Wednesday, March 27, 2013

That's Racin', Boyz

Last Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Race from California, the Auto Club 400, had one of those wild, "have at it boys" finishes. The continuance of the feud between Joey Lagano and Denny Hamlin resulted in the two of them wrecking on the final lap, Kyle Busch "lucking" into a win, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. "lucking" into the Sprint Cup Points Lead.

NASCAR Auto Club 400 Tower at Fontana CA
NASCAR Auto Club 400 Tower at Fontana CA (Photo credit: goarmyphotos)
The bad blood between Hamlin and Lagano was carried over from their run-in the previous week at Bristol in which Hamlin intentionally wrecked Lagano. However, this time things turned out very badly for Hamlin. The injury he suffered in the wreck, a compression fracture in his back, will keep him out of action for at least six weeks (read the latest update on Hamlin on NASCAR.com here) and end any hopes he had of winning the 2013 Sprint Cup Championship. He will lose at least 250 points over the next six weeks by sitting out. That's way too many to give away to makeup. Go ahead and stick a fork in Hamlin for 2013 - he's done.

Tony Stewart and Lagano had their issues in California, too. Stewart took offense to the block Lagano laid on him after the last restart as the field went barreling off into Turn 1. I turned to my wife when it happened and said, " I'm surprised Tony let him (Lagano) get away with that." Last year, in a similar situation with Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony caught Montoya's Target Chevrolet in the rear quarter panel and sent him spinning into the wall. When interviewed after that incident, Stewart put his fellow competitors on notice by saying that he would do the same thing to any driver who cut him off or blocked him for the rest of the year. Therefore, I was really surprised Lagano didn't get "drop kicked" on Sunday.

Instead, Tony Stewart chose to settle his beef with Lagano by attacking him on pit road and then unleashing a plethora of profanity when asked about it by a reporter. In my opinion, Stewart looked like a punk reminding me of Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick just a bit. My level of respect for Tony Stewart went down several notches on Sunday. I think he should have handled his ire with Lagano at the moment of the block on the racetrack by sending Lagano spinning across the track and into the outside retaining wall backwards. Lagano would have finished the race in the garage area with a car that was about three feet shorter but learned a valuable lesson about respecting other drivers and holding his line on the track. Plus, if memory serves me correctly, I've seen Stewart block a driver or two in his day, also. Put the kid (Lagano) in the fence, cost him a race car, and a ton of points and he'll learn. Don't act like a punk on pit road.

NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin in August 2007 at B...
NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin in August 2007 at Bristol Motor Speedway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Speaking of respect, the lack of respect NASCAR's current drivers have for each other may be the biggest problem with the current state of the sport. For instance, let's go back to the Hamlin / Lagano feud. Since Lagano made his NASCAR debut about five years ago, I've watched as drivers have pushed the kid around on the race track. They've bumped him, turned him around, hung him out to dry, sent him flipping down the track, and even caught him up in their squabbles with other drivers, such as the "Phoenix Debacle" with the Jeff Gordon / Clint Bowyer brouhaha last year. There also now appears to have been some bad blood between Lagano and his teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing that resulted in his departure there last year.

Lately, we've heard a lot in the press about bullying. I think the events in the Auto Club 400 are mostly a result of bullying directed at Joey Lagano. In my opinion, the kid has changed since joining Penske Racing. He is now standing up for himself and tired of being pushed around. He is serving notice that he's not gonna take it any more. I hate that Denny Hamlin was injured in their feud, but at the same time I wonder if it would have even happened if Hamlin and other drivers, over the last few years, would have laid off the kid a little. The thing is, though, that there is at least one more driver out there who needs to send a Lagano-like message. Her name is Danica Patrick.

The question is, how long will she put up with being pushed around before she ruins some driver's day, or season. I don't think we'll have to wait as long to see her erupt as we did with Lagano. The other question is that when Danica does, will there be weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth ? Or, will it simply be a case of "that's racin', boyz."

I wouldn't mind having a ticket to that "eruption," either.
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