By admin | May 8, 2008
Was the Richmond race good for NASCAR?
By Richard Allen
To answer the question posed in the headline of this article, no, that race was not good for NASCAR. It was great for NASCAR.
For about 380 laps of the 400 lap race it was somewhat of a snoozer as Denny Hamlin dominated the rest of the field. However, when the frantic call that he had a tire going down went out over Hamlin’s radio things got really interesting.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Busch passed the slowing Hamlin on each side then went on to give fans something to talk about for a long time.
After a caution brought out when Hamlin’s tire finally went down the stage was set for something NASCAR has been missing for a long time, a real villain to emerge. With the highly popular Junior leading and seemingly on his way to ending a two year winless streak, Kyle Busch made a desperate attempt to pass the car of the organization he once drove for. After all, Junior was the driver who effectively rooted Busch out at Hendrick Motorsports last year.
Busch’s car got loose as he drove under Earnhardt going into the track’s third turn. As a result he slid up, made contact and sent Junior spinning to the outside wall.
How was that great for NASCAR? While no one in the organization would admit it, they certainly would not be disappointed to see the most popular driver end that winless streak. However, the fact that Earnhardt has not won in two years does not seem to have caused ‘Junior Nation’ to give up on their driver. Seeing him come so close may only serve to strengthen their support of him.
But the real benefit to NASCAR came from Busch. In the 1980s Darrell Waltrip was the most hated driver in NASCAR. Every time he was introduced boos rang out. He was the anti-hero. Fans came not only to root for their particular favorite, but perhaps even more, to root against Waltrip.
Since Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have taken on the role of villain but each of those drivers also had significant numbers of supporters as well. So, their anti-hero status was not as pronounced as that of Waltrip.
After a run in with Busch following Friday night’s Nationwide Series race, Steven Wallace said of Busch, “I think it’s pretty bad when they call your name in driver introductions and everybody boos you.” Steven Wallace may think it is bad but behind closed doors NASCAR officials are no doubt thinking it is pretty good.
And what of Busch? He does not seem to be bothered by his lack of popularity. He often encourages the crowd to boo louder when introduced, which of course, will make him more popular in some circles.
There are some ways in which we will know for sure if Busch provided NASCAR with what it has been needing. A look at Darlington’s attendance and television ratings will provide an answer. But if you are looking for a more tangible measure, just listen for the boos during driver introductions. Those boos will be music to the ears of the NASCAR hierarchy.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
Topics: Articles |