Monday, November 02, 2020

COMMENTARY: Harvick’s Demise No Grounds For Format Change

Despite being the dominant driver of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season, Kevin Harvick will not race for the championship Sunday at Phoenix Raceway. 

A nine-time winner in Cup Series competition to date, the Stewart Haas Racing driver suffered through a decidedly sub-par performance yesterday at Martinsville Speedway, struggling with early race handling issues before cutting a tire and losing two laps while pitting under green for repairs. His team made modest improvements to their Mobil 1 Ford in the second half of the race, but despite long runs of green flag racing, Harvick struggled to regain that lost ground. 

He eventually scrapped his way back into contention and was briefly tied with Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski for the final two spots in the Championship Four. As Chase Elliott crossed beneath the checkered flag, Harvick stood one point below the cutoff line. He attempted a desperation, dump-and-run maneuver on Kyle Busch, door slamming the defending series champion in the final turn and causing both drivers to spin. 

Harvick came to rest just a few yards short of the checkered flag and eight points short of a title opportunity in Phoenix. 

His failure to advance has triggered an interesting tumult of complaints from some corners, alleging that NASCAR’s playoff format is flawed and should not allow a driver as dominant as Harvick to be eliminated. 

Here’s a dose of reality, for those either unable or unwilling to see it: The system did not cause Kevin Harvick’s playoff demise. 

A lack of late-season performance – and an average finish of 12.7 in the last six weeks – caused Harvick’s elimination from the championship picture. He admitted as much following the race, saying, “We didn’t put together these last few weeks like we needed to.”

A truly dominant regular season allowed Harvick to enter the playoffs with a substantial safety net. He received 15 points for clinching the regular-season title; the equivalent of three race wins. His cushion grew even larger when he won two of the first three playoff races at Darlington and Bristol. Those bonus points camouflaged a handful of lukewarm outings in the Rounds of 12 and 8, but another poor performance at Martinsville yesterday consumed the final few bites of that safety net, leaving Harvick with his back unexpectedly to the wall.

A cut tire put him behind the eight-ball early yesterday. But he had 320 laps to regain two lost laps and save his bacon. He got one of those laps back almost immediately by taking the Wave Around on Lap 188, but spent the next 200 laps trying unsuccessfully to put himself in position to earn the Free Pass. Unfortunately, an ill-handling race car prevented him from doing so. 

In the final analysis, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski did what they had to do yesterday, turning in championship-caliber performances when the chips were down.

Harvick did not.

As shocking as it was, the demise of the No. 4 team is far from unprecedented. In NASCAR – and in other sports – the best team over the course of the season quite often fails to win the championship.

In 2008, the New England Patriots ran the competitive table on their way to Super Bowl XLII, entering the final game of the season with an unblemished 18-0 record. They lost the championship game to a New York Giants team that lost four games in the regular season.

Closer to home, Alan Kulwicki won the 1992 NASCAR Cup Series title, despite winning only two races and going winless in the final 16 weeks of the campaign. Championship runner-up Bill Elliott won five times that year.  

In 1993, Rusty Wallace won 10 races, but lost the championship to six-time winner Dale Earnhardt.

Terry Labonte won two races en route to the 1996 Cup Series championship, with 10-time winner Jeff Gordon finishing second. 

Nobody howled “unfair” back then, and no one called for the system to be revamped so a team with more wins could be crowned champions, even after losing a critical playoff game. 

Right now, the knee-jerk reactionaries have the stage. Overflowing with fire and brimstone, they demand that immediate changes be made, outlawing the kind of stunning upset we saw last night at Martinsville Speedway. We’ve heard calls today for NASCAR to begin seeding the regular-season champion all the way to the Championship Four in coming seasons, a move that would allow a driver to finish dead-last in nine consecutive playoff races, before being crowned champion in the season finale. 

That, my friends, is overreaction in the extreme. 

The people making noise today were eerily silent last week, apparently seeing nothing wrong with a system that -- since its inception -- has made the kind of upset we saw yesterday a distinct possibility. They have also had virtually nothing to say today about Gander Truck Series regular season champion Austin Hill, who saw his playoffs end Friday night in almost-identical fashion, after suffering a blown engine. 

Why is that? Why so much outrage over Harvick’s Cup Series dismissal, with none on the Truck Series front? It’s a question I cannot begin to answer. 

Let’s be clear about one thing. Despite his recent struggles, Kevin Harvick is a true racer, a championship-caliber driver with a top-notch team behind him. 

It’s not easy to maintain regular-season momentum through a full, 36-race season, and while obviously disappointed, Harvick, Rodney Childers and company have absolutely no reason to hang their collective heads. They will be back next season to contend strongly for the championship as they always do, using the hard lessons learned in the last few weeks to make them even better than they were this time around. 

And when they do -- despite all the noise being made right now -- they will do so under exactly the same playoff system.






Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Did Kyle Busch Contribute To His Own Team’s Demise?

Kyle Busch’s defense of the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series championship is over.

It ended with a whimper rather than a bang Sunday, with his Joe Gibbs Racing M&Ms Toyota sputtering out of fuel with three laps remaining in the Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Busch collided with fellow playoff contender Clint Bowyer and cut a tire near the end of Sunday’s second stage, forcing crew chief Adam Stevens to play a “Hail Mary” strategy card, leaving Busch on the racetrack when the balance of the field pitted. It earned Busch a few encouraging laps at the head of the field, but his team’s prayers for either a race-ending monsoon or a lengthy caution ultimately went unanswered.

Essentially helpless on old rubber, Busch faded to the tail end of the Top-5 – when only a win would do – then ran out of fuel with three laps remaining, eventually finishing 30th.

“It’s just been a year (where) nothing has played out or been on our side,” said Busch, who saw a streak of six consecutive Championship Four appearances snapped. “It’s just been unfortunate circumstances and a lot of bad luck. The guys on this M&Ms team never give up and they fight all year long, every race, every lap, every pit stop. But man, this is just one of those off-years, a terrible year for me.”

Scratched from the list of 2020 title contenders, Busch will now spend the final four races of the season trying to snap a 32-race winless streak – the longest of his career – and a lengthier competitive drought that has seen him visit Victory Lane just once in his last 54 Cup Series starts.

Perhaps he will approach those races with a positive, “How can I help?” attitude.

Perhaps not.

Past history indicates that it could go either way.

Three weeks ago, after a strong runner-up finish at Bristol Motor Speedway qualified him for the Playoff Round of 12, Busch was asked if his team could contend with the speed and performance displayed this season by Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin.

“No” said Busch bluntly. “We’ll be eliminated in the next round, so I don’t care”

It was a shocking statement, one that quickly drew the ire of Joe Gibbs Racing Competition Director Jimmy Makar and others within the JGR hierarchy. Makar called Busch’s comments “disappointing, but not surprising,” and while the two-time series champion eventually backpedaled, saying, “You know me, I say stupid (things sometimes).”

The damage, however, had already been done.

Busch’s doomsday prediction became a self-fulfilling prophecy, after a sixth-place showing in Las Vegas was followed by a 27th at Talladega and Sunday’s 30th-place showing on the ROVAL.

Through it all, Busch continued to downplay his team’s chances, repeating his “We’ll be eliminated” prediction on multiple occasions. After cutting a tire at the end of Sunday’s second stage, Busch once again seemed to run-up the white flag of defeat, saying “Good job this year, guys” on his in-car radio.

That message – and those that preceded it -- will not easily be forgotten, nor undone.

It was the auto racing equivalent of Tom Brady conceding defeat to the Atlanta Falcons after trailing 28-3 in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI.

It was Michael Jordan walking off the court with 2:00 remaining and the Bulls down by 10, or Kirk Gibson saying he was too hurt to pinch hit with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in Game One of the 1988 World Series.

As Yogi Berra so famously said, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”

While Busch’s chances were admittedly slim in Sunday’s final stage, a severe thunderstorm with more than enough wallop to pause (or even end) the race was churning straight at Charlotte Motor Speedway, just as Stevens’ desperation ploy played out in the final laps.

When things go badly – in sports or in life – adversity often provides a critical opportunity for self-examination. If we’re willing to take a long, self-deprecating look in the mirror, we often discover “bad luck” taking the blame when bad decision making, poor execution and a negative outlook are truly at fault.

Within minutes of Busch’s elimination – and for the three weeks that preceded it – rumors circulated about possible changes to Busch’s team during the offseason. After a losing campaign, football teams generally retain the high-dollar quarterback at the expense of the head coach, leaving Stevens as the most likely scapegoat for his team’s 2020 shortcomings.

But it’s also fair to ask whether Busch did everything he could do this season – both on and off the racetrack – to mitigate his team’s struggles.

Was he a leader, lifting his team’s morale in troubled times and displaying the “never say die” attitude that separates winners from loser in sports, business and life? Or did he drag his Cup Series team down with predictions of continued hardship and failure, while attributing his four Xfinity and Truck Series wins to “KFB;” Kyle Effing Busch.

Busch is correct in saying that most drivers would happily trade seasons with him and his No.18 JGR Toyota team. But most drivers are not Kyle Busch; a generational talent who has more skill in his left pinky finger than most drivers have in their entire bodies.

The gap between NASCAR champion and playoff also-ran is slimmer than ever these days, and if Busch’s legendary hair-trigger temper and careless comments played even a tiny role in his team’s 2020 downfall, it is a topic that needs to be addressed.

Monday, October 05, 2020

COMMENTARY: NASCAR's "Yellow Line Rule" Is Imperfect, But What's The Option?

NASCAR finds itself on the hot seat today, in the aftermath of a race at Talladega Superspeedway that featured 13 caution flags – three of them red – and required Triple Overtime to complete. 

Wild even by Talladega standards, yesterday’s race saw a number of penalties assessed for either racing below the double-yellow line at the bottom of the speedway, or forcing another driver to do so. 

The most controversial penalty was assessed to driver Matt DiBenedetto, who swerved down the track while leading in the final turn, in an attempt to block challenger William Byron. Contact was made, with NASCAR ruling that Byron was forced below the double-yellow line. Eventual winner Denny Hamlin also drove below the line in an apparent attempt to avoid Byron. 

NASCAR issued an immediate penalty to DiBenedetto, moving him from second place to 21st (tail end of the lead lap) for violation the provision of the NASCAR rule book that states, “Race above the double-yellow line. If – in NASCAR’s judgement -- you go below the double-yellow line to improve your position, you will be black flagged. If – in NASCAR’s judgement – you force someone below the double yellow line in an effort to stop them from passing you, you may be black flagged.” 

A crestfallen DiBenedetto admitted driving aggressively on the final lap saying, “I was blocking everyone’s lane. That was pure desperation, but that’s how I drive every race.” 

Hamlin supported the decision, saying, “Finally NASCAR put their foot down. You can’t use the yellow line as a defense. You have to play within the boundaries that they set.” 

Chase Elliott was also penalized for going below the line on the final lap. His Hendrick Motorsports team filed a formal protest, and Elliott was reinstated after a NASCAR video review indicated that Chris Buescher had forced him out of bounds. 

Elliott ended up fifth, with Buescher demoted from sixth to 22nd. 

NASCAR’s post-race penalties drew the ire of many observers, with calls for the so-called “Yellow Line Rule” to be modified or abolished outright. 

There is no doubt that the “Yellow Line” rule is subjective. Subjectivity and judgement calls are a regular (and sometimes unpopular) part of sports officiating. Unfortunately, there are very few black-and-white calls in sports, or in NASCAR. No two incidents are exactly alike, making “one size fits all rules” difficult to write and even more difficult to apply. 

Disliking the current rule is one thing, coming up with a better alternative is something else altogether.

 In situations like those that presented themselves yesterday at Talladega, opinions are sometimes formed based on who we like and who we root for. Chase Elliott and Matt DiBenedetto are two of the most popular drivers in NASCAR, and lots of people were understandably rooting for them to win yesterday. That desire – while the basis of fandom – sometimes clouds our perception of what actually happens on the racetrack, and how it should be dealt with. 

NASCAR obviously cannot rule on popularity. They need to interpret their rules as evenly and unemotionally as possible, attempting to go “by the book” in every instance, even when the situation is not as black-and-white as we might like. 

Calls for the abolition of the “Yellow Line Rule” are worthy of discussion, but before agreeing to do away with any rule, we need to decide what to do instead. 

Legalizing an Oklahoma Land Rush of drivers racing six-wide onto the apron at 195 mph does not seem like a prudent option. While some drivers insist that they can be trusted to do the right thing on the final lap of a critical playoff race -- conducting themselves in a manner that  endangers neither themselves nor others -- their ability to follow through on that pledge remains in doubt. 

A few years ago, NASCAR announced that it would no longer enforce the proper installation of lugs nuts, leaving it up to the teams to ensure the safety of their drivers. Almost immediately, drivers begged the sanctioning body to get back into the lug nut business, admitting that the lure of omitting a lug nut or two in an effort to be first off pit road on a late-race pitstop was too much for them to resist. 

If we can’t trust drivers and teams to tighten five lug nuts on the last pit stop, what makes you think we can trust them to exercise discretion and race safely on the final lap? 

Sometimes, we need a higher authority to make sure things are done safely and correctly. And until someone can come up with a new edict that eliminates the subjectivity of NASCAR’s “Yellow Line Rule,” the present system will almost certainly remain in place. 

Let the discussion begin.

Monday, September 21, 2020

COMMENTARY: Critical Week Coming For Kyle Busch

It has been a challenging 2020 season for Kyle Busch.

The defending NASCAR Cup Series champion has struggled to repeat a 2019 campaign that saw him win five times and post 27 Top-10 finishes in 36 starts. This time around, the Las Vegas native has struggled to keep pace with dominant drivers Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin, going winless in his last 29 starts – since last year’s Homestead Miami finale – with only 16 Top-10 finishes in 29 outings this season.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver finished a close second to winner Kevin Harvick Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway; a track where he has won eight times in the past. A thrilling, 60-lap duel saw Busch muscle the top spot away from Harvick with 41 laps remaining, only to relinquish the lead just 10 laps later. Busch hounded Harvick’s back bumper the rest of the way, with the pair slicing through Bristol’s typically heavy lapped traffic in a duel to the finish that had the fans – quite literally – on the edges of their seats.

Never one to celebrate a runner-up finish, Busch was typically salty after the race, blaming lapped traffic for costing him the race, despite using a lapped car as a pick to pass Harvick on Lap 469. He singled out drivers Joey Gase and Garrett Smithley for criticism, calling them "dips#it kids" for not giving way in the closing laps.

He also had harsh words for 11th-place finisher Joey Logano, blasting the Team Penske driver for racing the leaders while a lap down in the late going by saying, “He's nobody's friend for a reason."

The defending NASCAR Cup Series champion also blasted Daniel Suarez earlier in the race, after the Gaunt Brothers Racing driver momentarily blocked him in on pit road, questioning the loyalty of his fellow Toyota driver in a profanity-filled radio tirade.

No stranger to Busch’s critical crosshairs, Smithley responded angrily via Twitter Saturday night. 

“Even when I don’t do anything, @KyleBusch blames me,” he said. “Went outta my way to give him room tonight. Think he might have thought I was in a different car.”

Busch’s post-race unhappiness was no surprise. As his personal winless streak has grown, so has his level of frustration. At various times this season, Busch has pointed an accusatory finger at NASCAR for eliminating practice and qualifying during the COVID-19 pandemic, and at his own team for failing to provide him with cars capable of running up front and winning races.

When he loses, it’s someone else’s fault. When he wins – once in the Xfinity ranks and three times in the Gander Trucks this year -- the deciding factor is declared to be “KFB;” Kyle Effing Busch.

From this side of the fence, the lack of practice and qualifying does not appear to have negatively impacted the caliber of competition. And even if it has, it impacts all teams equally. It’s not like the rest of the garage is out there turning laps on Friday and Saturday while Busch remains parked in the garage. Granted, Busch is one of the best in the sport at diagnosing an ill-handling race car and prescribing a cure. But the shortcomings of his M&Ms Toyota team – if there are any – cannot be blamed entirely on COVID-19.

The pandemic has certainly not caused the 18 team to fail a troubling series of pre-race inspections this season, forcing Busch to race from the rear of the field in each of the last two weeks, while his fellow title contenders start in the front eight rows.

Busch and JGR teammates Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones all dropped to the rear of the field Saturday night after flunking multiple pre-race inspections. While Hamlin and Jones struggled to move forward at the drop of the green flag, Busch slashed his way through the pack, finishing an impressive second in the opening stage and winning the second.

Was slower traffic somehow less of an issue in the opening two stages?

Likely not.

In the final analysis, Busch got outrun in the final laps Saturday, by a driver and team that have made a habit of outrunning people this season.

Busch’s post-race outburst was not unexpected, but it is absolutely a cause for concern for his fans and supporters.

Asked for his take on the upcoming Playoff Round of 12, Busch answered, “We'll be eliminated next round.” 

Allowed to fester, that attitude could easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

By his own admission, Busch’s hair-trigger temper has negatively impacted the morale of his Joe Gibbs Racing team in the past. He has pledged to do better in the future, and in fairness, has kept his lip zipped more often than not this season, despite a winless skein that is uncomfortably long and worse than it looks at first glance.

All told, Busch has only one checkered flag in his last 51 NASCAR Cup Series starts, dating back to the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 7, 2019. One win every 17 months is not a recipe for championship success, and Busch knows it.

Perhaps Saturday night’s post-race spleen venting was a simple case of a professional athlete letting off steam in the immediate aftermath of a disappointing, close-but-no-cigar playoff defeat.

Perhaps Busch will circle his emotional wagons in the days to come, put Saturday’s runner-up finish in its proper context and show up at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend ready to rumble. If not, his “Sky Is Falling” outlook could easily damage a team that is ready, willing and able to hit its postseason stride, despite the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the NASCAR playoffs.

The choice is his.














Monday, July 27, 2020

COMMENTARY: On The Passing Of Bob Bahre

Getty Images/Portland Press Herald
One of the true giants of New England Motorsports was lost Friday, when New Hampshire Motor Speedway founder Bob Bahre passed away at the age of 93.

The Connecticut native began his racing career as a midget car owner in the 1950s and early ‘60s, before purchasing Maine’s Oxford Plains Speedway in 1964. He turned that facility into a showplace of northeast motorsports, hosting a series of big-money “Getty Open” Late Model events that brought full-fendered racers to the forefront of Northeast motorsports.

His monthly Getty Opens pitted wildly divergent classes of automobiles against each other, with NASCAR’s “by the book” Late Model Sportsman drivers traveling north to compete against the short-track based NASCAR North Late Models, Oxford “Saturday Night” Series drivers and a dizzying assortment of fiberglass-bodied Open Comp machines.

The on-track battles were second only to the off-track bickering over rules, with each camp lobbying ferociously for an advantage while complaining bitterly about the perceived advantage held by others. NASCAR stalwart “Terrible Tommy” Ellis summed-up the emotion of the series in the early 1980s, describing the Open Comp contingent as “Kamikaze cars,” saying “NASCAR should be embarrassed to have us racing against them.”

His Getty Open concept was not popular with his fellow track owners, many of whom believed that his lofty purses unnecessarily raised the financial bar.

"Damnit, Bob, why are you paying so much," asked one northeast promoter early in the process. "They'll race for half of that!" 

Bahre was unswayed, however, paying teams what he felt they deserved, rather than what they would accept.

In 1974, using the successful Getty Open format, he posted an unprecedented $25,000 purse for his inaugural “Oxford 200,” luring top drivers and teams from throughout the northeast. Massachusetts youngster Joey Kourafas copped the $4,500 winner's purse that day for car owner Bob Curtiss, and New England Late Model racing would never be the same again.

The following year, he added 50 laps to the event; adding a live pit stop to the game plan and creating the legendary “Oxford 250.”

Bahre ran OPS until 1987, when local politicians stiff-armed his dream of building a superspeedway on the site. Angered by their refusal, Bahre sold the track to entrepreneur Michael Liberty and turned his attention to the Bryar Motorsports Park in Loudon, NH, a somewhat disheveled road course complex that had seen its better days.

In a matter of weeks, Bahre had purchased the property. Eschewing the traditional engineering-based approach, he hired a single surveyor to lay out the facility and plant a few stakes, before dispatching brother Dick Bahre to bulldoze the one-mile semi-banked oval now known as New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Like their counterparts in Maine, local officials threw up a few roadblocks along the way. But this time, Bahre was not to be denied. When neighbors threatened legal action over noise and traffic, Bahre called a meeting and began by ejecting the attorneys from the room. In less than a hour, a common-sense solution was reached that satisfied all parties and allowed construction of the speedway to continue.

When the local Fire Department worried that their ladder truck would not reach the upper levels of the track’s high-rise grandstand, Bahre is reported to have barked, “How much do the damned things cost?” Moments later, the Chief of the Department walked away with a check for a shiny new ladder truck, and NHIS was born.

Bahre built NHIS with no guarantee of a NASCAR race of any kind. It was a colossal gamble, since without NASCAR's headline Cup Series, the facility would almost certainly prove unable to turn a profit.

But in 1990, after just nine months of construction, Bahre brought he NASCAR Busch Series – now Xfinity Series – to the White Mountains, with a capacity crowd of 90,000 fans turning out to witness a race won (ironically) by Ellis. 

Three years later, Bahre strong-armed longtime friend Bill France, Jr. into attending a race at the Loudon oval.
One look at the packed NHIS grandstands was all it took, and in June of 1993, Rusty Wallace won the inaugural "Slick 50 300" NASCAR Cup Series race in New Hampshire.

“Bob had a love affair with auto racing,” said Maine native Ricky Craven, whose victory in the 1991 Oxford 250 was instrumental in jump-starting his NASCAR National Series career. “He was a remarkable man who had the ambition, vision and commitment to make anything happen that he set his mind to. He was remarkably pragmatic. He could figure anything out and put things in perspective as well as anybody I know.”

"Bob taught me a lot." -- Ricky Craven
“Bob taught me a lot over the years,” he said. “One night, I finished Top-5 in one of his Oxford Opens and walked up to the tower to get paid. I had won at Unity Raceway the night before, and Bob asked me how many people were in the grandstands.

“I replied, `About 10,000,’ and Bob just went off.

“`BULLSHIT!’” he yelled. `You have never seen 10,000 people at Unity. Ever! Don’t try to BS people.’

“That was a big life lesson for me.

“Bob always dealt with me frankly. There was very little left to interpretation. Even though it was uncomfortable at times, I loved it. It was exactly what I needed. He was the first person I called anytime I needed advice.

“Even in recent years, Bob would call me every other week. He always ended our conversations by saying, ‘Keep in touch. I like you. I don’t know why I like you, but I like you.’ My life has been better for knowing him and for being his friend.”

NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France commented on Bahre’s passing last week, saying, “Bob’s passion and belief in NASCAR helped bring our sport to millions of New England fans over the last three decades. As founder of what is now New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Bahre’s bold vision helped set a tone for the sport’s national growth. Throughout his career, he was a trusted and valued voice in the industry and will be greatly missed. My family and all of NASCAR extends its deepest condolences to Sandy, Gary and the entire Bahre family.”

Speedway Motorsports President and CEO Marcus Smith said, “What I’ll remember most about Bob Bahre will be his character, understated yet charming. Every time I saw him, he had on khakis and a white shirt. I always enjoyed our genuine conversations. He was very generous to people in the motorsports industry and to the New England communities where he did business. He went about things in a quiet, dignified manner and often times that simple approach is the most impactful. It’s truly an honor to have known Bob. He lived a meaningful life. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. "

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

An Open Letter From Angie Skinner

My friend and former Sirius XM Speedway co-host Angie Skinner found herself swept-up in a controversy not of her own making yesterday, when her stepson, Dustin Skinner, posted some shocking, racially insensitive comments on social media. Sadly, much of the online backlash was directed at Angie and Mike, who in no way deserved the hateful, vitriolic comments that came their way. 

Angie reached out to me today -- as a friend -- to share her heartache and disappointment. After reading her words, I asked if I might share them with you here. Not because Mike and Angie need defending, but because messages of understanding and tolerance are badly needed these days.

For the record, I have known Mike and Angie for a long, long time. They are wonderful, giving, selfless people, without a single racist bone in their bodies. I have no idea what brought Dustin to the dark place he currently inhabits, but I can tell you for sure that it wasn't Mike and Angie. 

We all hope and pray that our children will be successful and make us proud, but there are no guarantees.

I would ask that you read Angie's words with an open heart...

Every morning, I have an amazing God-sent friend that texts me a spiritual writing, she NEVER misses a day.  At 5 AM this morning  I prayed for the right words for today, after reading the horrific words from someone I love.

Do not speak in the hearing of fools; they will despise the wisdom of your words.-- Proverbs 23:9

Many of you really don’t know me -  you don’t know how I grew up, or why I never had children of my own.  You don’t know the ways I have been mistreated by friends; men and women of all races.  You don’t know my battles with depression, my heartbreaks, my failures… You really don’t know me.

Many assume that my husband and I raised children together. We did not.  Many assume we own a race team. We do not. Many of you have posted despicable comments against us for something we did not do, nor support.

My good friend and broadcast mentor Dave Moody taught me one thing when I joined his show years ago; Remember everything you say is permanent. NO ONE forgets, so always make sure what you say or post is accurate and true. Check your sources and do your research.

My true friends and family DO know me and my husband.

You don’t know why I chose to NOT be a serious news reporter after I grew up dreaming of reporting the news every night. You don’t know why I went in the direction of sports and entertainment.  And I won’t share with you those stories.  Yet. 

I will say that  I just love to make people laugh. It’s that simple. I love to make people laugh and smile and forget about their troubles. This is how I use my social media channels; I really do try to just make you all laugh, and myself. 

And you know what? There are many of you out there that even complain about my laugh. That hurts, because it’s my laugh and it’s genuine. But that is your right I guess, to tell me I’m obnoxious and loud and what a piece of crap I am.

It’s my right to ignore your comments and still LAUGH, just as it’s me and my husband’s right to handle our personal grievances against someone and family matters personally and not on social media.

I am not a politician. I never signed up to be outspoken on social injustices.  I admire those that do in good manner, but it’s just not me and for sure is not my husband; who literally still doesn’t truly understand social media. He was told he needed an account and he followed the suggestion. 

When I was notified of the horrendous comments Mike’s son made about Bubba Wallace, I cried. I prayed. I asked God for guidance on how to handle such a situation.

I didn’t even know they were made.  To be honest, Mike and I have not really followed NASCAR media as of late. We are in a stage in our lives where we are transitioning to other adventures. That doesn’t mean we don’t watch races or read tweets or posts from drivers we follow, it’s just not our priority at this stage of our lives. We are diving into new ventures, and with so much hate lately in our world, we rarely even watch the news anymore. 

Our PR manager found the comments, called me immediately and addressed the comments. I asked her to deal with it because I was just so upset that anymore – let alone a family member -- would express anger in that sentiment.  I didn’t even share the info with Mike. I just wanted him to not deal with another family ordeal, of which we have experienced many.

When we were alone and the race was near ending, I told him about the comments made by his son.  He was extremely hurt, humiliated and upset.  He dealt with the issue man to man by calling his son and discussing his anger. 

My husband is a good man who can look into the mirror every morning PROUD of who he is. He is genuine and he is guided by his heart. He loves his friends, his family and his country.

Your judgements against someone you have never met? Well -- just that. You have never met him.  You only saw him on a racetrack and hear him on radio sometimes.

Many made comments in rage, suggesting and demanding what he should do as a father without even knowing how he did handle the situation, minutes after he was told about the post.

You did it behind a keyboard with anger and hate.  You didn’t check your facts and you chastised me and Mike, not realizing the hurt we were dealing with. The same that has happened to many of color, gender, ethnicity. You did exactly what the world needs to STOP doing. 

If we are going to change this world, we need to not promote so much hate and anger. We all need to be kind to one another, help one another, heal with one another, learn from one another.  How we act…. How we love…. How we treat others… How we pray for those fighting such anger…. Love heals and changes – not demands and threats. 

This is how I deal with the many social injustices in this world.  I’m not radical, I’m peaceful. 

When I watched the amazing start of the Talladega race, with the drivers and racers supporting Bubba Wallace, I cried happy tears. It showed the real change being made in love and support.  It was genuine and so beautiful.  I was proud of the sport and even more proud of the people.  To end my night in such chaos really made me think.  Really made me realize that maybe social media isn’t for me in my life right now.  Really made me realize my actions in person mean more than what I type behind a keyboard.  (I know, I’m typing now, but it’s the only way to express my true feelings and hopefully shine a more positive light onto such a dark situation).

We pray Dustin changes his views. He already broke down, apologized and realized how horrific and hurtful his comments were. He asked what to do and we suggested apologizing and learning from the outburst.  Again, we pray that his views change.

But it’s up to him to handle.

Mike will not stop loving his son because the public demands him to.  Mike will promote his positives and hope he continues to grow and love; reminding him of his good qualities and using love and positivity to change his attitude one day at a time.

My husband is a man of great integrity and he will not be demanded by those who have never met him, or via social media channels to give up on his son.  He will fight to fix it -- personally – and not on social media.

He will use love to conquer it. He will do what he can to heal the heart.  He will use love and positive words and any means possible to change the mind of someone who is full of anger and rage.  That is all he can do – and I ask that you understand how we handle our situation. 

Please stop the ranting, hate, blaming and finger pointing.  It’s not going to change our world – it’s just going to fuel the fire.

We pray something positive can come from such a horrific venting of social injustice. 

Though I have never birthed a child of my own – I see the pain and hurt my husband goes through when a child of his acts out in such a manner.  It’s between our family. We all have issues with our families, and if you are so lucky to have the perfect family, God Bless You. Please pray for ours.

I leave you with a message I heard from a sweet, sweet little girl.  Her name is Willow. She is bi-racial.  Her innocent soul has no understanding why she would be looked at different or negative. She is a child with a genuine and young heart. 

Her lesson?  It doesn’t matter what color skin we have.

If we all cut our finger…. Our blood is the same.  It’s red.  We all have a heart, we all have two lungs…. We are all the same. We should all be treated equal… we should all be treated the same way. 

Thursday, June 11, 2020

COMMENTARY: The Time Was Right For NASCAR's Confederate Flag Ban

NASCAR banned the display of the Confederate Flag at its race events and venues yesterday, saying its presence “runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry.”

That decision comes during a tumultuous period for both our sport and our country, with the recent murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis, MN police officer reopening the ongoing debate over equal rights, racism and discrimination against people of color.

Controversy surrounding the Confederate flag is not new to our sport.

In the 1950s and `60s, NASCAR openly embraced the flag, using it in print advertisements for races like the Southern 500 and Dixie 500. A character known as “Johnny Reb,” dressed in a Confederate uniform and waving the Stars and Bars, appeared regularly in Victory Lane ceremonies of that era, creating a perception of our sport that we have struggled mightily to shake.

Five years ago, the issue moved to the front burner when nine black churchgoers were murdered in Charleston, South Carolina by Dylann Roof, an admitted white supremacist who had published photos of himself posing with the Confederate Nazi flags. Then-NASCAR CEO Brian France said at that time, “We want to go as far as we can to eliminate the presence of that flag. I personally find it an offensive symbol, so there is no daylight how we feel about it and our sensitivity to others who feel the same way.”

"Johnny Reb" was once a part
The sanctioning body and its member speedways offered to exchange Confederate flags for American flags, but there were relatively few takers and the symbol remained a common sight at race events.

Until yesterday, NASCAR lacked the willpower to put verbs in its sentences.

That has changed now, and our sport is sure to change as a result.

Let’s be clear about one thing. NASCAR has no interest in telling you what to think, or what to believe. You can proudly display the Confederate Flag at home, if you choose to do so. You can celebrate whatever that flag means to you -- Southern Heritage, racism, white supremacy, whatever – in your own backyard, but you can no longer do so in NASCAR’s yard.

A much-needed line has finally been drawn, and it will be enforced.

I have a major disconnect with those claiming some God-given right to fly the stars and bars at NASCAR races. Regardless of the long-contested history and "real meaning" of that particular symbol, I fail to understand why anyone would willingly – and in some cases, gleefully -- choose to do something that makes others feel threatened and unwelcome.

It’s like walking into a Jewish Synagogue waving the swastika. Whether you have the right to do it or not, it’s  the wrong thing to do.

No matter what it may once have meant, the Confederate flag was long ago appropriated by a group of people whose hate-based goals were simply to intimidate, discriminate and demean. You don’t need to fly the Confederate Flag to enjoy a NASCAR race, any more than you need to burn a cross or hang a mannequin in effigy. And effective immediately, you will no longer be able to do any of those things on track property.

The past few days have been difficult for a lot of us. I have personally had to accept the fact that a number of people I know, respect and consider friends are, in fact, unapologetic racists. I have seen statements made in the last 24 hours that truly and sincerely boggle my mind, from people I consider friends. Wholly and completely at odds with my belief that all men are indeed created equal, those statements both sadden and disappoint me. I look at those people differently than I did just a few days ago, and my circle is smaller as a result.

NASCAR will almost certainly lose some fans in the aftermath of yesterday’s decision. But sometimes, you have to pull some weeds to let the grass grow. The time has come to decide -- once and for all -- who we stand with and what we stand for.

Racism has become so ingrained in our society that today, being anti-racist is often mistaken for being anti-American. It’s time for that to change.

And change it will.

NASCAR’s ban of the Confederate Flag will not be the final word on the topic. There has already been some degree of backlash within the racing community. Jason Beam, whose company -- Beam Designs -- paints custom helmets for a number of NASCAR drivers, tweeted “ignorance wins again” in response to yesterday’s announcement, while Truck Series driver Ray Ciccarelli has vowed to sell his team at season’s end to protest  the move. 

NASCAR offered no details on how they will police their newly announced ban, and at least in the short term, that effort may prove uncomfortable. But make no mistake about it, NASCAR and its member speedways have both the right and the ability to remove patrons who refuse to follow the rules. People who conduct themselves badly have routinely been removed from the premises in seasons past, and this will be no different.

There is never a wrong time to do the right thing, and NASCAR’s decision to remove the Confederate Flag from its venues is both correct and long overdue.