Categories
Commentary

CALINOFF: Kyle Busch Won the Title, But…

The scenarios were set, and the critics were ready to pounce. And regardless of who won the title – the ‘yeah, but…’ factor was going to be in play. I guess that’s where we differ from other sports.

The Royals beat the Mets in Game 5 to win the World Series. They continually scored the most runs over their opponents – and they won the ultimate prize. Kansas City fans were happy, New York fans weren’t. But that’s how it shook out, and everyone went home – with the high hopes for next season.

It doesn’t seem to work that way in NASCAR. There’s always a ‘yeah, but’ if your favorite driver doesn’t fair well. And it was inevitable way before the green flag flew at Homestead.

Here’s what, in my opinion, the potential fallout would have been for the other contenders had they taken home the grand prize.

KEVIN HARVICK WINS: The defending Champ had a strong season – one good enough to bring him to the last dance. Because when it counts, Harvick and company can make that magic happen, right? Yeah, but, that final restart at Talladega allowed him to advance to the next round. He manipulated the end of the race. That’s what we’d be saying.

MARTIN TRUEX, JR. WINS: Truex was the epitome of consistency for most of the year. There was a handful of unfavorable finishes, but he won at Pocono and, at least, ensured himself a spot in playoffs. And in the end, he was able to keep himself in play and make it to the finale, right? Yeah, but, NASCAR wanted a feel-good story. The single-car team operating from afar beats the superpowers. And, what about all that longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, has gone through and her courageous battle with ovarian cancer? That sure would have made a great story. NASCAR wanted that to happen. Somehow, some way, they figured out a way for Truex to be our Champion. That’s what we’d be saying.

JEFF GORDON WINS: There would have been no better story than having the guy who changed the face of NASCAR’s modern era to retire as the Champion. Could you imagine? It would have been the ultimate send-off. It would parallel Tom Seaver, arguably the best starting pitcher in MLB history, throwing a no-hitter in his final game. It would have been the story of stories and a great way to end the season, right? Yeah, but, if Kenseth didn’t knock Logano clear into Roanoke, Gordon wouldn’t have made it to Homestead anyway. His year was up and down. That’s what we’d be saying.

KYLE BUSCH IS THE CHAMPION: Now, we’ve got a lot of ‘yeah, buts’ to contend with:

  1. Busch missed close to the first third of the season. He didn’t run all the races, therefore he’s ineligible. That’s a pretty popular one.
  1. NASCAR changed the rule and gave Busch a waiver. Why? Well, they felt bad about Daytona. There should have been a soft wall where he hit – so they’ll take the blame and exercise their right to make an exception.
  1. There were fill-in drivers who kept the team in contention. Those allegations come from the ignorant. Informed fans understand that driver points and owners points are separate. Erik Jones and David Ragan scored points for the team, but Busch earned every marker that brought him to the final race.

And there were plenty more.

Social media lit up when the final caution was displayed. There was debris under the flag stand and a water bottle on the track, but out of the groove. Was it warranted? I don’t know – but I’m glad I’m not charged with making those calls.

There was an outcry by fans – and some media – that NASCAR wanted the Champion also to win the race. I guess, to some people, that’s a good story.

I don’t easily get my feelings hurt and it’s okay if you disagree — you’re entitled to think what you want.

Kyle Busch hasn’t always cast himself in the best light. He’s come across brash and cocky at times. He doesn’t take losing very well either. He’s had his moments for sure. However, in my opinion, I think he’s done a great deal to shed that persona. Having a well-grounded wife and becoming a dad certainly hasn’t hurt. I’m not looking to change your opinion of him personally but, just for a moment in the interest of objectivity, put aside the past and let’s live in the present.

Kyle Busch missed the first eleven races of the season. He wasn’t stricken with the flu – he broke his right leg and left foot. That would have sidelined most professional sports players for the season. Maybe ended the career of others.

Rookie Sprint Cup Crew Chief, Adam Stevens, had to keep all the plates spinning. He needed to rely on drivers he hasn’t worked with – including a rookie — for feedback to remain competitive. Nothing against the substitutes, but it’s chore to get into a rhythm when you’re accustomed to the information your regular driver is giving you.

Nevertheless, they had some good finishes and tried to build as much momentum as they could, in anticipation of Busch’s return.

Now he’s back.

Five races in, he wins at Sonoma. Legs and feet are pretty important there too.

Two races later, he scores at Kentucky. And then the following week at Loudon. And then the following week at the Brickyard. Still, he’s outside of the top-30 in the standings – the caveat for Chase eligibility.

Busch penetrates and maintains top-30 status at Watkins Glen and then it was game-on.

Aside from a few miscues on pit road, a flat tire or two, scrapes with the wall and a day-ending wreck, Kyle Busch and the No. 18 team positioned themselves to win the Championship.

RELATED: Will Kyle Busch Be the Best Ever?

To those who take an ardent stance on the fact that Busch didn’t run all the races, I ask you to think about this:

Let’s say Carolina Panther’s quarterback, Cam Newton suffers an injury right before the NFL season starts — maybe he fell off his wallet or something. He’s benched for half the season and the back-up guy just needs to help keep the team relevant and competitive during his recovery.

Now, he’s back. And hitting his targets better than ever. Everything is in sync, and they win the Superbowl. Is it legit? They won without their starter. Is Newton the Championship quarterback? He didn’t play in all the games, right?

Yep, I agree, there’s a lot of rhetoric in what you just read. But the facts are the facts and the numbers don’t lie.

If you miss the first 11 races, get yourself into the top-30 in the standings, complete 97.7% of the laps, lead 732 of them, win five races, have a great final pit stop and beat your three opponents – you deserve to be the Champion.

It would have been a good story had Harvick won back-to-back titles. Or Truex showing that consistency still matters or, of course, Gordon going out on top. Those are all great storylines.

But, for me, Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing made 2015 a spectacular season on many levels.

It was a testament to teamwork, determination, overcoming adversity, athleticism, and perseverance. It was about keeping your eye on the prize and grabbing it.

This wasn’t just a good story for NASCAR – it was a great story for sports.

 

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

Categories
Editorial

CALINOFF: Will Kyle Busch Be the Best Ever?

That subject is perpetually up for debate but, we’ve got a good bit of time to figure it out. I mean, just because a guy comes back from an injury, then charged with having to dig out of a huge points deficit and wins four out of his last five races doesn’t mean that he’s the next _______________. Right?

Go ahead, fill in the blank: Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson? How about Cale Yarborough or David Pearson? Can @KyleBusch achieve such greatness? That’s some pretty tough company.

Well, I don’t think so. I doubt we’ll be comparing him to anyone. Rather, I believe the future will be compared to him.

Pretty bold statement, huh? Maybe.

Right now Joe Gibbs Racing is on their game and Toyota is pretty much out-shining Ford and Chevrolet. Add to the mix the continued chemistry between crew chief Adam Stevens and Busch and it appears that things are lined up pretty well. We also know that we’re playing in a cyclical arena – so, nothing lasts forever. But the big picture looks pretty good.

I didn’t just come to a conclusion based on recent weeks results. I’m not solely relying on mathematics either – the fact that he’s won 147 races across NASCAR’s three National Touring Series. Or even that he’s just 30-years-old.

Having spotted for champions and other great drivers in the sport, I share a different perspective than the casual fan or the ultra-passionate ones who understandably have bias towards their favorites. I’m not the expert here but, I’m pretty confident that I know what I’m looking at and Busch has been described to me as “amazing” and “unbelievable” by some of his fellow competitors who are race winners and Champions.

I think that Kyle Busch was the “real deal” long before the phrase was popularized – and part of an elite group who can back it up. You don’t have to like him — I do — but you’ve got to respect the talent. Not everyone was a fan of Bobby Allison, but he wasn’t inducted to the NASCAR Hall of Fame by winning a popularity vote.

I could get into a whole diatribe on the new Busch family dynamic and it’s influence — but I’ll leave that for someone who’s better at the heart-strings angle than I am.

Our sport is ever-changing. New faces emerge and higher benchmarks are established. That doesn’t mean past accomplishments are ignored or forgotten; it merely states that evolution is alive and well. And that Kyle Busch is at the forefront of the process.

I think that what he does is not just notable, it’s remarkable.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

CALINOFF’S CAPSULE COMMENTS: Living the Insanity

By Mike Calinoff – They gave me an option. At the beginning of 2011 Roush Fenway’s General Manager, Robbie Reiser, asked if I’d be willing to travel back and forth when the No. 6 Nationwide team was apart from the Cup series. I said, ‘Sure’. Then he said, “You’ll be flying with Jack.” I said, ‘That’s fine’. And he added, “Jack is flying the plane.” I stopped, thought for a brief moment and said, “I’ll go. What are the odds?”

** As a side note, the odds of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 11,000,000. The odds of losing your life in a car accident are 1 in 5,000. In essence, you’re at a higher risk driving to the airport.

So, this is my third year of traveling. Depending on where we’re going, they can be long days and nights. But, it’s what I love to do.

This past weekend I did the “double” from Pocono to Iowa and back. Here’s how it all went down:

 

THURSDAY, AUGUST 1

12:49 – Left the house and headed into town to run some errands on the way to the airport. Stopped in at one of our RFR sponsor partners, Fifth Third Bank, to get some cash. I also asked if they had any samples and politely heard, “Next in line, please.”

1:17 – Saw that I had three miles left until I was out of gas. However, there was a Starbucks that I had to get to which was probably 2.5 miles away. I immediately started saving fuel by driving in fourth gear and shutting it off as I’d coast to a stop light.

1:31 – Venti Iced Coffee in hand, I begin the cruise to the gas station. I barely made it.

1:48 – Off to the Charlotte airport for my 1:20 trip on Roush Air to Allentown, PA.

4:00 – Met up with friends for Sushi. Told a bunch of stories – most of them lies, of course – and went to the hotel. It was a relatively easy day.

 

FRIDAY, AUGUST 2

8:10 – I arrived at the track early (for me) because I had a little business to do in the garage before the 11:30 Sprint Cup Series practice with Stenhouse, Jr. Unfortunately, it had begun to rain. I don’t carry an umbrella. I never have. I think holding an umbrella makes you look like a wimp. However, I don’t like walking in the rain due to the fact that I’m a wimp – so, therein lays the dilemma. I stayed in the car.

9:22 – My friend and spotter for Jamie McMurray, Lorin Ranier, shows up for some professional rain-delay activities. We sit in the car and watch stupid YouTube videos and giggle like high school girls. What can I say?

12:41 – NASCAR cancels the activities for the day and I head for the hotel.

I had a great dinner with my friends at a seafood joint near where I was staying. Same folks, different lies.

I went to bed relatively early because tomorrow was going to be the day of days for me.

 

SATURDAY, AUGUST 3

6:00 – Let’s roll. I’ve got practice with Ricky from 9:00 – 9:50 and 11:30 to 12:30.

12:41 – I strap in to my Ford Escape and head for the private airport in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to spot for Trevor Bayne. Jack opted out of the trip due to a prior commitment, so I was solo.

1:12 – Arrived at the airport. I grabbed my radios and head in. The truck race is on in the airport lobby and about to start. Keselowski walks in right behind me – he’s also headed to Iowa (to eventually win). “Hey Big Time, they sending you to Iowa?” he asks, “No”, I said, “I drove to Scranton to watch the truck race at an airport.” He looked up at the TV. “We’ve gotta watch the first lap – I wanna see how much this is gonna cost me.”  First lap complete, BKR trucks intact, he headed to his plane and I headed to Jack’s.

Brad Womble, Jack’s personal pilot, had N6JR gassed up and ready to roll. I like Brad — he’s a smartass like me. “Get here when you can, Calinoff.” I started to explain watching lap one of the truck race, but he chose to ignore me.  He asked, “You gonna sit right seat (up front with him) or in the back?” I said, ‘I’m going back there and take a nap.’ And he shot back, “Yeah, me too.”

Two hours and twenty minutes later, we arrived in Newton, IA – right behind the track.

N6JR3The pilot thought this was funny

 

3:16 (local) — I could literally walk from the airport to the track — it’s on the same property — but I took a golf cart ride to the Iowa Speedway garage instead. I put my radios on charge in the hauler and hung out with the guys.

 

RACE TIME!

7:21 — Green Flag! 

The race was the race — no sense in recapping it lap-by-lap. We had a strong car for most of the race and Trevor did a great job wheeling it. In the end, we ran out of laps and finished 10th.

10:33 — Wheels-up and headed back to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton airport.

We had a kick-ass tailwind. When you peer out the window at 37,000 ft. and are zooming past clouds, you know you’re making good time. We made it back to PA in a hour and twenty-six minutes. The ground speed was 700 MPH. Looks like Brad nailed the setup!

1:41 (local) — Back in my Ford and off to the hotel for a few hours of sleep. Tomorrow is already here and the race starts in few hours.

 

SUNDAY, AUGUST 4

6:44 — I pop out of bed, shower, dress and head for Pocono Raceway. I head into the garage for few meetings and general pass-the-time stuff. Stenhouse Jr. is starting 17th. We had a really good car all weekend and I was excited about the prospect of having a great day.

1:19 — Green Flag!

1:19:11 – In the wall. Contact to the left-rear essentially ends our day — we never made a corner. Getting into turn one, the No. 42 hit us in the left-rear quarter panel and we were toast. Going three-wide into turn one on the initial start was ridiculous. But then again… well, you know.

We were in the garage for 47 laps and came back out just to finish and score as many points as we can. For me, 47 laps doing nothing at Pocono is just outright painful. I didn’t even watch the race until we came back out. When the race was over, Juan Pablo went to Ricky and the guys. He took full responsibility and apologized. Yeah… great… thanks.


HOMEWARD BOUND

As soon as the race ended I went straight to the car, to the airport, onto the plane, into my car and headed home. I didn’t keep track of exact times anymore —  I was living on a combination of exhaustion and aggravation. I just wanted to get home.

I dropped my bags in the foyer, went into the living room and plopped onto the sofa for the official greetings of my dogs. It’s funny, I’ll be gone four days and when I get home the dogs are thrilled to see you — gotta love that about dogs. Then again, I can be gone for 45-seconds to get the mail and come back to the same greetings.

I replayed the weekend in my mind. Leaving, going to Pocono, to and from Iowa, minimal sleep, the race and the trip home. They call that living the dream — I call it living the insanity.  It’s a fast-paced, be-on-your-game life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Freakin’ Montoya.

 

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Categories
XFINITY

RACEDAY! Sadler’s Motivation, Bayne’s Fast Bear

SPEEDWAY, IN: The NASCAR Nationwide Series, back for year two, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hopes to put on another memorable event today. Last year’s contest ended with a controversial penalty call against Elliott Sadler, which will certainly change his mindset for this afternoon.

“Let me tell you, this is definitely a race that I have had in the back of my mind since last year. The last race at Indy was definitely a tough one to swallow, however, we are going to use that as fuel this season. We feel like a win was taken from us, and that will serve as motivation to get this OneMain Financial Toyota into Victory Lane (today) at Indianapolis Motor Speedway”, said Sadler.

One of the series’ young stars, Trevor Bayne, had a strong practice during yesterday’s sessions and is confident that his new bright pink Pillow Pets Mustang can back it up in the race.

“I didn’t know a rainbow bear could go so fast around a race track. Mike Kelley and those guys have built me my first new car for the whole seas and it is really fast. We are looking to get that race started and looking forward to qualifying. I think qualifying is very important here for track position. We are going to work on that and see if we can start and finish well.”

Today’s race is on ESPN and starts at 4:30 ET.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Editorial Trucks

Benning Gets His Day in the Sun. At Night. On Dirt.

He’s made 103 starts in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series, but you’d seemingly never notice. He’s probably had just a handful of finishes on the lead-lap and when the faster trucks approach, he respectfully stays out of their way. I doubt he’s flagged-down for autographs on his way to pit road for qualifying and it’s unlikely that he’s had many dinners interrupted while on the road. But 61-year-old Norm Benning is somewhat iconic as a never-give-up , see-ya-next-week competitor. If there’s a truck race to be run, he’ll be there.

It always struck me as odd, that guys like Norm Benning even show up. It’s like, you know you’re not going to win; you’ll be lucky to finish on the lead lap and you’re using earning from one race to get to the next. What’s the point? Well, I kind of figured it out last night.

Not everyone can drive like Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart. Not everyone is going to be planted with an organization that virtually has unlimited resources. And not everyone is going to be someone who sponsors are clamoring for to hawk their products. Not everyone can be that guy. Someone has to be the “rest of the field.” I think sometimes we lose sight of the fact that some of us are here for the raw love of the sport; the race-to-race traveling and the fellowship we look forward to. There are some that are just happy to be here. Norm Benning is that guy.

So here I am, Chinese take-out on my lap watching the heat races. As I lifted a fork-full of Lo Mein to my face, I see Norm Benning and Clay Greenfield battling door-to-door for a transfer position into the main event. Let me repeat that: Norm Benning and Clay Greenfield battling door-to-door for a transfer position into the main event. HUH?

I thought it would be a quick camera shot of two back-markers bouncing off each other and then back to the leaders. Instead, it became an epic battle of two guys who rarely even get a mention. The next thing I know, I’m on my feet. Chinese food flying across the room (to the delight of the dogs) and I’m rooting for Norm Benning to get into the race. Again, I’m going to repeat that because I can’t believe I just wrote it:  I’m on my feet. Chinese food flying across the room and I’m rooting for Norm Benning to get into the race.

I was a fist-pumping moment. And it was awesome.

The crowning glory for me, as you may expect, was the heartfelt moment when Norm flipped off his nemesis. He may not have a lot of speed, but he sure has the passion.

So, on an evening when NASCAR made history and a definitive statement to the fans, Norm Benning shines brightly in a manner which he’s never likely to shine again.

Good for him.


COMMENT

normmy.jpg-large copy

Categories
Editorial

My Final Project

I have to say that I’m sort of proud of myself. Not so much for conceptualizing the site, but for keeping my mouth shut about it for over seven months. I tend to get anxious when I start something new — which lately has become far to often. Just ask my mother who constantly asks, “Is that buzzing thing you do making any money? Because I never hear from you.” For obvious reasons, she was one of the last to know — I mean, like yesterday.

The truth is, I really don’t need anything else on my plate. 140 BUZZ, ENCORE 140 and Mike Calinoff Management & Development keep me quite entertained. But, I saw that one door was closing and decided to open a new one. This is my final project – of the month.

I think POPULAR SPEED is going to be really cool. We’re trying some unconventional website stuff — things you won’t see anywhere else. Aside from the regular fare of news and recaps, you’ll get great editorial and opinion content. There will be lots of behind-the-scenes insight and photos. We’ve got a live Twitter feed where you can see tweets from Drivers, Crew Chiefs and some popular NASCAR personalities all in one place — without having to follow all of them. We’ll have contests and giveaways for race tickets, pit passes and other swag on a regular basis. And we’ve got plenty of things planned to give race fans the ultimate digital experience.

Our staff is awesome! Matt Weaver is at the helm of the site. His writing style and ability to get the “story behind the story” will bring you right to the heart of the matter. He’s truly an “in the trenches” guy who will post stories, videos and photos as they’re happening.

Unique Hiram was a great catch for us. Not only does she have depth in the sport, but will mentor our corps of “Development Journalists.” Another motivation for starting the site was to give aspiring writers a national platform to express themselves to the masses.

Jerry Bonkowski has been a staple in the NASCAR media community for many years. His work at Yahoo! Sports, ESPN, Bleacher Report and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will offer a great perspective to both veteran and rookie fans. We’re really lucky to have him on the team.

I’m excited to have my good friend Reid Spencer provide us with newsworthy content through the NASCAR Wire Service. It’s a great advantage to the race fans for timely information. And Reid is an on-time guy!

With our site being very social media driven, it was a no-brainer to enlist @TheOrangeCone and @nascarcam. These guys are two of a handful of people who can actually make me laugh out loud — and that’s with a 140-character limit. I figured I’d let them loose to do their thing in a few paragraphs. I’m laughing already.

So, here we go! Let’s have some fun and see where it goes. I’m always interested in your thoughts, requests and ideas. Feel free to contact me at calinoff@popularspeed.com — the email goes directly to me.

Green, Green, Green…

~ Calinoff

PS: You Got It! ™

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