Sunday, April 24, 2016

Edwards wins again, caps week full of storylines

Now that’s how a NASCAR race week should be.
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
“…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
“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
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.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Edwards rolls at Bristol with surprises in top 10

As the Food City 500 got under way Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway, I was hardly surprised to see some social media posts bemoaning the lack of fans at the half-mile track that calls itself “The Last Great Colosseum.”
For those who weren’t there in person or didn’t see the race on TV, it was one tremendous show that had a multitude of reasons to pay attention.
The headline exhibit was Carl Edwards, who defied the negative statistics and led 276 of the 500 laps in picking up his fourth win at Bristol – his second spring race win in three years to go with fall race victories in 2007 and 2008. As much as his closest challengers tried to get by the No. 19 Comcast Business Toyota, Edwards was simply too good on the restarts and left everyone else eating his brake dust.
Edwards’ margin over runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. was just over three-fourths of a second, but that’s only a small sample of how some of the top 10 came together.
Earnhardt had qualified 20th, but ran into a battery issue with the race less than 20 laps old. He fell two laps down at one point, but rallied back.
Kurt Busch started 26th and got by Edwards for a time late in the race, leading 41 laps before finishing third.
Chase Elliott had the best finish of his Sprint Cup career, coming home fourth after qualifying 19th, his second-worst starting position of the season.
After an average finish of 21.7 in the first seven races, Trevor Bayne wheeled his No. 6 Advocare Ford Fusion to fifth, his best run since winning the 2011 Daytona 500.
Easily the best finish of the day belonged to Matt DiBenedetto, who qualified 30th. Driving the No. 83 for BK Racing, he steadily worked his way up the field, stayed out of trouble, and crossed the line in sixth. DiBenedetto let out plenty of emotion in his post-race radio interview and couldn’t remember several sponsors.
When you haven’t gotten so much as a smell of the exhaust fumes of the top 10, any forgetfulness can definitely be excused.
Several of DiBenedetto’s supporters were so giddy after the race, they doused him and his car with silly string as he made his way out of the race track. The moment is on YouTube and very cool to watch.
While Edwards was winning, the rest of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates struggled mightily on the day. Denny Hamlin finished on the lead lap in 20th, but Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch ran into trouble, had to go to the garage for repairs, and finished 36th and 38th, respectively.
It was Busch’s worst run of the season – his second outside the top five (25th at Fontana) – and he vented in angry terms, as is his custom.
Busch said he was “sick and tired” of Bristol Motor Speedway ever since the half-mile track’s banking was reduced, and let his feelings be known in a story published on
“This track has sucked for me ever since the grinding,” Busch told reporters after coming in a winner of the past two Cup races at Martinsville and Texas. “I'm about sick and tired of coming here since it sucks to race."
Busch hasn’t won at Bristol since the 2011 spring race. In nine visits since, he has one top-5, three top-10s, and an average finish of 19.5.
You can’t win them all, but Busch apparently believes it’s the track’s fault he isn’t doing it at Bristol. Adding to the bad vibes, Busch failed to win the XFINITY race, ending up second to teammate Erik Jones.
On the good news side of the ledger, Busch won’t be racing on Saturday again until Pocono in June. Those who can’t stand the bad attitude won’t have to deal with it for a while.
One thing is for certain with this week’s races. The storylines were plentiful, and the emotions were wide-ranging. Things may not always be perfect and drama may get in the way, but when drivers do well, they’re always worth celebrating.
Twitter followers are always welcome @Tomzsports. Contact him by email at
Richmond International Raceway (.75-mile oval), Richmond, Virginia
-SPRINT CUP: Toyota Owners 400, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT, Fox. Radio: SiriusXM Channel 90 or your local MRN Radio affiliate.
Race distance: 400 laps, 300 miles.
2015 champion: Kurt Busch
-XFINITY SERIES: ToyotaCare 250, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET/9:30 a.m. PT, Fox Sports 1. Radio: SiriusXM Channel 90 or your local MRN Radio affiliate.
Race distance: 250 laps, 187.5 miles.
2015 champion: Denny Hamlin.
-CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: Off until May 6 for the Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas Speedway.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Don’t hate the driver, cheer harder for yours

Over the course of the last two NASCAR race weekends, a machine-like pattern has emerged, rife with not only predictability over the outcome, but the backlash on social media that comes afterwards.
And it’s all because of one driver most fans love to hate. His name is Busch. Kyle Busch.
The reason for the vitriol is simple. Busch wins, and he’s won with greater regularity of late, regardless of series. First, he swept the weekend April 2 and 3 at Martinsville Speedway, starting with the Camping World Truck Series, then went out and rolled through the field in the Cup race on a track where he had never won before.
Busch was so good, he led 352 of 500 laps on NASCAR’s shortest track, one that can be murder on brakes for those who get overly ambitious.
Then over this weekend, Busch swept aside all challengers in the XFINITY and Sprint Cup races. First, he led 150 of 200 laps in winning the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, then endured a two-hour rain delay and won the Duck Commander 500.
Even more frustrating for those who aren’t fans of the 18, Busch only led the last 34 laps of the Cup race. It doesn’t matter how many laps you lead, as long as you lead the last one.
The next few paragraphs are going to make those who can’t stand Kyle Busch even madder, but they need to be said.
First off, in the five XFINITY races Busch has entered, he’s won the pole three times, qualified third in the other two, and had only a cut tire on the final lap at Auto Club Speedway keep him from winning all of them.
In total, Busch has led 776 of a possible 913 laps in 2016. That’s 85 percent of the total, an insane figure to comprehend. He has reached 80 career wins in NASCAR’s No. 2 series in only 316 starts, not even one in every four.
The Martinsville truck race was Busch’s first entry of the season. He led 123 of the 255 laps and now has 45 wins in that series in 130 starts.
He may be behind the pace in the series that is NASCAR’s gold standard, but Busch has 36 victories and a Sprint Cup trophy to show for his efforts. He’ll make his 400th career Cup start at Talladega on May 1.
Put all the gaudy numbers aside for a moment and understand something here. It’s a driver’s job to get in the car or truck and drive it like a maniac with the intention of getting to Victory Lane. Nothing else matters, and as Ricky Bobby once said, second place is the first loser.
What may rub those who don’t care for Kyle Busch is how he handles himself when things don’t go his way. After the frustration of what happened at Auto Club, it’s understandable why he blew off the media interview, especially when there’s always potential for fines to come down for saying the wrong things in the heat of the moment.
But that’s what some racers do. Love or hate him, Kyle Busch knows how to put his race cars in the right places to win. It’s on everyone else to keep up and make the adjustments to go out and beat him.
Even with all the winning Busch has done of late, there is good news. After this weekend’s races at Bristol, he won’t run in another XFINITY race until Pocono on June 4. On the truck side, he’ll only run three other events – at Charlotte on May 20, Kentucky on July 7 and Bristol on Aug. 17.
In the meantime, it’s better to appreciate what Kyle Busch has done rather than hate and long for the “good old days,” whatever they mean. Soon enough, someone else is going to come along and wreak the same amount of havoc.
And those who hate whoever that is will be just as vocal. It’s the nature of the racing beast.
Follow Tom Zulewski on Twitter @Tomzsports. Send your email praise, beefs, disagreements, etc., to
Bristol Motor Speedway (.533-mile oval), Bristol, Tenn.
-SPRINT CUP: Food City 500, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT, Fox. Radio: SiriusXM Channel 90 or your local PRN affiliate.
Race distance: 500 laps, 266.5 miles
2015 champion: Matt Kenseth
-XFINITY SERIES: Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300, Satuirday, 12:30 p.m. ET/9:30 a.m. PT, Fox Sports 1. Radio: SiriusXM Channel 90 or your local PRN affiliate.
Race distance: 300 laps, 159.9 miles
2015 champion: Kyle Busch
-CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: Off until May 6 for the Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas Speedway.