NASCAR's generation gap at the root of Busch-Childress skirmish
Kyle Busch-Richard Childress fight shows the clashing of two racing generations
Greg Biffle shows just how dominant Roush Fenway Racing has been this season
A trip to one of his best tracks could give Denny Hamlin his first win of 2011
Everyone, it seems, has a take on the Kyle Busch-Richard Childress run-in. There's former driver Jimmy Spencer, who believes the team owner crossed the line in tussling with Busch in Kansas, and then there are the fans who have offered to help Childress pay his $150,000 fine.
Like no feud in recent memory, this one stands alone in the arena of the absurd. The mere thought of the 65-year-old owner -- who as FoxSport's Lee Spencer reported, had deep-rooted frustrations with Busch -- taking his rings and watch off and putting the 26-year-old Busch in a headlock and punching him just seems so wildly unbelievable.
But here we are, dealing with a confrontation that could only take place in NASCAR (seriously, could anyone imagine any other owner in professional sports beating up an athlete?). Did Busch have it coming after banging doors with Joey Coulter's truck on a cool-down lap last Saturday? Was Childress, who had vowed after Busch and Kevin Harvick's confrontation at Darlington that he would take matters into his own hands if Busch damaged another Richard Childress Racing vehicle, operating outside of the realm of reason?
Unfortunately, there are no simple answers. There's a divide in NASCAR, a generational gap between the hardscrabble past and a present where attitude and an ability to fire up fans (for better or for worse) are the biggest commodities. Childress and Busch are the archetypes of those sides.
NASCAR can't have owners assaulting drivers, but this is a sport that has long been defined by men protecting their turf. That's the mentality Childress, who is as old-school as it gets in the Cup garage, can't escape. He's not changing, and judging from the slap-on-the-wrist-type penalty (a fine, plus probation until the end of the year), NASCAR isn't forcing him to.
As for Busch, it's his hard-charging ways that have made him the series' most polarizing figure. Sit in the stands at any track and the driver who elicits the most fan response outside of Dale Earnhardt Jr. is clearly Busch. While sitting among the fans at Charlotte, I listened as NASCAR Nation booed as Busch took the lead and then cheered as he spun out.
There's no stronger personality in the Sprint Cup Series than Busch, and the last thing NASCAR wants is to reign in the unpredictability that's the reason we can't take our eyes off Rowdy. He's just too valuable. That could be why, despite his multiple on-track confrontations and being caught going 128 mph in a 45 mph zone, he hasn't missed any races. You can blame NASCAR for not keeping him on a shorter lease, but the fact is that Busch has become a victim of his own doing; every misstep is magnified because of his past transgressions.
Many will say NASCAR took the easy way out by giving Childress a relatively light penalty and not suspending him. Maybe that's true; this kind of action, involving any owner, any athlete is inexcusable. But Childress made a promise he intended to keep and he was prepared to back it up.
We shouldn't expect the old guard Childress to change his ways after this incident, and we shouldn't expect the hard-driving Busch to either.
These are heady days indeed for Roush Fenway Racing.
Jack Roush's crew has Carl Edwards sitting atop the Sprint Cup standings and the organization has more top-5s (14), top-10s (25) and poles (four) than any other team. It's a level of domination that prompted Tony Stewart to say: "I think Ford definitely has an advantage right now over the field. Anybody that doesn't have [a Ford] ... I think you're kind of bringing a knife to a gunfight right now."
There's no denying Ford, and more to the point its flagship program Roush Fenway, holds sway over the series right now, with Edwards proving every bit a title contender, Matt Kenseth having already won two races and David Ragan showing promise once again. But maybe the most telling -- and underappreciated -- sign of how good RFR has been at the halfway point of the regular season lies with Greg Biffle.
Three weeks into the season, Biffle was drowning. He was 31st in the points and his work was cut out for him in a new points system that made bad finishes, especially a string of them, hard to recover from. But Biffle has steadily risen to 12th in points, sitting just five points behind 10th-place Ryan Newman. He's done it by averaging an 11.6 finish in the last 10 races, including a 10th at Kansas, but he's also thrived on getting better as the race wears on.
At Fontana, Biffle qualified 32nd, but rallied to finish 11th. He went from a 22nd starting spot at Darlington to come in eighth. Then there was Charlotte, where the cooling system in his No. 16 Ford malfunctioned and blew hot air into his helmet. Biffle said the temperature reached 155 degrees, but he went on to lead 50 laps and took 13th.
But now that he's gotten himself back into contention, Biffle is looking for something else. Under the revamped Chase format, the top 10 drivers in the standings are guaranteed a playoff berth, while the final wild card spots go to the two drivers within the top-20 in points who have the most wins. Biffle believes he needs to increase his chances of making the Chase not just by staying consistent, but also by returning to Victory Lane.
"There's a lot of tough guys right there or right behind me. There are a lot of races left and a lot of good guys fighting for those spots," Biffle said. "So a win certainly being up near that top-10 or 12 in points, a win would certainly secure you a fairly comfortable spot as a wild card."
He'll try to deliver one on a track where he helped to usher in RFR's revival. The last time the series visited Pocono, Roush Fenway was mired in a 54-race drought and Biffle hadn't won in 64 races, but he broke though on the tri-oval. That first victory of 2011 could offer a nice boost to his Chase resume, but Biffle believes it's going to take more than just one win, and the consistency he's found since those early struggles, to keep him in the mix.
"We have two guys with wins now [Harvick and Kenseth], so it may, in fact, take two wins," Biffle said. "Two wins would probably guarantee you a spot if you stay in that top-15 in points."
Denny Hamlin. Kurt Busch is a tempting pick given Penske Racing's recent upswing with a win last weekend by Brad Keselowski at Kansas and two consecutive poles. But Hamlin seems to have regained his mojo as the circuit hits one of his best venues. He has four wins on the Pennsylvania tri-oval, including two of the last three races, and overall Hamlin has eight top-10s in 10 starts. Sitting 11th in the points, Hamlin can put all the criticism about his slow start behind him with a win this weekend.
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