Looks aren't always deceiving (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday April 17, 2007 12:57PM; Updated: Tuesday April 17, 2007 12:57PM
After the race, one of Busch's teammates at Hendrick, Jeff Gordon, summed it up best when he forcefully stated that, no matter how upset you are, the golden rule of a race car driver is to never leave your team. Busch did, and this could have far-reaching consequences if Busch doesn't do and say the right things to his teammates over the next several days.
3. Yet the most upset man after the race probably wasn't Busch, it was likely Rick Hendrick.
Hendrick is easily the nicest and most generous guy I've come across in my time on the NASCAR beat for SI. But he demands excellence, and his young driver surely disappointed him on Sunday.
What's more, the whole episode allowed Earnhardt to enjoy a free test session behind the wheel of a Hendrick car. Yes, Busch's Chevy was damaged, but it's conceivable that Junior could have learned something new while driving the car. In NASCAR teams guard information from their rivals as if they're as important as state secrets, and if Little E acquired even the tiniest morsel of intelligence, this is a victory for the Bud team.
4. The Juan Pablo Montoya-Tony Stewart rivalry will have some legs.
Generally speaking, I think feuds between drivers are media-created myths. The Cup guys almost always forget what happened on the track the minute they climb into their private jets afterward, and incidents typically don't carry over one week to the next.
Not so, this blossoming rivalry between Montoya and Stewart. The two made contact late in the race on Sunday -- which was the event that spawned all the wildness in Texas -- and Stewart ended up spinning out. After the race Stewart was understandably frustrated, but here's the thing: Stewart and Montoya basically have identical driving styles. Both are extremely aggressive.
Rookies on the circuit typically give ground to Stewart, a two-time champ, but Montoya isn't going to do that. Remember, he's won races in Formula One, the most popular series in the world, and he was successful in F/1 because even there he was known as the most aggressive guy on the circuit.
So Montoya isn't going to back down to Stewart, which is something that Stewart hasn't had to confront recently. Last year he and Kyle Busch tangled a few times early in the season, but Busch eventually got in Stewart's good graces by reaching out to him in the garage and by not challenging him as vigorously on the track. Montoya won't do either of these things, which makes the Montoya-Stewart relationship worth keeping an eye on.
5. Jeff Burton has emerged as a credible threat to win the championship.
The only thing more surprising than the fact that Burton has finished sixth or better in six of the seven races this season is that he's not leading the standings (he trails Jeff Gordon by eight points). Still, Burton has emerged as a ruthlessly consistent performer this season. He's got solid equipment, he rarely makes a mistake on the track, and his team is one of the top five in NASCAR. Add it all up and Burton should be in title contention all the way to Homestead.