Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: Dual Deja Vu in the Desert

Did anyone else feel they had tripped into some sort of Doc Brown-engineered bunny hole the last two weeks in the desert? I guess the heat and blazing sunlight can wreck havoc with a man’s faculties – and I’m not referring to an unseasonably warm 81-degree day here in the murder mitten known as Michigan. The blast of something not resembling snow, slush or despair coupled with locking up Megatron (Calvin Johnson) for eight years in the Honolulu Blue must have sparked the synapses, as the last couple of weeks have served to retell stories already once told.

Think back to Phoenix two races ago. Denny Hamlin helped in essence resurrect his relevance, confidence and spark renewed hope at Joe Gibbs Racing that the 2010 championship runner-up has got his mind right again and is ready to contend once again for the Cup. Paired with new crew chief and engineer Darian Grubb, Hamlin was back in the conscious of the racing public once again.

It was just one year ago that another former perennial contender got back to good, when Jeff Gordon snapped a 66-race winless streak, winning at the 1-mile oblong oval with new crew chief Alan Gustafson. Wind the clock back one more year, and you will find Mark Martin turning back the hands of time himself, returning after a two-year part-time hiatus, ending a drought that stretched back to Kansas 2005.

During last season’s Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix, Carl Edwards had the race well in hand when contact with Kyle Busch down the backstretch resulted in some rather wild gyrations from the No. 18 Toyota, resulting in Edwards walling the No. 99. Later, Edwards would tepidly accept the notion that Kyle Busch did not wreck him intentionally – but made no bones about there being a score to settle and that certain inequities would soon be rectified.

Yes, I got that from Spiderman.

Come 2012, Edwards finds himself racing with Ryan Newman, getting loose through turns 3 and 4, washing up the racetrack to save it and ruining Ryan’s run. After the race, Newman’s demeanor and comments mirrored those of Edwards a year earlier, refusing to assign deliberate or premeditated action to Edwards – but assuring those who would listen that the score was lopsided and that Edwards should prepare to reap the whirlwind.

Yes, I got that from The Rock.

In the closing laps at Las Vegas, Martin had cleanly passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. exiting turn 2 for the ninth position. Having completed the pass and cleared by half a car length, Martin moved up in front of Junior, who had a bit of a run from maintaining the high groove. Rather than ducking back under Martin and racing him for the position, Earnhardt Jr. bumped Martin from behind, causing him to lose control and bounce it off the backstretch wall.

You may recall Martin passed Earnhardt Jr. in a similar fashion in 2011 at Michigan, although he did not have him cleared completely. The two made contact and Earnhardt bounced off the wall. Earnhardt’s post-race comments indicated that he was “pissed off” and that Martin was “careless.” Naturally, that did not sit well with his then-Hendrick teammate.

Then there is the case of the Busch brothers. On Saturday Kyle, driving his No. 54 flat-black Toyota Camry, lost it exiting turn 2 and spun down the backstretch, collecting the inside retaining wall. On Sunday, brother Kurt in the white No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet lost control following a blown left-rear tire, spun down the backstretch and collected the inside retaining wall.

Yes, they are both from Las Vegas. No, they did not have good weekends.

With this weekend’s race from Bristol, where wild, wacky wrecks used to occur every other lap, perhaps there will be a revival of races of yore as well. Some of that has been missing since the track resurfacing in 2007, and a throwback to the days of old would be a welcome return. Guys punching ambulances, throwing footies and whipping helmets at each other, rattling cages or Jimmy Spencer never forgetting never gets old.

Here’s hoping somebody remembers some of those great Bristol moments of old this weekend and makes some new memories.

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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