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At The Risk Of A Beating, It Has To Be Asked

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 27 2012

Kurt Busch hounded Clint Bowyer near the end of Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Sonoma, but never made the pass. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

A final look back at an interesting weekend of racing:

The Question that reporter Bob Pockrass asked Kurt Busch at Dover, the one that ended up getting Busch suspended, was a good question then and a good question again in the wake of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Sonoma.

Did knowing that he is being hyper scrutinized by NASCAR officials cause Busch to drive differently over the final 20 or so laps at the Sonoma road course? Did the that situation rob fans of a more exciting finish?

For a hefty number of those final laps, Busch appeared to be in position to get the victory in the Toyota/Save Mart 350. His Phoenix Racing Chevrolet was the equal of the Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota that was just inches in front him; the one leading the race, the one being driven by Clint Bowyer.

Busch was deftly handling the Sonoma twisties – he was doing that all race and he was doing it near the end. He was driving more smoothly and more cooly than was Bowyer. All Busch had to do was something that other drivers were doing all day long at Sonoma on Sunday, and all day long at Road American in Saturday’s Nationwide race: administer a bump and run.

But Busch opted not to B and R, even though he was the quicker driver. He opted to put psychological pressure on the driver in front of him. He opted to attempt to work on Bowyer’s head, not his rear bumper or quarter-panel.

He did it the way it should be done, even during the final laps.

The question is: Why did he do it that way? Has Busch seen the errors of his ways? Or, has he simply had the fight take out of him by the threat of career-ending sanctions?

Just askin’.

Le Terror

Speaking of bumps and runs, how about that Jacques Villeneuve? Once again, he made more news for a high-profile bumping incident than for a wonderful driving performance at Road America on Saturday.

The incident came late in the race. The victim was a driver named Danica Patrick. It probably cost her a shot at a well-deserved top-five finish.

And for the first time in memory, Patrick reacted with semi class and dignity afterwards. Which was the proper thing to do. Like, what can you say? “That guy needs to learn how to drive?” That kind of thing can sound a little bit petty when it’s directed at a former World Champion.

The class and dignity did not reach into booth where the TV heads jumped up and down on Villeneuve with booted feet. Didn’t like the way Villeneuve came into low-speed Turn 5, which sits at the end of  of a the very-high-speed straight through the woods, jumped the brakes and wheel-hopped into the back of Patrick’s car.

No doubt; mostly Villeneuve’s fault. But as the Canadian road racer correctly pointed out, he was forced into the grass on the approach to Turn 5 and it was not just him who was wheel hopping into the turn as Patrick, too, was bouncing along under braking.

Racing incident, folks. Not a felony.

I think my colleague Nick Bromberg was pretty much right on when he said of Villeneuve; he’s making up for lost time in cars that have protective bumpers and fenders.

You just know that inside of every open-wheeler is a closet bumper-car maniac.

The list

Most impressive road-racing runs from the weekend:

1. Kurt Busch in the Sprint Cup race at Sonoma. Doubt his ability to control his emotions but never doubt his ability to drive.

2. Tony Stewart at Sonoma. After making his way from the rear of the field to finish second – on a road course – he talked about adhering to his plan to patiently knock ‘em off one at a time. Beautiful.

3. Brian Vickers at Sonoma. He, too, was knocking ‘em off one at a time at Sonoma. Afterward he credited his experience at this year’s Le Mans 24-hour race.

4. Nelson Piquet Jr. at Road America. In just his third NNS race, the former F1er kept his cool and won at the very F1-like 4-miler.

5. Jacques Villeneuve at Elkhart Lake. Sorry, but this guy is fun. On a road course in a stock-car, he’s like Earnhardt Sr. was all the time.

6. Fernando Alonso. Went from lousy qualifying run to top of the podium in F1 race in Valencia.

Harmony restored

A week and a half ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr. got his first Sprint Cup victory in four years when he won at Michigan. The same day, NHRA Top Fueler Tony Schumacher got his first victory since the 2010 season.

Then, Saturday, the Chip Ganassi Racing duo of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas got its first GRAND-AM Series win of the season.

And the next high-profiler to get off the scheid will be…Carl Edwards at Kentucky this weekend. It’s been 49 starts since his last race victory. The prediction here is that the skid will not reach 50.

Te late show

I hear the IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway was pretty good. Didn’t watch it. For a couple of related reasons.

First, the scheduled start time of 8-something p.m. local time. What’s up with that? I can understand not wanting to go up against prime-time favorites on TV night, but an 11 p.m. finish? Midnight in East? Is the goal to attract more firefighters and hotel desk clerks to the series?

Then there was the rain delay that pushed the start back even further. Because of that, the start of the race clashed with the Molly B Polka Party on the RFD channel. So much for hooking and landing the folks in the Milwaukee and Minneapolis markets.

Finally…

Bummer on the decision not to reschedule the China IndyCar race to Road America. An IndyCar race paired with the American Le Mans Series race at the third-best road circuit in the world – the world –would have been one hoot of a weekend.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, June 27 2012
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • Brian says:

    So what are one number and number two road courses in the world?

    • Jim Pedley says:

      Brian: Here goes for me — 1. Nurburgring (I know, that is like pulling for the Yankees or Ferrari). 2. Monza. (Guess I like the big-speed tracks with trees).
      What are your three faves?