Want drama? Done. Drool over controversy? It was there in full effect. Add in anger, emotion, and a last-lap pass where one teammate gave the other the boot as both were going for the win, and racing at Richmond was full of beautiful moments that make me proud to be a writer of all things racing.
Working in reverse order, Kyle Busch looked like he would cruise to his third Sprint Cup win in four weeks. Busch took the lead at the Toyota Owners 400 on Sunday with 36 laps to go, but didn’t count on Carl Edwards basically doing what he had to do to take it from him.
Edwards caught Busch on Turn 1 on the white-flag lap, then gave him the necessary shove up the hill in Turn 4 that was enough to allow the No. 19 Toyota to slide by and steal the win.
As I stated in the second paragraph, Edwards and Busch are teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing. Adding to the awesomeness of the moment, it’s the first time that a last-lap pass for the win has happened at the three-quarter mile oval in Virginia’s capital city.
Edwards went back-to-back for the sixth time in his career and won his 27th Sprint Cup race. Even more amazing was that Edwards denied a teammate and the emotion flowed like a raging river after the checkered flag fell.
When Samantha Busch – Kyle’s wife – drops a bad word for all to hear/see/lip read on the Fox broadcast and she has to apologize on Twitter for it, you know the action made everyone sweat a little more than normal regardless of who they were rooting for.
Even in his post-race interview, Kyle faced the music. Busch didn’t mention Edwards by name – he did the standard “my guys gave me a phenomenal Banfield (Pet Hospital) Toyota Camry. We just came up short” line – but he didn’t storm off in a hissy fit, either.
Life at the JGR shop should be interesting in the week ahead.
Richmond also marked the return of Tony Stewart, who had missed the first eight races of his final Sprint Cup season to recover from a preseason non-racing back injury. Stewart started 18th (which was set on practice speed due to qualifying getting rained out) and finished 19th.
Like Kyle Busch before him, Stewart was granted a waiver by NASCAR and will become eligible for the Chase as long as he wins a race and gets to the top 30 in points after the series returns to Richmond in September.
But the celebration of Stewart’s return was overshadowed by remarks he made during a promotional appearance Wednesday criticizing the loosening of NASCAR’s rule that required five lug nuts to be fastened to all four wheels on every pit stop.
The theme behind Stewart’s words was clear. Anything less than a firmly placed wheel – three and four lug nuts have been common to save seconds on pit stops – could lead to a serious problem and potential for injury to a driver or, worse yet, a fan in the stands.
Stewart’s comments led to NASCAR issuing a $35,000 fine that included the following words as written by bleacherreport.com:
“…this is not a game you play with safety and that’s exactly the way I feel like NASCAR is treating this. This is not the way to do this.”
The reaction to the fine among the drivers was swift, strong and negative.
Denny Hamlin, who is one of eight members of the NASCAR Drivers Council along with Stewart, said the group would step up and pay the fine for him.
If nothing else, it sent a strong message. Safety has to be paramount. Because the fine was issued, NASCAR comes off as just a bit too insensitive over the matter.
Sure, the venue Stewart used to make his point could have been chosen a little better, but Hamlin nailed it when he spoke to the media last Friday at Richmond, as reported by sportingnews.com.
“It really has nothing to do with lug nuts or no lug nuts or anything like that,” he said. “It's more so the drivers believing that they have a right to express their opinion especially when asked in an interview.”
Woe be to the leaders of the sport if a wheel flies off a car at 200 mph and hurts anyone – in the stands, on pit road, wherever. If no one is allowed to speak up now, it’ll be hard to fathom reaction if someone gets seriously hurt.
NASCAR needs to listen when drivers have safety concerns if it wants to move forward to a truly bright future. If it’s all about silencing anyone who questions the leadership, the blood will be on their hands and no one else.
Follow Tom Zulewski on Twitter @Tomzsports and contact him by email at email@example.com.
NEXT WEEK'S RACES
Talladega Superspeedway (2.66-mile D-shaped oval), Talladega, Alabama.
-SPRINT CUP: Geico 500, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT, Fox. Radio: SiriusXM Channel 90 or your local MRN Radio affiliate.
Race distance: 500 miles, 188 laps.
2015 champion: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
-XFINITY SERIES: Sparks Energy 300, Saturday, 3 p.m. ET/Noon PT, Fox. Radio: SiriusXM Channel 90 or your local MRN Radio affiliate.
Race distance: 300 miles, 113 laps.
2015 champion: Joey Logano
-CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: Off until May 6 for the Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas Speedway.