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Pedley: The Fourth Gets Off To Crackling Start

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, July 1 2011

Topic No. 1 at Daytona this holiday weekend is two-by-two racing. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

The July Fourth weekend of racing got off to an early and interesting start down in Daytona Beach on Thursday.

Because of the holiday, cars took to the track early, though not often because of rain (one practice for Cup cars).

Also, driver interviews kicked off early. And lively and goofy they were.

Here are some of the topics and responses – presented with comment – which resulted:

Coupling up: First and certainly foremost is tandem racing. It started a couple years ago at plate-racing tracks, dominated last year and was fine-tuned at Daytona in February.

There was little doubt heading into this week’s racing that it would remain the tactic of choice in the race once wonderfully known as The Firecracker 400.

Asked about pairs racing, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said:

“I’d rather have control of my own destiny and be able to go out there and race and just do my own work and worry about my own self. It’s really weird and kinda wrong on

Dale Earnhardt Jr. likes going it alone. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

some levels to race that way and to think like you think. You take care of somebody and you feel this obligation to take care of them and then worry about having them take care of you and how that makes them feel.

“Been growing up all these years racing for No. 1, looking out for No. 1. Doing my job. This is what I need to do. I need to do this to get up through the pack. This is how my car drives and now you are doing it so different. Your thought process and everything you think about during the race is nothing near that. It is just different and weird. It won’t be like that forever I assume and hopefully I am alive and still racin’ when it goes back to the way it was because I just really enjoy lookin’ out for No. 1, man. If you had a car that drive up through there and you were smart about drafting and knew what you were doing, you could make some cool things happen and that was pretty fun.”

Comment: Tandem racing will continue until change occurs to the track, the cars, the tires, the rules. That is, it will continue until NASCAR decides it hates it and then it will be legislated away.

And, the July race in Daytona will always be self-referred to as The Firecracker 400.

Hand shakiness: Following last weekend’s race in Sonoma, Calif., Kyle Busch headed over and shook the hand of arch-enemy Kevin Harvick.

Harvick was asked about that Thursday.

Kevin Harvick was baffled by the extended hand. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

“I wouldn’t call it good to go on that,” he said when asked if the handshake meant peace had been restored. “I mean we raced together for a lap and a half. I was as confused about all that as everybody else.”

Busch explained, “I felt like we had a really good race with each other.  So, just wanted to let him know that.

“We gave each other great room and raced each other hard and clean.  And, that’s all there is to it.  You all are reading way too much into things.”

Comment: The look on Harvick’s face was uncomfortably comical when the hand was extended. So shocked was he that Busch had the gall to try to shake his hand after all the two have been through this season, that he shook the dang thing.

Busch should have waited until pre-race. He would have freaked Harvick right off his game.

Mum still the word: Danica Patrick is back in a Nationwide Series car this week.

The racing world still awaiting The Word from Danica. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Those wondering if her sabbatical back to her IndyCar day job had brought clarity to her vision of her future, got the same old answer.

“I’ve said from the beginning of the year, these things are complicated, and they take time.” she said. “Whether I’m coming here or not has yet to be signed, sealed or delivered.

“Only time will tell. I’m really not sure.”

Andy decision, Patrick said, will be based upon “my gut and my desire and where I feel like I’ll be the happiest and have the most success. From those thoughts, then my team explores the options. But it always starts with where I want to be.”

Comment: I am taking Danica at her word on this. It is a big decision. She moves to NASCAR without establishing a winning legacy in IndyCar and she opens herself up to nutball analysis. She stays, she risks a further fade into obscurity.

Of course, the money is important and will probably be the determining factor. But say what you will about her skills as a driver, Danica is a racer and has a racer’s sense of pride and history.

That said, here’s hoping that Patrick and not that smarmy Go Daddy dude is making the calls.

Facing the music: Kurt Busch’s marital situation made “news” among some “journalists” this week. Last Sunday at Infineon, his wife was replaced at his side by a woman named Patricia Driscoll.

Kurt Busch talked personally at Daytona. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Busch was asked about the situation and the dude didn’t dodge.

“There’s been a lot going on behind the scenes,” the 2004 Sprint Cup champ said. “Obviously, when you win people want to take you down and that’s happened this week.  I’ve got some notes and things that I’ve put together and all I really want to say about that is that drivers sometimes have a beef with certain media members or different ones of the print or broadcast media. Things are reported, generally speaking. The majority of our journalists are hard working, responsible individuals who like us, are trying to do their jobs the best way that they can. I appreciate that.

“I also appreciate the fact, until now, the media has been extremely professional in respect to my personal situation with Eva (his wife) and I.  And, although all those in the NASCAR community have been aware, for some time now, that we’re no longer together and that we are legally separated…why do we go through this process?  It’s been tough.  The upcoming weeks, we’ll work toward formally terminating our marriage.  We do so with the most respect for one another and we’ll always be friends.  With that, I’m happy to answer any other questions about the racing side of it. It’s just the personal side is just that.

“There are things going on at the personal level.  There are things personal with the team that’s been well documented.  Like I’ve said, performance on the track is always the best antidote for putting all that aside.  I think the way that we’ve handled the situation of this sport; we’re really good at respecting one another.  I’m happy that I’m an athlete in a sport that really cares about writing about our sport versus writing about our personal lives.  The other sports get into the professionals lives in a very personal way and I’m glad that I’m in the NASCAR world to work with you guys and to respect that as well.  It’s tough.  We’re an entity, but I’m still a person.”

Comment: This would drive many editors crazy (or crazier), but I do not have an editor so I will say this – too much window peeping going on in “journalism” these days.

Yes, Busch is a public figure, but having marital problems has no bearing on his public job. Were he accused of a crime, or of something morally undesirable, or of something which fans and the sport absolutely need to know about as they decide where and how to spend their time and money, fine.

But divorce is, literally and figuratively, in-the-bedroom stuff.

We at RacinToday.com did not report on Busch situation until now. No need to air it, public figure or not. It is important to only three people (and their legal reps). And besides, what is a public figure – somebody who leaves their house?

As the lines between journalism and “journalism” continue to blur, as mainstream media and media outlets previously considered respectable sink into the ooze of public pandering, the deeper we pry.

Not for it.

We report this now because Busch spoke up and made it a story himself.

And, we say; nicely handled, Kurt.

Smokin’ Mad: Tony Stewart’s decision to plow right through Brian Vickers at Infineon

Brian Vickers got punted for blocking last week. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

and the subject of blocking remained talking points this week.

Stewart talked briefly about it during a teleconference from Kentucky Speedway at mid week.

“I pretty much stood my ground and I’m still not happy about the outcome obviously,” he said, “but I kind of knew that was potentially what could happen out of it because of what happened earlier in the race.  It’s like I said, I don’t race guys that way and I’m not going to let anybody else race us that way – it’s doesn’t matter who it is.”

On Friday in Daytona, Stewart said,  “I’ve talked to other drivers too and I didn’t anticipate to get the kind of support that I’m getting with some of these guys.  It’s not the whole field saying that by any means – I haven’t talked to everybody.  I did talk to two or three different guys yesterday and the two or three guys that I spoke to mentioned and agreed that it’s a problem that’s getting worse, not better.  Honestly, whether they agree or disagree – I don’t care.  I’ve drawn my line in the sand and the next guy that blocks me, he is going to also suffer the same fate.  It doesn’t matter who it is.  That’s what it’s going to be.”

The two-time champ also said that if punching out the cars of people who get in his way costs him a berth in the Chase, “So be it.”

Stewart’s teammate/employee at Stewart-Haas Racing, Ryan Newman, understandably stood behind Smoke on Thursday.

“I’m not a fan at all of blocking and if you don’t block on an oval, you shouldn’t block on a road course,” Newman said, “and there are a lot of guys who get in the bad habit of blocking on a road course, especially in Turn 7 and Turn 11 there at Infineon. It’s difficult to be able to work through some of those things when somebody does block in front of you.

“However his whole retaliation thing worked out, that’s not for me to talk about or say.  But it is frustrating. I had guys that blocked me and let them know about it and I got turned around myself twice in Turn 11. So, the blocking part is not cool at all. And it’s something that we as drivers have to address and gain a little more respect out of each other so that we’re not doing that. We can have great racing and great passing there without the blocking.”

Comment: Blocking generally is viewed in two ways – it’s viewed as OK by the guy in front (and his fans) and it’s viewed as a felony by the guy behind (and his fans). Some of those behind find subtle ways to let the guy in front that he has the faster car and intends to pass. Some bring out the hammer.

A lot can be going on with the driver in front on a road course which leads the guy behind to think he is being blocked. Things like track conditions, what’s going on in front of him, momentum, equipment status.

The hammer should always be the tool of last resort.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racingtoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, July 1 2011
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