Race Weekend Central

Voice of Vito: Three Drivers That NASCAR Need Not Silence

NASCAR has long been home to a range of varied personalities. From the quiet to the quarrelsome, the range of emotions and cast of characters has served to establish the fabric of the sport. That said, this past weekend painted a perfect picture of who the Sprint Cup Series should focus their efforts around if the wish is to attract new fans, who will stick around long after a new points system or two is attempted.

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Much was made of Kurt vs. Kes after their pit road collision and a little fender rubbing on the backstretch (at Martinsville?! The dickens you say…), however it was little more than typical short track short sightedness. That said, what got NASCAR noticed on SportsCenter and in social media Friday afternoon through Sunday night? Soundbites, quips, and call outs from three drivers below that summed up short track racing and what made NASCAR great 15-20 years ago, and can once again be used to help regain what the sport has lost a little of in recent years.

Kurt Busch

The lightning rod. The comeback kid. The Outlaw. Everybody loves a story of redemption and this one is as good as it gets. 10 years ago he won the inaugural Nextel (Sprint) Cup title. A decade later he was on the verge of walking himself right out of the sport.

What was his charge? Some radio clips of him cussing people out (often, justifiably) and of course the scene that saw him rolling through the garage area, flipping off the caravan carrying the First Lady and the YouTube clip of him testily waiting for an interview to being following the early exit. In an age where boys were told to have at it, and every other program on television is a reality show featuring barely clothed drunks, with every other word bleeped out, what’s the problem with a racecar driver going off in his 130-degree unmuffled rig in traffic? Don’t people do that every day on the way to work?

His quips and comebacks to the clowns are unparalleled and even when then-five time tried to go toe to toe with him in the quote department a couple of years back, he found he had met his match on the mic – and did so again on the track at Martinsville on Sunday. A number of changes in his personal life have helped tone him down a bit, but anymore censoring and NASCAR will have lost the ultimate quote machine and one of the greatest talents the series has seen. Thankfully he’s back in a car that allows him to prove his mettle once again.

Kurt vs. Kes was likely a short lived skirmish, but the post-race chattering and backstretch battering helped get NASCARnoticed in the midst of March Madness and MLB Opening Day hype.
Kurt vs. Kes was likely a short lived skirmish, but the post-race chattering and backstretch battering helped get NASCARnoticed in the midst of March Madness and MLB Opening Day hype.

Brad Keselowski

If there was ever a rags to riches story in NASCAR, it’s this one. Running for an underfunded family operation on the verge of bankruptcy one day, to hoisting the Sprint Cup trophy above his head just five years later – who says the American Dream is dead? Many focus on his outspoken comments and unfiltered media blurbs that often get him in trouble with the top brass. When you’ve been broken down to almost nothing, do you really care if somebody has an issue with you voicing your opinion? He’s been a part of one of the best rivalries inNASCAR history, and made the transition from mid-pack Penske teammate, to winning a week after about snapping his foot off in a testing crash. His Tweet Heard Round The World at the 2012 Daytona 500 put NASCAR on the social media map, and he’s never been one to take things sitting down or lightly.

While might be a bit vocal compared to The Captain in expressing his emotions, you’ll have to show him how he’s wrong first to prove him otherwise – something that those who have taken issue with haven’t really done.

When he won the Sprint Cup in 2012, he was sincere when he said he wanted to help make the sport better. He’s not one to hold back in an interview or on social media, and that has earned him a reprimand from NASCAR and some within the community on a couple of occasions. Some may not like it, but name another driver who’s as involved with communicating with fans and the press as BK? Speaking of which, he’s even shared some pretty personal moments as well on his site, http://www.BradRacing.com

Denny Hamlin

In the Martinsville Media Center last Friday, Hamlin went Howard Beale in Network because he’s mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore! After being a last second scratch from the field in Fontana, Hamlin became the object of obsession from everything to disclosing what was wrong with him, fending off accusations of illicit activity, and to generating a collecting of memes and Twitter blasts with the hashtag, #TougherThanHamlin.

For a guy who has endured a number of injuries over the last few years from driving with a blown out knee, ripped up hand, and a broken back, the criticism was a bit unjust. What if he had kept his mouth shut and gutted it out, sailing it off into the corner at 205mph basically cross-eyed? Hamlin is always good for a great quote or sound bite, even if that involves calling his shot – and missing it by 16 positions. The guy plays hurt and is a team player in every sense of the word, sticking around on the box and offering advice on the radio if he’s unable to compete.

Are these the most popular drivers? Not necessarily. Are they the most talented? Among the Top 10 for sure. There’s other drivers who have shared the spotlight in recent years, most popular driver in the universe Dale Earnhardt, Jr. six-time
champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time champion Jeff Gordon, and everybody’s favorite Kyle Busch.

While they will likely continue to be the face of the sport based on silly things like wins and championships, it’s drivers like Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, and Denny Hamlin that speak their mind, have something interesting to say, and help get the sport on the front page as well as keep things trending in the Twitter and Facebook feeds.

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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