Longtime NASCAR writer and author Monte Dutton is covering the Coca-Cola 600 for JeffGluck.com this weekend. Below is his second post.
By Monte Dutton
Man, I thought I had messed up.
It was all I could do to get on the road by 9 a.m., and it’s a good two hours from home to here. When I entered the outskirts of Charlotte, I thought 11 would be the only bad time to get to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Hisense 4K TV 300, the race whose name activates home wi-fi.
The race that read like a password ran at about 1:20. Eleven would be the time to arrive if you wanted to grab a bite to eat, drink a beverage with gusto and play a little cornhole before moseying across to the track for some good old NASCAR Xfinity Series racing.
I haven’t been here in a while, so I still vaguely remember something called traffic.
Driving through Charlotte, absent the sun, it could have been 2 a.m. Traffic thickened as I-85 collected cars from other major thoroughfares, but the traffic never slowed. At Smith Boulevard, more vehicles were lined up to go left to Concord Mills mall than right to Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, double Dillons and Ryan Blaney were in the race.
Blaney won. He hasn’t won a Monster Cup race yet. He wasn’t really slumming. He wasn’t in the race to see how the other half lives. Blaney has undoubtedly interviewed butlers for his undoubtedly palatial and stately estate (on the royal property of Dale Earnhardt Jr., no less), but none has been hired.
When in doubt, I root for the underdog, though in this position, it is best not to root for anyone. It’s acceptable to root for a good story, and, as the laps wound down, it became obvious that Ryan Blaney was the best story I was going to get. Of the six Cup drivers who started, five finished in the top six, the lone exception being fourth-place Christopher Bell, who earned a merit badge.
I’ve been away. I’ve watched from afar. I don’t know Ryan Blaney. I know his daddy and think a lot of him. It followed logically that I should ask Ryan about Dave, thus making it less likely that the question would be idiotic. Dave Blaney won an Xfinity (then Busch) Series race here. It was his only victory in the series.
“To me, personally, he’s the best race car driver ever,” said son of father. “That’s how I’ve always looked at him and that’s how I’ve always thought of him, not only as my father but the way he drives a car – and not only his driving ability, but his mindset toward things. I think he’s one of the smartest people I know, personally, in the race car, outside the race car, building parts, coming up with inventions and ideas. He always just supports me and it was cool to have him here today.
“In my mind, I’ll never be half the race-car driver he is, personally. I think he’s the greatest one ever and that’s how I’ll always think of him.”
Damn the calendar. It was Father’s Day for the Blaneys.
Remember, the reason Monster Cup Series drivers absolutely must compete in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck series is that, without them, the crowds wouldn’t show up.
The crowd below me numbered 5,000 or so. Count the infield and suites, and I’d concede 10,000. I’ve seen high school football crowds numbering that many, but, in fairness, they were big games.
The presence of six Cup regulars drew five figures to Charlotte. Oh, but they’re crucial to the TV ratings.
What TV ratings?
Poor Kyle Busch. It’s not fair for me to bring up this topic. He didn’t even compete in the Xfinity race. He spit-polished the Trucks last week without so much as a coat of polish. He’s closing in on 200 total victories in NASCAR’s “three major touring series.”
As a general rule, NASCAR values the minor leagues. If baseball valued the minor leagues the way NASCAR does, Steve Balboni would be enshrined in Cooperstown. Ron Hornaday just got named to the NASCAR Hall, and that’s okay because auto racing has its own peculiar customs and institutions. People used to value NASCAR for not being like other sports before the best and brightest started turning that into a lie.
Now it’s one big Yogi Berra. This place where I’m sitting is so crowded nobody comes here anymore.
What’s the point of using Monster Cup monsters as a drawing card? Is it possible that even less would be here?
Oh, the propagandists.
For what it’s worth, Kyle Busch’s quest to go where no professional race driver has even considered going before is damned impressive and, in its way, even admirable. The lad just loves to race.
Even in races where he is astride a thoroughbred and everyone else mounts mules, he still has to ride that nag, and he rides it like, oh, Braulio Baeza. (As a jockey, Baeza won 4,013 races, but some were claiming races at Dogfeed Downs.)
The younger of the Bee Bees (Brothers Busch) is doing what no man has done before. What makes it slightly less impressive is that no one has ever wanted to collect obscure NASCAR races like bubble-gum cards. Only Mark Martin has ever lusted so passionately for victories that don’t ultimately matter.
I can understand it a little. I’ve tried many kinds of beer in my life. I’ve watched every pitch of baseball games my favorite team led, 15-1. I can’t even get tired of writing books. Writing is my passion. I’ll cover a major automobile racing event of worldwide renown, and I’ll cover the annual Red-White Football Classic at Clinton High School. My business card should read, Have small paycheck? Will travel.
But let’s get real. Every time this discussion comes up, someone chimes in to the effect that, sure, Richard Petty won 200 races, but “there was no competition back in those days.” What a slur. What a celebration of ignorance.
For what it’s worth, in 1967, Petty certainly had some strolls that looked effortless in 100-milers at Beltsville, Md., or Marysville, Tenn.
You know, like Kyle Busch in a Truck race.
In 1967, the schedule had 48 races in it. Today’s has 36. There were about 36 where the competition was intense in 1967. Five hundred miles was a sterner test of equipment in those days. Sometimes the winner lapped the field, but it would happen today if the rules allowed it.
Kidding around with a racer, I once said, “You know, hotshot, a man’s got to drive like hell to lose a lap in this day and age,” and he replied, “Yeah, and once you finally lose the son of a [gun], they won’t let you keep it!”
In the World 600 of 1967, Petty also faced off against the likes of David Pearson, Bobby and Donnie Allison, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Isaac, Buddy Baker, Dick Hutcherson, Darel Dieringer, Charlie Glotzbach, Tiny Lund and Jim Paschal, who won it.
Ever heard of Paschal? A shame. He should be in the Hall of Fame, too.
Never mind, though. You want to combine victories in touring series? Fine. In other sports, they don’t play major and minor league at the same time, but racing is different, and it’s righteous and unique.
Do it comprehensively, though. Don’t just count the series running now. Count the Convertible Division of the 1950s. Count the Grand Touring/Grand American (oft referred to as “baby grands”) series of the ’70s, and, while you’re at it, count the Grand National East Division of 1972. That series combined Cup (then Grand National) and Grand American cars (Mustangs, Camaros, Cougars, Javelins) at short tracks that lost their dates when NASCAR shaved off a third of the Cup schedule.
The best short-track race I ever saw was a GN East race at Greenville-Pickens Speedway. Neil “Soapy” Castles edged Elmo Langley by inches. They ran the final 10 laps side-by-side on a flat half mile, and neither driver knew which had won. It was the same length (200 laps/100 miles) as the Grand National (now Cup) races that had been run at G-P the previous year. The race took an hour, 25 minutes to run, and the official margin of victory, as recorded on the NASCAR box score, was three inches.
You want to combine races in three series and declare it to be a thing? Okay. Make a list. This time check it twice. Don’t just throw a few numbers together and play like they make sense.