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WAID’S WORLD: A Dominant Trio Is Something NASCAR Has Seen Before

The character the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season has assumed isn’t the kind most fans would like to see.

And a sport that often promotes its high level of competition probably doesn’t like it, either.

Three drivers have dominated the season. They have won 14 of 18 races. They have 19 stage wins among them. They occupy the top three positions in the point standings. It’s reasonable to assume they will be strong favorites to battle for the championship – and one of them will win it.

Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. have become known as “The Big Three” of the season so far. Busch and Harvick have five victories each, Truex four. If you want a foursome include Clint Bowyer with two wins.

Unless you are a fan of one or more of them, this isn’t the kind of thing you perceive NASCAR to be all about. To have multiple winners is your thing. The sanctioning body also likes it.

But as it is in every sport sometimes a select few teams or athletes rise above the others. Happens all the time.

I assume you wouldn’t be surprised if I told you it’s happened in NASCAR before – more than once, in fact.

It was particularly flagrant in 1974 when three drivers combined to win 27 of that season’s 30races.

It happened during a time when NASCAR tried hard to equalize the competition and made many expensive rule changes to make that happen.

But it was to no avail.

It was the season of Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and David Pearson. They were already seasoned stars and multiple championship winners, so no one was overly surprised that they were successful.

But no one figured they would be so dominant. Petty and Yarborough won 10 races each and Pearson, who did not compete on short tracks, won six.

NASCAR desperately attempted to regulate competition and derail their efforts. During the year it made a whopping five major rule changes.

In March of 1974 the sanctioning body made what it said was going to be its only rule change of the year. It mandated that teams use a new carburetor on engines no larger than 366 cu. in.

But by April NASCAR allowed teams running larger engines to utilize yet another carburetor, one that allowed the intake of more air.

However, after Chevrolets running the smaller engine filled the top six positions at Martinsville, with Yarborough the winner, competition was in trouble. NASCAR reacted with yet another change that called for more carburetor alterations.

And there were more to come.

As you might imagine teams became frustrated for several reasons – most of them financial.

“I got home from Martinsville and got another rule change in the mail,” said independent driver/owner Richard Childress. “A few hours earlier I spent $70 on a carburetor that was obsolete before I ever used it.”

 “NASCAR has things so screwed up I don’t know what’s fair and what isn’t,” Petty said. “This small engine thing has cost us $50,000.”

“We get a lot of criticism,” said Bill France Jr., president of NASCAR. “But if you have a bad rule and you know it why stick with it?”

No matter what NASCAR did – this engine, that engine, this carburetor, that carburetor – it did nothing to stifle three of its best teams and drivers.

There was a reason for that. The teams, Petty Enterprises, Wood Brothers Racing and Junior Johnson and Associates, had the money and technical talent to capitalize on every new mandate.

Glen Wood, for example, had his engine builder develop and new 366 cu. in. Ford engine. As a result, Pearson never lost one fathom of his superspeedway prowess.

Among other things, the Pettys beefed up a 340 cu. in. Chrysler engine.

No one knew what Johnson was up to but that is the way he wanted it as Yarborough won repeatedly.

Petty’s words about the season and its revolving rule changes proved prophetic.

“No matter what the rules are the same teams are going to win,” he said. “The only difference is it costs everybody more money to make the changes.”

This year, to date, NASCAR hasn’t made any significant rule changes. Why bother? There is plenty of time for the competition to equalize before the season is over.

 Then again, that might not happen.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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WAID’S WORLD: Jones Newest Member Of NASCAR’s Young First-Timers

Erik Jones’ victory in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway broke up a bit of the monopoly and monotony of the 2018 Monster Series NASCAR Cup season.

Four drivers dominated the first 17 races of the season. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer combined to win 15 events. It wasn’t the kind of stuff that rivets fan attention.

But along comes Jones at Daytona. The newcomer to Joe Gibbs racing, and Busch’s teammate, won the first Cup race of his career in his 57th start.

Now, a quick point. The race was indeed a wreck fest and there is the opinion that Jones would not have won if some other drivers – including Busch and Harvick – had not been crippled or sidelined in a couple of major incidents.

Admittedly, that is a logical assumption. But Jones’ victory is not tainted in any way. He was a survivor who put himself in contention for victory.

As the old racing adage goes, “To finish first, first you must finish.”

Another quick point: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who was involved in several melees and created two of them, was not a very popular man in the garage area.

 The situation was so intense that Stenhouse Jr., who was a target for ridicule and disdain if we go by social media, received a protective escort out of the track.

Stenhouse Jr. admitted he was the cause of a couple of incidents. But he did not admit guilt to anything. He said it was the unfortunate result of hard racing.

Fair enough. But it’s not likely his popularity is going to rise very soon. As one wag posted, “Stenhouse, table for one!”

Back to Jones: The driver acted like an exuberant kid after his victory. And why not? After all, it was his first career win and he IS an exuberant kid.

Jones was 22 years, one month and seven days old when he won at Daytona. Having such a young winner in a Cup race is not a new thing, but it is rare.

There were very few drivers who won a race before they were 24 years old during the 1950s and 60s, NASCAR’s pioneer days.

But interestingly, two of them went on to enjoy spectacular careers that led to their enshrinement in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Junior Johnson was 23 years old when he won his first career race at Hickory in 1950.

Richard Petty was 22 years and seven months old when he won at the Charlotte Fairgrounds in 1960.

The popular Glen “Fireball” Roberts was just 21 when he won his first race in 1950 at Hillsboro. N.C.

Terry Labonte of Corpus Christi, Tex., was 23 years, nine months old when he won the Southern 500 at Darlington in 1980.

I covered that race and just like all the other members of the media, I knew nothing about Labonte. He was a very quiet sort.

But so was the press box when Labonte zipped past David Pearson to win the race. I mean, it was deathly quiet. Everyone was stunned.

Finally a voice rang out, “Boys I think Terry Labonte just won the race.”

He would win a lot more along with two championships.

Bobby Hillin Jr. was a surprise first-time winner at 22 years of age when he won at Talladega in 1986.

That Gordon won his first race in Charlotte at age 22 years, nine months surprised no one.

In the 21st century NASCAR has seen a sizable handful of drivers who have won their first race at a tender young age. This comes a no surprise, really, given the increased number of youngsters who have received competitive rides.

Kyle Busch was 20 years old when he won for the first timer at Fontana in 2005. So was Trevor Bayne when he was victorious in the Daytona 500 of 2011.

Brian Vickers was 22 when he won at Talladega in 2006. Kurt Busch was only a year older when he won at Bristol in 2002 as was Ryan Blaney when he won at Pocono in 2017 and Chris Buescher when he took the checkered flag, again at Pocono, in 2016.

In 2016 Kyle Larson won at Michigan at age 24.

The youngest winner of them all is Joey Logano, whose first career win came at New Hampshire at age 19 in 2009.

It’s nine years later and Logano is now 28 years old. He still looks 19.

Now, Jones joins the ranks of NASCAR’s youngest winners.

I think he is in pretty darn good company.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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WAID’S WORLD: Score One For The Villain At Chicagoland

What did you think of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race at Chicagoland?

Yeah, I liked it too. And for the same reason you did.

The race ended with a nail-biting, slam-and-bam finish that is not the norm in NASCAR. So when it happens it follows that we are all very excited.

This type of melodrama is rare but not as much as you might think. Over the years there have been several riveting finishes that have become part of NASCAR lore.

Just a few: Richard Petty and David Pearson at Daytona in 1976. Petty, Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison at Daytona in 1979. Darrell Waltrip and Benny Parsons at Charlotte in 1980. Kurt Busch and Ricky Craven at Darlington in 2003. Dale Earnhardt and Just About Everybody Else.

There are more, some of which you undoubtedly know well. But you get the idea.

The finish at Chicagoland was the best of the season. But it drew more attention – and reaction – because it involved the driver who polarizes fans more than any other.

I’ve said before that Kyle Busch is NASCAR’s villain. I have also said that he is the type of competitor NASCAR needs. He can be arrogant, rude and a smart aleck. But he backs all of it up with deeds. He wins races.

He won his fifth of the year at Chicagolandand that ties him with Kevin Harvick for the most this season. The two are part of a quartet of competitors who have dominated the competition.

Busch, Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer have combined to win 15 of the 17 races run to date. That’s not good for NASCAR.

But back to Busch. He engaged is some roughhouse driving with Kyle Larson over the last couple of laps that had us at the edge of our seats.

Larson shoved Busch into the wall. Busch kept control as Larson took the lead. Then Busch bumped Larson’s rear end. Larson dangerously slid but lost only one spot as Busch bounced of the wall – again – and went on to win.

Instead of good, hard racing many fans chose to interpret it as more villainy on Busch’s part. They booed.

True to form, Busch responded in his own, unrepentant way.

“I don’t know what you are whining about,” he said on camera as the boos rained down. “If you don’t like this type of racing then don’t watch.”

Then he did a “crybaby” act as the TV camera closed it.

Although I clearly understand why Busch was so vilified by fans, especially on social media, I have to admit I thought he was, well, funny.

It seemed clear that Busch and Larson had no animosity toward each other, even to the point of smiling and shaking hands. To them it was a helluva contest.

“Yeah, I mean, I hit him first, so…  I roughed him up, he roughed me up,” Larson said. “That’s racing.

“I have a lot of respect for Kyle Busch.  He has a lot of respect for me.  Yeah, I mean, like I said, that was hard racing.  I had a lot of fun.”

Now to be honest, I would not be surprised if there was a voice in Larson’s head that said: “Payback is a bitch.”

Well, maybe not.

Nevertheless, the points here are threefold: The finish was classic, one that we’ll remember for a long time and one that NASCAR, presently in the doldrums, needed badly.

The winner was an established star that has become one of the season’s most dominant competitors – and shows no sign of letting up.

But he’s also the villain. He’s the fans either love or hate. And those who do not like him are very vocal.

I’ve said this before. He’s the kind of driver NASCAR needs.

And at Chicagoland I think he showed us why.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

 

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WAID’S WORLD: First Race At Sonoma Meant a Wine Country Invasion

It was back in 1989 that Sonoma Raceway, then known as Sears Point International Raceway, held its first NASCAR Winston Cup – now known as Monster Energy NASCAR Cup – race.

That NASCAR had managed to keep a presence in California was a strategic maneuver. Its event on the huge, handsome Ontario superspeedway had been gone since 1980.

And it was in June of 1988 that the final race was run at Riverside International Raceway, a twisting road course that had been a part of NASCAR for decades.

 Ontario suffered final woes and Riverside, a prime piece of Southern California real estate, gave way to residential and corporate growth.

A year after Riverside’s demise along came Sears Point, located in Sonoma, near the Napa Valley wine country and only a short drive from San Francisco and Sausalito to the south and Vallejo to the north.

Like Riverside it was a road course and thus joined Watkins Glen to maintain NASCAR’s long-standing regimen of two multi-turn events per season.

At that time the Sears Point race was perhaps the most anticipated in years. It was new to NASCAR and it was located in an area – including San Francisco Bay and the Wine Country – that had not been seen by nearly all the competitors and members of the press corps.

Let’s face it, the excitement of visiting San Francisco and the Wine Country was significantly more intense than, say, going up the road to North Wilkesboro.

Notice I said, “Wine Country.”

Now, the lure of San Francisco, Sausalito and Marin County – one of the wealthiest locations in the United States (Robin Williams: “People who live there don’t get the crabs, they get the lobsters!”) – was indeed strong. But not as strong as the chance to try, and buy, fine California wine. And there was plenty of it.

Which is what everybody, and I mean everybody, wanted to do.

Wine wasn’t hard to find. It was available before you got to the track. A large winery stood on a hill as you drove from the hotel in Sausalito to Sears Point.

But the real goal was to go deep into Napa Valley and experience as much as possible – namely get to as many tastings as possible.

That wasn’t easy. Much of the daylight hours were spent at the track, which involved hours of practice, qualifying and more intense practice. After all, Sears Point was new to the competitors.

But it turned out that all Winston Cup activities ended early on a Saturday afternoon. As soon as they did crewmen, PR types and press guys alike packed up and scrambled to their cars.

In a short time a long, snaking caravan of cars could be seen heading toward Napa, on its way to tasting, and buying, as much wine as possible.

Two of the Napa adventurers hit upon a strategy. Find the wine they most liked, buy a case or two of it and never have to worry about getting it back to North Carolina.

The solution was simple. Take it to the track and arrange for a team to carry it back east in its hauler. As a reward the team members could consume a couple of bottles.

It wasn’t hard to find a team that would cooperate. But it cost a bit more than anticipated. When the wine was picked up what had been a couple of full cases were now half-cases.

It never occurred to the pair that they could spend a little more money and the wineries would have shipped the goods.

When the inaugural Banquet Frozen Foods 300 got the green flag on June 11, there was very little doubt as to who would be the top contenders.

Rusty Wallace, Ricky Rudd ad Terry Labonte had established themselves as NASCAR’s top road racers, a notch or two above others who were used to going in a circle.

The trio had finished one-two-three at Riverside a year earlier with Wallace the winner.

Sure enough, the Sears Point race evolved into a battle between Wallace and Rudd. Rudd dominated but was challenged by Wallace late in the race.

Rudd and Wallace made contact several times and when the last encounter took place, Wallace was knocked off the course and returned helplessly behind winner Rudd.

Many things have changed over the years at Sears Point, obviously. Among them are ownership and the presence of many NASCAR competitors who are accomplished road racers.

But I daresay one thing hasn’t changed. That’s the lure of the Wine Country.

I suspect some purchased goods are still shipped home in a hauler – and undoubtedly sampled along the way.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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WAID’S WORLD: “Villain” Busch’s Latest Achievement Cements His Legacy

This is about Kyle Busch – again, but necessary.

After his convincing victory in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte it occurs to me (and I think perhaps you as well) that he ranks among the best drivers ever to compete in NASCAR.

That declaration may be premature. After all, he’s only 33 years old and, we assume, has many years of competition ahead of him.

But consider the following: Since his rookie season of 2005, when he was just 20 years old, he has won 47 races on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup circuit.

Remarkably he has a record 91 wins in the Xfinity Series. And he’s logged 50 more victories on the Camping World Truck Series.

That’s 188 wins in NASCAR’s top three series.

And he’s earned 100 pole positions.

He was the Monster Series champion in 2015 and has finished no lower than third since. And he is the current points leader. In the last four seasons Busch has won 18 races to date.

His victory at Charlotte was his first in the 600-mile event. But it was historically significant because he became the first NASCAR driver to win a race on every track on which he’s competed.

At his young age he has become the 10th driver in MENCS history to lead at least 15,000 laps.

He was dominant at Charlotte. He led 377 of 400 laps, which prompted more than one rival to declare, “Kyle Busch just kicked our butts.”

 The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was understandably jubilant after his win. It was a victory he wanted badly.

“I’ve dreamt of this race since I was a kid,” Busch said. “Always watched the All-Star race and then the 600 the following weekend. And now being able to come out here and win the 600 is a little boy’s dream come true.

“There is no better feeling than winning this race.”

 When things go his way Busch can be effusive, pleasant and even highly complimentary, as he was to his pit crew after the 600 victory.

But when he feels angered or frustrated he can be sullen and very unpleasant.

That could be said of every driver. They are all highly competitive and can easily become moody when they perceive things don’t go as they should.

However, few have been as publicly prominent as Busch.

That is why many think Busch is a villain.

They take note of the fact that while he was indeed highly pleasant in the glow of his CMS victory, he was as highly unpleasant after the truck race at the track slightly over a week earlier.

Busch finished second after he rallied from two pit crew penalties that dropped him back in the field.

Asked how he overcame, Busch said, “Pure talent. That’s about it. My pit crew did absolutely nothing to help me out tonight. My truck drove like s—.”

Such a rant tends to rankle fans.

I daresay in the past there have been many drivers who have felt the same way. But most did not so colorfully express themselves to the public.

To be fair, Busch is the boss of his truck team and can say what he likes. And his reasoning was, “When you pay people to do a job they either do it well or get fired.”

He makes sense. Still, it is his seemingly arrogant words and presence that many fans do not like – and consequently, they believe he wears the black hat.

I have maintained that while Busch may be a villain, he’s exactly what NASCAR needs.

The sport needs a “bad guy,” the one fans love to hate. He rivets their attention.

There have been many “evil” drivers in the past and they shared one strong trait with Busch. They backed up their words with deeds.

They didn’t only run their mouths they also won races. In some cases they set records. And in so doing they won fans over or at the least earned grudging respect.

I think Busch has already received grudging respect. In time he may well win over many fans.

But as a driver he deserves more than just grudging respect. What he has done commands unfettered respect.

Here is the reality – like him or not, he’s bound for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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WAID’S WORLD: A Theory About The Possible Sale Of NASCAR

Many opinions have been expressed about the rumored – or perhaps very real – sale of NASCAR. The most skilled and knowledgeable motorsports journalists in the country have expressed some of them.

The evidence about the sale is that when first reported NASCAR did not angrily refute it. It was said that the sanctioning body had enlisted the help of banking giant Goldman Sachs to locate an entity that might be interested in a purchase.

For NASCAR to be relatively silent on the issue is in direct contrast with its response when mentioned in similar alarming news. We have seen ample proof of that.

So it thus begs the question, is, indeed NASCAR looking for a buyer?

Of so, it is a complicated scenario. NASCAR is a privately held company that has been in the hands of the France family since its founding by Bill France Sr. in 1948.

As such its finances are not for public information. Among other things we simply don’t know how much money it has or, for that matter, any other knowledge of anything remotely related to it.

We do know, or we have been told, that it is worth billions, as are the members of the France family. Given all that NASCAR reaps from television, its sponsors, its teams, its speedways and its members that does not sound unreasonable.

A study of NASCAR history tells us that the elder France shaped it into a powerhouse sanctioning body as he used his iron hand to mold what was then a scattered, freewheeling and often illegal stock car entities into a single unit. He did much more.

His son, Bill France Jr., carried the legacy forward with the cooperation of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and the fledging cable TV networks.

It gets murky from there.

NASCAR expansion into major markets such as Chicago and Kansas City at the expense of its bedrock southern tracks and the continued tampering with car styles, rules and race formats have helped alienate its hardcore fan base.

 The change in American culture has shifted. A love of muscle cars once so embraced by young peoplehas now been replaced by SUVs.

The economy tanked and NASCAR has never fully recovered.

Many fans have not returned and many sponsors have reduced their participation or have left altogether.

I am not telling you anything you have not heard, or read, before – and likely in greater detail.

The common thread through all of this lies in where the blame is placed.

And that, fairly or unfairly, falls at the feet of Brian France.

France, the third generation to lead NASCAR, is the sanctioning body’s CEO. He has been at the helm through all of the many changes that have taken place over more than a decade.

New cars, new rules, new formats, the Chase, stage racing – you name it – all have taken place under France’s tenure. Not for a moment would I suggest all have been his own ideas, but he is the CEO, a fact not lost on disgruntled fans.

I’m sure you are aware, as I am, of the multitude of complaints fans have launched against France, whom they claim has run NASCAR into the ground.

This does not happen occasionally. It happens all the time.

I believe France has tried to remedy the ills. But to date nothing has proven totally satisfactory.

Now a theory – and perhaps an outlandish one at that.

When any company runs into some type of trouble that threatens its profitability, or perhaps even its existence, often one step it takes to rectify the situation is to remove the CEO. We have seen it countless times. It’s routine.

He may end up a very wealthy man, but he’s out.

It’s been said that for NASCAR to cure its ills it might have to resort to new leadership.

Is that, perhaps, what it is trying to do?

It begs the question why not relieve France? After all, he sold all his stock years ago – except what he might have inherited upon the death of his mother Betty Jane a couple of years ago.

 As the saying goes, blood is thicker than water.

I would surmise that by a sale it is almost certain the entity that makes the purchase is going to install its own leaders and implement its own strategies to turn the tide. If it does not do that, why buy?

Perhaps that is part of NASCAR’s thinking as it explores the possibility of sale.

Perhaps it isn’t – not in the slightest. NASCAR may not be sold in the near future or at all.

All of this is just one man’s two cents in the ante. Nor is it an attack of any sort on France.

The thought of the sweeping changes that could happen if NASCAR is sold is intriguing.

Reckon time will reveal all.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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WAID’S WORLD: The Wild Finish, And Aftermath, Of The 1989 All Star Race

Since its debut as The Winston in 1985, the All Star Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Race has had more than its share of dramatic, exciting moments.

That first event, for example, was not without controversy. Driving for Junior Johnson, Darrell Waltrip won it only to have his engine blow up in a plume of smoke just as he crossed the finish line.

“Wow! Darrell just made it!” many said.

Others weren’t so sure.

The conspiracy theorists claimed that Waltrip deliberately caused his engine failure by mashing the clutch as soon as he took the checkered flag.

Why? Because, they said, Johnson had provided him with an overpowering, oversized engine. If that power plant happened to be intact during post-race inspection there would be hell to pay.

NASCAR would surely lower the boom on Waltrip and Johnson, perhaps, it was conjectured, even take the victory away from them.

To be sure, that was something NASCAR seldom did. But The Winston wasn’t a points-paying race so the sanctioning body could make up new rules.

So to avoid taking a risk Waltrip followed orders and killed the engine.

The conspiracy theorists were never proven correct. Perhaps the diabolical plan was carried out – after all, Johnson was not one to shy away from, shall we say, “pushing the envelope.”

However, no foul was called and Waltrip has gone down in NASCAR lore as the winner of the inaugural The Winston.

 There have been several such races over the years – such as the now infamous “Pass In The Grass” that characterized Dale Earnhardt’s victory in 1987- and they continued after the event was first run under the lights in 1992.

However, there is an event that remains one of the most controversial and incident-filled in the history of the All Star race.

But it hasn’t gotten as much notoriety as many others, at least in one man’s opinion.

In 1989 Waltrip was in his third year with team owner Rick Hendrick after a six-year tenure with Johnson during which he won three championships.

Their parting wasn’t exactly amicable.

“I am leaving an old nag for a thoroughbred,” Waltrip declared.

“I got rid of a jackass,” Johnson responded.

That season’s The Winston was divided into three segments (this type of “restructuring” goes on to this day), the last of which would be a 10-lap “shootout.”

Waltrip and rival Rusty Wallace, then with Raymond Beadle’s Blue Max team, won the first two segments. Thus they lined up side-by-side on the front row for the start of the “shootout.”

As the white flag approached, Wallace crept up on Waltrip’s rear bumper as they sped into the fourth turn.

Then, as Wallace dove under Waltrip, he clipped his rival’s rear bumper and sent him into a spin.

Once he recovered, NASCAR ruled that Waltrip should go to the rear of the field and took one lap off the scoreboard.

This seemed to be contrary to the rules established for the “shootout.” Dirt track legislation was in force, which meant that the cars would restart in the order they ran prior to a caution flag.

Waltrip contended that he should be the leader since Wallace spun him out deliberately and brought out the yellow flag.

“There would be no caution if he had not spun me out,” Waltrip said.

NASCAR disagreed. Waltrip restarted at the rear of the field.

As the final two laps were run and Wallace took the checkered flag, loud jeers and boos were heard from the crowd of about 85,000. Beer and soda cans – empty and full – were hurled onto the track, all aimed at Wallace.

Soon after the race members of Waltrip’s and Wallace’s crews got into a pushing, scuffling melee in the garage area that could have gotten very ugly had not cooler heads prevailed.

“He drove into me and spun me out. It was pretty flagrant,” Waltrip said. “I hope he chokes on that $200,000 (winner’s share).”

 “I would be crazy just to drive up on the rear of somebody and just spin him out in front of God and everybody,” Wallace said.

But a lot of fans felt that was exactly what Wallace did. He heard the criticism, boos and catcalls for weeks. He felt he was losing what fan base he had.

“And man, I’m not sure I’m ever going to get it back,” he confided to a media friend.

The race had two significant aftermaths.

Wallace went on to win the 1989 championship, the only one of his career, and that helped soothe fans’ anger. In fact, nearly all of it subsided by the end of the season.

As for Waltrip, throughout his career he had not been spared fan derision. As a young competitor he was brash, belligerent and witty as he challenged, and often beat, the stars of the day. All of which earned him disdain.

But he finally won the Daytona 500 in 1989 after nearly 20 years of trying. That, along with The Winston in which fans thought he had been victimized, put him into a new light.

His past was shoved aside as many began to see him as not only a talented driver, but as a veteran who could assume the role of statesman.

He was named NASCAR’s Most Popular driver in 1989 and again in 1990.

 As time went by Waltrip’s reputation as a mouthy upstart faded away.

And he did, indeed, become an elder statesman for NASCAR.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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WAID’S WORLD: A Few Ruminations After The Season’s 11th Race

Just some thoughts and observations after the AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover, the 11th race of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season:

—- I sort of halfway joked during the race, while Kevin Harvick was dominating, that to this point in the season if it wasn’t Harvick, it was Kyle Busch.

There was plenty of evidence for that and there’s even more after Dover – which Harvick won handily.

Between them they have won seven of the 11 races run to date – Busch three and now four for Harvick. They have eight stage wins, Busch two and Harvick six. Together they have earned 36 playoff points, Busch 17 and Harvick 19. They are easily the leaders in all categories.

Busch holds the point advantage as the leader where Harvick is third, 40 points in arrears.

Both of them are playoff bound so that’s that.

Like just about anything else that happens in NASCAR today that two drivers apparently hold an edge over the competition isn’t anything new, of course.

In 1987, for example, Dale Earnhardt swept to the championship with 11 victories. The only guy who could approach him was Bill Elliott, who finished second with six wins. They combined to win 17 of the season’s 29 races.

In 1972 I was a rookie motorsports writer and I walked into the middle of war that featured two drivers who dominated the season.

Bobby Allison was in his first, and only, year with Junior Johnson. Allison was always a determined competitor and his aggression was fueled by “that red and blue car he knew he had to beat,” according to Johnson.

That car, of course, belonged to Petty who emerged as NASCAR’s once and forever “King” during the 1960s.

Allison and Petty went at it like warriors, especially on the short tracks where they staged some of NASCAR’s most vicious battles.

In the end, Allison won 10 races and a remarkable 12 pole positions. Petty won eight times.

It would appear Allison took the measure of Petty but that was not the case. They each had 25 top-five finishes. Petty had 28 finishes among the top 10 and Allison had 27.

The minuscule difference – and I mean minuscule – was Petty’s average finish of 4.7 against Allison’s 5.3.

Allison lost the title by less than 130 points under the system of the day.

This is not to suggest that Harvick and Busch will stage a two-man free-for-all for the title. It is too early, by far, to predict that.

But it is clear that, to date, they are the year’s dominant drivers. The question is, how long will it last?

 

—- Many figured Jimmie Johnson would end his long losing streak at Dover, at which he has won 11 times including last spring – when he won his third and last race. He hasn’t won since.

Johnson performed well at Dover although he was not victorious. He finished ninth in a race dominated by Ford, which claimed five of the top eight positions, including first, Harvick, and second, Clint Bowyer.

Johnson has shown progress this season. He’s finished no worse than 12th in his last four races, which include runs of third at Bristol and sixth at Richmond.

Prior to that he had only one finish among the top 10.

Johnson remains unflappable and maintains his season is progressing. He can now provide evidence of that.

Many have suggested that Johnson’s difficulty lies in his inability to adapt to the new Camaro.

That may be but we now have evidence the adaptation seems to be coming around nicely.

 

—- Without attempting to sound political I think it is fair to suggest NASCAR would like to see one of its minority drivers take center stage on the Monster Energy circuit.

In my opinion I don’t think any fan would mind in the slightest.

There is promise.

Bubba Wallace, who, as you know, is a young African American driver for Petty, showed potential with a second-place finish in Daytona.

Yes, restrictor-plate races can be a crapshoot. To me that makes Wallace’s achievement more significant.

Recently Daniel Suarez, a Mexican on board at Joe Gibbs Racing, has put up a string of good finishes. He has finished among the top 10 in three of the last four races (with an 11th at Bristol). He topped it off with a third-place finish at Dover, easily his best of the season.

“In the last five weeks or so we have been moving in the right direction,” said Suarez, the 2016 Xfinity Series champion.

Again, it is early in the season. And, again, that means there is plenty of time for Wallace or Suarez to progress – or fail to do so.

I think it’s good for NASCAR, and all of us, if indeed they make good competitive strides.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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WAID’S WORLD: The Legend Of The Driver And Gadfly Known As James Harvey Hylton

I remember a race in Rockingham, N.C., in October of 1991. People in the garage area noticed an elderly man dressed in a fire suit devoid of sponsor logos. He worked on his own car, a black, dinged-up mess of a vehicle.

“If you lean on that car you’ll cut yourself,” someone said.

The thinking was he was an over-the-hill driver who intended to simply start the race, collect a few dollars and go home.

Sure enough, he completed just seven of 492 laps before he pulled off the track due to “engine failure.” He earned just over $3,400.

He was written off as just a “slacker,” someone who raced only when a short field allowed him.

But many knew otherwise. Yes, time had clouded his reputation but the fact is he was no slacker.

There was once a time when James Harvey Hylton was a serious championship contender, a driver who, with a bit of change in circumstance, could have won multiple titles.

More than that he was the scourge of NASCAR. He was the gadfly at which the sanctioning body swatted but never hit. If there was controversy, confrontation or debate among officials and competitors more often than not Hylton was right in the middle of it.

It didn’t start that way. Hylton never intended it to happen.

Early in his career he was on his way to NASCAR stardom. He was the Rookie of the Year in 1966, the season in which he finished second in the point standings.

He was second again in 1967, the year in which Richard Petty won 10 consecutive races and swept the championship.

Hylton was third in points in 1969 and again in 1970.  And he was second again in 1971. By then he was established as a considerable talent. He was a not a consistent winner but was recognized as able to challenge the likes of Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison and others for a championship.

But it took its toll. In the space of six years Hylton had competed in 232 races, nearly 40 per season, in an effort to win a title.

And the money he earned from points racing wasn’t nearly enough to cover costs. Without a major sponsor to make up the loss, Hylton simply could not go on.

So he drifted into the ranks of the “independent” competitors, those without significant sponsorship who could not compete at the highest level.

They seldom won. More often they raced where they could, depending upon their costs and potential financial reward.

There were much more of them than established winners – the number of which you could count on one hand.

Hylton knew the discrepancies well. He had always spoken out against them and other NASCAR policies since the heady days of the Professional Drivers Association in 1969. It was an attempt at unionization that ultimately failed.

However, by 1976 things came to a head. The rising costs of competition and the stale race purses had forced the “independents” to the verge of extinction. The only way they survived was to ask for “tow” money from the speedways. Sometimes they got it, sometimes they didn’t.

Hylton took action. Unlike in the PDA, he did not just participate. He took the lead.

“I got the ball rolling and the others jumped in,” Hylton said. “There were about 30 of us. So we had some clout.”

The rumblings of discontent began at Darlington on Labor Day weekend. They continued through the fall race at Charlotte, where the “independents” demanded a solution from NASCAR or the sanctioning body would find itself staging races with short fields.

In September, a day before the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville, Hylton, now the acknowledged leader and spokesman for the “independents,” was going to announce a walkout during a press conference if NASCAR did not take action.

Bill France Jr., the president of NASCAR, was no one’s fool. He knew stock car racing would suffer with short-field races. He also recognized that it was the majority, not the minority, of his competitors who were in financial straits.

So the first “plan money” program was announced. All drivers who agreed to run the full Winston Cup schedule each season would receive bonus money for each event. More cash would be paid for a superspeedway race than a short track.

But it meant the “independent” drivers now had a steady flow of income, which reached more than $30,000 per driver per season – a hefty amount at that time.

It proved successful all around. NASCAR races had full fields and the “independents” willingly entered to receive the plan money.

“I’m not wrong in taking some credit for it,” Hylton said. “They asked me to do it and I did.”

Time passed and Hylton never again played such a dramatic – and pivotal – role in the growth of NASCAR.

But he was always there, year after year. His face got more lined and his hair turned silver but Hylton continued to compete – if on a far more infrequent basis.

He was always forthright. If a member of the media wanted a good quote, he sought out Hylton. If that member wanted a humorous anecdote, he sought out Hylton.

Hylton had family in Roanoke, Va., the same city that had a newspaper with a rookie motorsports writer.

It was only natural that the rookie seek Hylton out. The veteran driver became a valuable source. During the boiling pot of news that was the uprising of the “independents,” the kid from Roanoke, unlike many other reporters, had the full story and had it cold – Hylton told all.

They remained friends, even when Hylton was in his ‘80s and the rookie had retired.

When they met at a track Hylton would always stop, take out his cigar and say to whoever might be next to him, “You gotta watch this guy. He’ll write bad things about you.”

Hylton became the victim of cruel fate when, on April 27, 2018, he and his son Tweety were killed in a traffic mishap in Georgia. They were returning from an ARCA race in Talladega.

It marked the passing of a man who had experienced success and disappointment in NASCAR and who, when the situation arose, became a leader and helped right a wrong that threatened the very careers of so many of his peers.

“It might sound like I was nothing but a pain in the neck to NASCAR,” Hylton said. “But I always thought positive about it. People might have thought I was negative but I wasn’t.

“I was proud to be a part of NASCAR.”

And I would say, without hesitation, that NASCAR remains so very proud that James Harvey Hylton was part of its history and is now forever a part of its lore.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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WAID’S WORLD: Legacy Aside, Elliott Will Ultimately Win On His And Team’s Efforts

I’m thinking that if someone asked Chase Elliott, “When are you going to win a race?” he would sigh, roll his eyes and mumble: “Soon.”

That would indicate that, indeed, Elliott has heard that question many times before and is a bit weary of hearing it again – not to mention answering it.

Elliott has been targeted as a future Monster Series NASCAR Cup star largely for three reasons: He is the son of the legendary Bill Elliott – one of stock car racing’s most popular and successful competitors – he has displayed significant on-track talent and he is associated with Hendrick Motorsports, arguably the best team in stock car racing in recent years.

Yes, it would seem all the pieces are there. But as of now Elliott has been unable to put them all together.

Oh, he has come close.

He’s finished second eight times in his career, which began in 2015. He did so again this past weekend at Richmond, which fueled speculation over when he might win.

That he is under scrutiny because of his father’s legacy is true, but a bit unfair. I have never believed that, in racing, a son is expected to achieve at least as much as his heralded father. It’s pretty much the same in all professional sports.

There are too many differences – circumstances, environment, personal ambition, desire and, yes, talent among them.

I admit that Richard Petty eclipsed his father Lee. But son Kyle never approached his father’s accomplishments.

Larry Pearson came up well short of his father David. Davey Allison’s tragic and premature death robbed us of the chance to see if he could take the measure of his father Bobby.

In terms of competition, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was never the equal of his father. But he matched, perhaps exceeded, his popularity.

But then, Dale Jarrett became a champion like his father Ned and has joined him in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

As you know, there are other examples.

Despite the legacies, none of the sons can be called a failure in stock car racing – not by any measure.

So it is unreasonable to expect young Elliott to become his father’s equal. Notice I did not say he wouldn’t – there is time.

In fact Elliott’s father finished second eight times before he won his first race in 1983 at Riverside.

“I think it is a work in progress,” Elliott said after Richmond. “We have work to do and we know that.

“I think if we looked at the results we would feel OK about it but I think in reality we shouldn’t feel good about it. We need to focus on getting better.”

That’s the kind of attitude it takes to be a winner.

Elliott’s season has not be helped by the fact his team has been penalized three times over the last 19 races for post-race technical infractions.

The team lost 45 points and crew chief Alan Gustafson for two races in penalties inflicted at Phoenix and Texas.

As a result Elliott stands 20th in points when he should be 15th.

Elliott does not agree that the desire to win at all costs has forced his team to make “modifications.”

“Nothing has been purposeful,” he said. “We are pushing every area we can just like everybody else.

 “We want to do good. But are we pushing and getting into trouble and doing things on purpose to have that happen? No.”

Second place isn’t a victory, of course, but for Elliott it is a welcome change from recent weeks, which include an accident at Bristol.

“I think for sure we have been getting better over the course of the last few weeks, despite our crash at Bristol,” said Elliott, who has only two top-five finishes for the season. “At Richmond, it was nice to be on the good side of things for a change.

“But we all know we need to do better.”

 And if that does happen rest assured we won’t have to ask Elliott when he will win a race.

He will have already done so.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.