Ingram: ‘The Retaliator’ On A Roll In Las Vegas
By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer
From the Monday Morning Crew Chief™:
Imagine a world where the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship this coming fall has Carl Edwards squaring off against Jimmie Johnson for the title – and winning. During this time span, Danica Patrick launches her Sprint Cup career in preparation for running for the rookie of the year in 2012.
Inspired by his success as Patrick’s team owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins a race during this same Chase. Trevor Bayne replaces David Regan as the driver of the UPS Ford at Roush Fenway Racing to prepare for his return to the Daytona 500. Juan Pablo Montoya wins an oval race at last. This all happens while the National Football League is on strike.
Too far out? Perhaps. But according to current events, this is a plausible scenario.
If something along these lines comes to pass, it will complete a comeback by NASCAR from the doldrums. You have to fall on your collective bottom to have a comeback and the sanctioning body put itself in that position during the early years of leadership by CEO and Chairman Brian France. At a time when the sky looked Cerulean blue (and greenback green) as far as the eye could see in the first five years of his tenure, France ruled more by hubris and impatience than the common sense more prevalent in the eras of “Big Bill” France and Bill France Jr.
Then the Great Recession arrived like a long, sinister black stretch limo that went on and on.
In the last year, France and his staff have managed to put the risk, the passion and the competition
back into the Sprint Cup formula. That brings us to exhibit A: “The Retaliator.”
“The King,” Richard Petty, became the smiling, humble good ol’ star. Dale Earnhardt was a moody champion who regularly visited the dark side as “The Intimidator.” Jimmie Johnson is the immensely talented boy next door, hence no cool nickname. Carl Edwards, too, is like the boy next door except he tends to do crazy stunts and has a dark streak that emerges when he feels his honor has been crossed.
If Kyle Busch is fond of putting himself at risk (and indirectly those around him) through some extraordinary maneuvers, Edwards has stamped himself as a guy who will choose to put others at risk if he is in the mood for revenge.
During this week’s cavity in the schedule (rhymes with travesty), there’s plenty of time to remember Edwards putting Brad Keselowski into the fence and almost into the grandstands at the Atlanta Motor Speedway a year ago. Edwards wrecked Keselowski again at Gateway along with the entire front of the field in another act of retaliation in the Nationwide Series last summer.
This year, after he started Edwards’ crash at Phoenix, for another example, Busch made haste to apologize prior to Las Vegas to be sure to stay on the right side of “The Retaliator.”(There was no problem with Keselowsi in the last stages at Las Vegas, it also bears noting.)
“The Retaliator” is a direct result of NASCAR’s bootleg turn when it comes to allowing the drivers to now police themselves according to the policy of “Have at it.”
NASCAR is hardly the first sports organization to shoot itself in the foot and then figure out how
to walk again after a spell on crutches. There was a time when NBA players were attacking fans in the stands. While that’s less dangerous than cars flying into grandstands, it took the once golden basketball tour into a brief depression. Rules of conduct on and off the court were changed and the focus once again returned to the game; so did ratings and attendance.
Major League baseball struck out with the strike of 1994-95, then the players union and owners compounded the error by looking the other way on the steroid issue when home run tallies rejuvenated much needed interest in the National Pastime. Now the sport is forever sullied by its drug scandal that will come into play every year a vote is taken for the revered Hall of Fame.
The NFL is on the verge of going down the same path as Major League Baseball in 1994 as both sides continue to play public relations instead of seriously negotiating. Talks continue as this is written after a desperate 24-hour reprieve became a seven-day extension. Whatever the outcome of those talks, it remains to be seen how the NFL will respond to the unsavory news the sport is gradually crippling and killing its participants with head injuries.
As Talladega and more tandem drafting approaches next month, NASCAR will continue to grapple with its biggest issue of the “Have at it” era: a car in the grandstands instead of Edwards dashing into the crowd during impromptu, heartwarming victory celebrations. If it comes to pass that Edwards does win the championship, his mode of racing may well become the standard just as Johnson’s mode of “beat ’em with your best stuff and keep it clean” has prevailed previously.
Are the recently extended fences high enough? Is the Car of Tomorrow safe enough?
As the winner of three races in the last five events, for now Edwards enjoys the reputation of the man from Missouri with a white-picket-fence smile who brings a lot of fun and excitement to racing with his back flips and grandstand dashes, a sort of NASCAR idol who enjoys doing things like jumping off the Statosphere in Vegas or flying with the Thunderbirds.
But like Jimmie Stewart in many a cowboy movie, just don’t double cross Edwards by taking him for granted on the track. It’s enough to carry any plot a long way – except that motor racing is not the stuff of fiction.
Quote of the Week: “I feel like I have a better understanding of how the sport works. I am more prepared to use these fast race cars and do a better job to try to win this championship. That is something Jack (Roush) and I have talked a lot about over the years. There is definitely a process to becoming the best you can be at this level because all the guys are so savvy. I feel I am in a better position to get all the points we can and all the wins we can this year.” – Carl Edwards after his victory in Las Vegas.
See ya! …At the races.
– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at email@example.com Comments