By admin | May 4, 2008
Junior vs. Busch: Whoâ€™s the intimidator?
By Richard Allen
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is, obviously, the son of the late seven time NASCAR champion. However, he has never really employed the same driving style as his hard nosed father.
Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was such a hard charging, take no prisoners type driver that new words were added to the racing vernacular just because of him. â€œIronheadâ€, â€œRubbinâ€™s Racinâ€™â€, â€œRattling his cageâ€ as well as â€œThe Intimidatorâ€ became household words among NASCAR fans who either loved or hated Earnhardt.
Junior, on the other hand, has a much more laid back personality than did his father. Naturally, like anyone who has ever driven a race car at a competitive level, he has had run ins with other drivers. A couple of incidents with Carl Edwards come readily to mind.
It is not that Junior is not aggressive or a hard charger, he just goes about his business in a different way.
Kyle Busch, on the other hand, may not bear the name of the late racing great but his driving style is very much reminiscent of the seven time champion. Like the 1980s version of Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Busch seems to bring a â€œCheckers or Wreckersâ€ mentality to the track with him every weekend. He wants to win every race and does not care who he has to rub the wrong way to accomplish that goal.
Very much unlike Earnhardt, however, Busch has never been able to capture the loyalty of the NASCAR fan base in a significant way.
The incident between Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Busch late in Saturdayâ€™s race in Richmond seemed destined to happen from the moment race leader Denny Hamlin slowed due to tire trouble. The two drivers split Hamlin and went on to stage a brief side by side battle in which Earnhardt emerged as the leader and began to pull away.
However, a caution period brought on by Hamlin stopping on the track when his tire finally deflated set up the raceâ€™s defining moment.
Anyone who had ever seen Kyle Busch race before knew he would give it all he had and would not be bothered by the fact that he was racing with the very popular Earnhardt. Predictably, Busch drove under Earnhardt through the first and second turns of the Â¾ mile oval and the two staged a drag race down the back straightaway. Both drove into Turn 3 very hard and Buschâ€™s car appeared to get loose and then slide up into Earnhardt, sending the #88 car spinning into the outside wall.
The incident was full of irony.
Perhaps first and foremost, last year Earnhardt bumped Busch out of a ride at Hendrick Motorsports. Then, in turn, Busch bumped Earnhardt out of a win.
Add to that,Â a Â driver who drives much like Dale Earnhardt, Sr. had just crashed Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Also, the incident took place entering Turn 3, the same place as a wreck that in 1986 on a differently configured Richmond International Raceway gave rise to several of those previously mentioned terms. In that wreck Senior and Darrell Waltrip tangled late in the race and the legend of â€œThe Intimidatorâ€ began to take shape.
The irony would have been too much if Mark Martin had been able to score a win in the #8 car. Perhaps the fact that a Richard Childress Racing car did go on to win will have to be ironic enough.
And more, Busch had set the stage for the incident the night before during the Nationwide Series race. After a last lap dust up with Steven Wallace which ended with a pit road confrontation and a bit of verbal sparring, Busch made a prophetic comment. â€œI donâ€™t care,â€ he said when asked what he thought of his run in with Wallace. â€œIâ€™ll wreck as many cars as I have to.â€ That sounded like a driver who really wants to win and does not mind rattling a few cages to do it.
Ultimately, the incident on Saturday night was just hard racing between two drivers who very much wanted to win. No doubt many fans would have liked to have seen the result of the crash turn out just the opposite of the way it did. But one thing is for sure, the irony of it all is a little hard to ignore.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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