Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Jimmie Wins!

Finally, Jimmie's first win of the season at Martinsville - yes! It was a terrific race. Jimmie's car wasn't that great in the beginning, so Chad pitted him twice to make changes when everyone else stayed out. As a result, he lost track position and was running 30th, I believe, at one time. But he worked his way to the front with great driving and quick pit stops. Denny Hamlin led the most laps and also ran an awesome race. Toward the end, Jimmie took the lead after a caution and Denny made a spectacular move, beating him to the front. With only 15 laps to go, Jimmie squeezed his nose under Denny's car; Denny moved down to try to maintain his spot; both cars were sliding; both drivers kept control and Jimmie raced to the lead, keeping it to the checkered flag.

This is the kind of racing NASCAR fans always say they want to see - cars making risky passes, bumping, almost wrecking, driving for the win. So, wow, you'd think we'd hear a lot about it on all the post-race radio and television shows. But, you'd be wrong if you thought that because mostly what took all the attention in the aftermath of Martinsville was Kyle Busch.

Kyle Busch is NASCAR media's current hero. And I will grant you that the 23-year-old is a phenomenal driver. He's already won two Sprint Cup races this season, and that's out of only six. When Kyle wins, I expect him to be the center of attention. But, somehow it seems that he gets all the publicity even when he runs crappy, as he did this week in both the Cup race and the truck race. Why? Because when he loses, he acts like a pure jerk and for some reason, NASCAR reporters and many fans think that's cool.

Last week in Bristol, Kyle was pissed at an error by his pit crew so he abandoned his car on turn three and sulked off. The next day, before the Cup race, he told them - "Ladies, it's time to man up and get the job done." They did and he did and he won that race.

This week in Martinsville on Sunday, he screwed up and wrecked Scott Speed in the Cup race. I'm not sure where Kyle finished but it was back in the 20's. Meanwhile, poor Scott finished something like 70 laps down so his day was completely ruined. Monday was the truck race. I don't know if Kyle's crew chief or pit crew called him a "lady" or told him to "man up" but if they didn't, they should have.

In that race, Kyle made a mistake. In trying to rub the fender off a tire, he passed the commitment line going to pit road. NASCAR rules says you must go to pit road if you pass that line. Kyle didn't and was penalized. He finished the race 17th. When it was over, he parked his car and literally ran down pit road and behind the grandstands and out of the track, drawing attention to his childish behavior.

So, that was the talk instead of the masterful performances by Jimmie and Denny.

Most, although not all, of the radio hosts gave Kyle a pass and many of the fans (especially men) did as well. They said that acting the way he did simply showed his "passion for winning". They didn't see anything so wrong about abandoning his car, humiliating his crew. Because, you know, "he can drive the wheels off a racecar" and that seems to be the catch-all excuse for being an asshole for much of NASCAR nation.

It is an age-old question. Does having outstanding talent as an athlete, an actor, a musician buy you a perpetual waiver from having to treat others with respect and courtesy? I don't buy it. Being a arrogant, inconsiderate, spoiled brat is being a arrogant, inconsiderate, spoiled brat, whether you play softball for the Mayberry Maulers or the Boston Red Sox, whether you play for Led Zeppelin or the Hometown Bar Trio, whether Mike's Auto Body or M&M's is on the side of your car.

I don't even particularly care about how Kyle treats other drivers. They are the elite of the sport, his peers. Those old boys can take of themselves if he gives them grief. But any time, you bully your underlings, I've got to take exception. His pit crew work for him. They can't fight back. They just have to grit their teeth and take it. He said later, "they know I love them". And maybe he does in some ways but I've been the peon often enough to know how it feels to be disrespected by a superior. I didn't react either because I couldn't but if my boss had said, "she knows how much I love her so she doesn't mind if I put her down sometimes", inwardly I'd have been thinking, "you are flat freakin' wrong." Any time the powerful treat the less powerful with contempt, they themselves deserve contempt and talent has nothing to do with it.

As for bad behavior being synonymous with passion, that's baloney. The class guys in NASCAR like Jimmie and Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin and Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards and others get mad when they or others mess up and lose them a win. They can throw the f-bomb on the radio with abandon. They can cuss out their fellow competitors. That is stress and pressure and passion but calling out your crew, walking off from your car, nope, that's just being an immature crybaby. It's behavior that should be ignored rather than highlighted.

But Kyle is NASCAR media's flavor of the month. At the end of last season, it was Carl Edwards who was anointed The Man. In the spirit of "what have you done for me lately", Carl is old hat this year because he hasn't won. Jimmie won at Martinsville but it didn't seem to mean much. Maybe the reporters are bored with the three-time champion or maybe they just take his superior performance for granted. Kyle's their current pet. We can only hope they get over it soon and only give him credit (and publicity) when he deserves it.