Race Weekend Central

Fact or Fiction: Calming Down Montoya, Vickers’s Free Pass & Kyle Busch’s Mistake

Darlington left us with plenty to chew on during what’s bound to be one of the biggest news weeks of the NASCAR season. What should we make of some of these major storylines going forward? Time to play a little Fact or Fiction and prognosticate.

FACT: Drivers Need to Take Matters With Juan Pablo Montoya Into Their Own Hands

Lost amidst the hubbub of Darlington’s Kyle BuschKevin Harvick scuffle was a compelling undercard: Juan Pablo Montoya vs. the World. A mere 24 hours after a supposed scuffle with Ryan Newman as NASCAR met with both to make peace, Montoya “had at it” on the racetrack again, this time spinning Jimmie Johnson after the two made contact inside the tight confines of Darlington’s “Track Too Tough To Tame.” While the No. 42 kept it straight, the No. 48 hit the apron as Johnson went from potential contender to hurting pup the rest of the race.

To Montoya’s credit, he tried to at least attempt an “I’m sorry” this time, one that prompted this exchange from crew chief Chad Knaus to Johnson: “I can tell you right now he’s a way better driver than that. There’s no apology there.” However, the Lowe’s Chevrolet chose to use their heads, not the bumper, in keeping clear of the Colombian perpetrator rather than using him as “Target” practice the rest of the night.

While doing so, Mr. Five-Time epitomized the class that’s defined his racing career, as many other Montoya victims have done through the years. But at this point, I have to sit and wonder…is class the right way to handle things? Montoya has ticked off a longer list of people in the garage area than any other driver, from hotheads (Kevin Harvick, Watkins Glen 2007) to young kids (Joey Logano, Homestead 2010) to even his current teammate (Jamie McMurray was a victim while racing for Roush Fenway).

For all his NASCAR life, Montoya’s style has been defined as controlled aggression on a good day, catastrophic bulldozer on a bad one, unafraid to wreck friends or enemies all in the name of gaining a position.

During the old days, NASCAR drivers took such matters into their own hands and set someone straight. Anyone else believe that if Dale Earnhardt was still around, this guy would have “had his cage rattled” multiple times in a three-month period oh, about four years ago? Like him or not, it’s not like Montoya’s winning races: the man’s only made the Chase once during four years in the sport. More often than not, he’s simply wrecking someone with little to no reward, tearing up racecars for no other reason than impatience.

But like the bully that no one stands up to, other than Newman (and Logano at Homestead) people seem unwilling to provide Montoya with the consequences necessary to stop. And considering NASCAR’s current policy, well; if a guy gets flipped and there’s nothing more than probation, I wouldn’t expect suspensions and fines to set Montoya straight.

So what do you do? I’m not saying spinning someone into the wall is always the answer. I’m just saying nothing else has worked; so perhaps a driver actually needs to pull an eye for an eye more frequently? If I ended up paying the price after I wrecked someone, after a while I might not wreck people. Perhaps Montoya needs to be treated in similar fashion.

FICTION: Kyle Busch Couldn’t Avoid a Conflict With Kevin Harvick

Let’s not spew our Harvick–Kyle Busch opinions quite yet; they’re already all over the Internet before penalties have even been announced. But I have to laugh at an explanation Kyle gave after the race, defending his decision to run from Harvick by turning an unmanned No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet into the pit wall. Here’s a transcript:

“I was just going to sit there, not worry about it and let [Harvick] cool his head for a second,” Busch explained. “Let him figure out that we just need to go back to the garage area. Instead of him doing that, he wanted to get out of his car and wanted to fight. When I saw him getting out of his car, I knew it wasn’t going to be a good situation. My choices were limited: I was either going to get punched in the face and then wait for Harvick to get back in his car, or just drive through his car and push it out of the way so I could get out of there and try not to get hit or anything like that.

“I made a judgment call there and it wasn’t one of the best choices that I had, but I pushed his car out of the way on pit road and unfortunately there [were] men walking down pit road. I hate it that somebody could have gotten hurt, but I was just trying to get away from it and get back to my hauler and go on with my own business.”

OK, so with that I went back and watched a YouTube clip to see what type of danger, exactly Kyle was in.

Here’s what I found: at least 36 seconds of time that elapsed from when both cars stopped on pit road to Harvick getting out. And that’s being generous; in all likelihood, Busch had a full minute to mull over options before his rival came storming towards the window net.

Now, pure common sense tells you the second Harvick’s getting out of the car, he’s making a beeline for the No. 18 Toyota. So it’s not like Busch was “confused” over what would happen, and consider the time that elapsed in between; honestly, in 36 seconds my 85-year-old grandma could get unhooked and exit the car under pressure.

If Busch’s transmission was supposedly shot, limiting his options, why didn’t he just shut off the engine, climb out and walk to the hauler, fully avoiding confrontation? In that situation, the worst thing you can do is leave yourself vulnerable; after all, a driver confined to his cockpit is virtually defenseless against a heavyweight punch. Didn’t Kyle learn from older brother Kurt and Jimmy Spencer?

Instead, what Busch chose is to freeze, wait until it was too late to flee, then put others in harm’s way by spinning out Harvick’s car. And that’s why if he gets fined, for that reason alone I do understand. With a crash helmet on, how hard was he going to get hit anyway?

FACT: 2011 For Brian Vickers Should Be a Free Pass

This week marks the one-year anniversary of Brian Vickers’s Sprint Cup leave-of-absence, life-changing blood clots that altered this 27-year-old’s outlook on life. For a time, it looked like he might never return to racing, but heart surgery, blood thinners, and a determined recovery put him back in the car this February at Daytona. Refreshed and ready for a second chance at racing, Vickers has put his heart and soul into making it work.

But while he may be 100 percent focused, inside the car he’s yet to produce top-tier results. At 29th in points, Vickers has yet to lead a lap, has finished on the lead lap only twice and wrecked in half his 10 starts this season. While luck has been a factor, some of the incidents have been self-inflicted – Darlington’s Saturday night (May 7) sardine-can wreck was the latest example, also caused by Vickers’s car fading to mid-pack after running as high as fifth early on.

Despite three top-10 finishes, the Red Bull No. 83 has yet to flash consistent speed, especially on the intermediates he terrorized in ’09 during a surprise summer run into the Chase.

Surely, the struggles have put the pending free agent’s future in question. But if you’re Red Bull and if you’re Vickers, how could you not give this partnership another year? Consider the lame-duck status of Vickers’s teammate, Kasey Kahne, whose arrival and near-immediate departure makes it difficult to build a foundation for long-term success.

And while Vickers appears healthier than ever, it takes time to shake off the rust; how would you be after leaving your job for six months due to a life-threatening illness? Athletes with an ACL tear often say the first season back, they’re simply trying to get into a rhythm and don’t feel 100 percent until the 18-24 month point. Why wouldn’t it be the same for Vickers here?

Red Bull has a history of impatience (see Speed, Scott and Allmendinger, AJ) and with Cole Whitt waiting in the wings, you never know what moves they’ll make. But after all both sides have done together, in this current NASCAR environment it would be silly for either to take a risk and leave before they know what the long-term future really holds for them.

FICTION: Regan Smith Will Make the Chase

Look, as was written yesterday, Regan Smith’s victory is a great story for him, for NASCAR and the underdog team he’s been driving for, Furniture Row Racing.

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Expect this victory to lift them up a notch, leaving the No. 78 car competing for top-10 finishes each week instead of top-20s.

But the Chase? Let’s not get carried away. Even with the victory, Smith stands 27th in points, 29 behind the 20th-place cutoff of Martin Truex Jr. to be considered for a wildcard slot. And do you really think 20th place with one win is going to get it done?

Jeff Gordon, currently a wildcard Chaser, has a victory in hand and is likely to get one, possibly two more. Drivers like Denny Hamlin (Pocono), Mark Martin (Dover), Greg Biffle (Michigan) and Kasey Kahne (everywhere lately) are outside the top 10 in points and haven’t won yet, putting them in position to snag the wild card with victories in the coming weeks. More than likely, it will take two victories to make a wildcard happen, and expect those winners to be no lower than 14th or 15th place.

Again, congrats to the No. 78 team; they’ve made great progress in the last three months. But a charge to 15th in the standings? When Smith didn’t even have so much as a top-five finish until Saturday night? That’s a bit too much of a stretch.

About the author

Tom Bowles
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The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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