Sunday, May 8, 2011

Rating the Southern 500: 5 Stars *****

After a start to the season where the Sprint Cup Series drivers and teams minded their manners and forgave any mistakes on the track, Juan Pablo Montoya lit the fuse and the sport has gone wild once again. The 2011 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway was one of the best races the sport has seen and gets an obvious 5 Star Rating.

The first two Saturday night races following the off weekend for Easter were the first two night races of the season, and everybody’s emotions have come alive as the lights came on. They say Saturday night’s alright for fighting, and that has been the motto for several drivers the last two weeks.

Montoya and Ryan Newman had their very public battle at Richmond and in the meeting that followed with NASCAR on Friday, drivers such as Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch lost control of their emotions and snapped with profanity laced rants on their radios at Richmond, and now Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch then met fender-to-fender and face-to-face Saturday for a classic NASCAR showdown.

Harvick had given Busch a few nudges in the waning laps of the race, but then Busch pulled a Montoya move a lap later and intentionally turned Harvick up into the fence. Now, as far as penalties go, I can’t see how NASCAR would justify penalizing Busch, even with probation, after it gave Montoya a free pass after Richmond. These were nearly the exact same incidents. We could argue Montoya should have been penalized in some manner, but NASCAR shouldn’t create a double standard with these two incidents.

In other and much more positive news, Regan Smith and the #78 team finally got a much-deserved victory, and it came in one of the greatest of all NASCAR races. This win ranks right up with Trevor Bayne’s Daytona 500 victory to start the season, maybe even more amazing because the draft doesn’t work at Darlington.

Smith’s crew chief, Pete Rondeau, made one of the best strategy calls of the season when he told Smith to stay out on a caution with just six laps to go while nearly the rest of the lead-lap cars came in for tires. Smith leads the series with an 8.7 average starting position, and the one race he qualifies outside the top 20 is the race he comes back to win.

The race at Darlington kind of summed up what NASCAR is all about. Virtually everybody who runs full-time in the sport has a chance to win. Of all races to predict a surprise winner, the Southern 500 certainly wouldn’t have been even near the top of anybody’s list. Sure, strategy got Smith to the front, but he had made steady progress from his 23rd starting spot to get near the top 10 by the time he stayed out under caution, but he drove the wheels off of his car to hold off Carl Edwards on the final two restarts and definitely deserves to hold that trophy.

Also, it showed that the people in the sport are passionate about what they do and they will battle hard to get to the top each week. There are no longer any restrictions about how the drivers can and can’t act, and it has brought the personality of the sport back.

The races don’t get any easier as the sport heads north to battle the Monster Mile at Dover. This is another demanding race track, and I don’t see any reason why all of this drama won’t continue, unless everybody plays nice on Sundays and only light it up on Saturday nights. Plus, the All-Star race is in two weeks and there will be as much intrigue heading into that race as there has been in a long time, maybe ever. Have a great week everybody, this is good stuff.


  1. I think you're going to see Kyle Busch vs. Harvick, Part 2, at the All-Star Race. It's going to happen on the final lap when Busch turns Harvick into the wall with bad intentions. Only this time, they're going to throw down, with Harvick getting in some good licks before they're separated. (Harvick will be waiting for Busch at Busch's trailer, much like he did for Greg Biffle next to Biffle's pit box after a Busch Series race at Bristol in 2002.)

  2. I guess Kyle's supposed to just take those rear enders from Harvick and be a good boy... If he defends himself it's all his fault... Nice reasoning...

    Harvick started this mess and then was totally classless after the checkered flew. If any penalties are handed out Harvick better be getting them too... As far as retribution is concerned Harvick might risk more than probation. Do you think he'll jeopradize his chance at the 2011 chase trying to prove an illegitimate point?

    Enough said?

  3. Thank you Dwindy. Everyone apparently has blinders on, because we all know how much of a Saint Harvick is. He could never do any wrong. So stupid. I was listening to the call-ins on Wind Tunnel. It amazes me how the majority of nascar fans are completely ignorant and blame Kyle for all this when it's Harvick who started everything and persisted. Heaven forbid Kyle defends himself. But I guess if your last name is Busch you have no other choice but to be in the wrong. I'd like to see Harvick suspended for a race for the punch alone. I would put Kyle on probation just so he doesn't retaliate and make things worse, because we all know he will, and when he does, the fans and media will have throw a Harvick-like temper tantrum about it. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

  4. 5 stars except for that bit when I fell asleep and Kenseth went 3 laps down...whooops!

    Jr being up front til his boneheaded penalty helped the excitement for me too. Regan winning was awesome and well deserved with the way he has been running all year and I am looking forward to more fireworks at Dover!

  5. jon_464 - Saturday night's race certainly raised everybody's expectations for what might happen at the All-Star race in a couple weeks. This might be the most anticipated non-points event yet.

    Dwindy1 - I would actually be surprised if NASCAR handed out any penalties. I think they're just fine with how things are going right now and are as interested as the rest of us with how these things will play out. Let's just hope it's not all fun and games and then somebody gets hurt, as could have happened with Brad Keselowski last year at Atlanta.

    Chris - I think there is always going to be a segment of the fan base that will hate Kyle Busch no matter what he does. It was the same with Dale Earnhardt. They will always find the worst of the situation. But, I would be shocked to see Harvick punished, much less suspended. He wasn't going to do much damage with Kyle wearing his helmet.

    Gene - Who? lol

    klvalus - Yeah it was a long night for Kenseth and the #17 group. The way Dover races have gone lately, the issues might be taken care of in practice well before the race ever starts, Harvick has already roughed up a Gibbs car in practice there before.