. Interesting.
Was Kyle Busch right when he accused his teammates of bailing out on him down the stretch? Probably.
Was Tony Stewart justified in blaming his teammate for Saturday night’s wreck? Probably not.
Right or wrong, though, we should applaud both drivers for speaking their minds. It seems a bit hypocritical to demand outspoken, opinionated drivers, then bash them for their outspoken opinions.
I’ll take Smoke and Shrubby over a pair of “Stepford Drivers,” any day of the week.