By admin | May 1, 2009
By Richard Allen
Denny Hamlin totally dominated last year’s Crown Royal 400. As a matter of fact, he led 381 of the first 382 laps. However, tire troubles sent him to the pits for an unscheduled stop. That opened the door for other drivers who had just moments before had seemed to be thoroughly beaten.
Two of those drivers who suddenly had a chance to gain an unexpected win were Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Busch.
After Hamlin’s troubles, Junior seized the lead and held the first spot from lap 383 to lap 397. It looked as if the popular driver was about to score his first win while driving for Hendrick Motorsports and end a winless streak that dated back to this very race two years prior.
Busch had other ideas. Coming to lap 398 Busch drove under Earnhardt going into turn 3. The two cars made contact which sent Earnhardt spinning to the wall.
By the time of this race last year, Busch was already on his way to becoming the most disliked driver in NASCAR. At the time these two were racing hard for the win I had just commented to a friend that Busch could cement his status as the most hated man in racing by wrecking the sport‘s most popular driver. That is indeed what happened.
Busch went on to finish second behind Clint Bowyer. Earnhardt wound up a disappointing 15th.
“Kyle Busch has caused us to all need security to get out of this place,” a frustrated Junior remarked in a post race interview.
Busch went on to seemingly relish his role as NASCAR’s villain. And as will sometimes be the case, he even gained some fans at the same time.
In Richmond’s first race of 2008, it was Junior who was the victim and Busch who played the role of villain.
But as they say, what goes around comes around.
When the Sprint Cup Series returned to the Richmond International Raceway the initial villain was a tropical storm that roared up the east coast and forced the race to be put off by a day.
In that fall race on lap 212, the same two combatants who caused a stir in the spring found themselves racing for the lead again.
This time it was Busch’s turn to go for a spin into the retaining wall.
Just like in the previous race, neither of the two went on to win. Jimmie Johnson took the checkered flag in front. Earnhardt came across in 4th while Busch was the one to be scored 15th at the end of 400 laps.
In the case of Richmond’s fall race it was Busch who was victim and Junior who got to play the villain.
The Richmond area was the scene of several much more serious battles between 1861 and 1865. But in 2008, NASCAR’s most beloved and most disliked characters did battle on the track. Each got to take a turn as the victim and the villain.
Depending on the viewer’s perspective, either could have been seen as at fault in each incident. The reality is that in both cases it was just hard racing between two drivers who wanted to win.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
*For a chuckle click on the link below to watch the latest in my animated series, “Racing Re-Cap: Talladega”.
In this episode racing reporter Mark Mustang can’t believe it when his co-host, Daisy Dreamboat, says she has a racing question. But as it turns out, the question is not about racing at all.
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