Denny Hamlin arrived in Victory Lane on his own two feet, having left the No. 11 FedEx Toyota at the Start/Finish line in a smoking heap. However, he wasn’t exactly dancing. He walked gingerly. Watching him climb from his car was a study in agony. What was wrong? Did he hit something?
No. It was as simple as experiencing back spasms when he woke up on Sunday morning.
I cringed when he said that, having experienced what a spasm can do to a person. He even said he had doubts earlier in the day if he belonged in the car at all on Sunday. It’s the kind of pain where you don’t want to stay seated, or standing, or walking, and reaching for a glass of water has the potential of sending you to the floor in a quivering pile. There’s no pill or potion that makes it all better. Time. You need lots of time.
Not Hamlin. He had a race to win and a Chase team to keep in the game for our rapidly approaching playoff excitement. He was willing to do whatever it takes to win. That would be the hallmark of a true champion (please see comeback kid Kyle Busch for definition.)
Chris Buescher. Do you remember him from last week’s win at foggy Pocono? Yes, he’s the driver of the underfunded and underperforming No. 34 Ford of Front Row Racing. With his victory, he has the opportunity to make it into the Chase if he simply manages to get his car in the top 30 in points. If you run every week and finish every race, that’s not a real difficult goal.
However, the No. 34 has completed a race on the lead lap only four times in 2016, and four other times he wrecked out. He has an average finish of 27.9. Now you can see that it’s going to be a close call if he can earn his way into the Chase.
On the positive side, Ford Racing has made a public commitment to this also-ran team that the No. 34 will be starting the Chase as a Contender. They are throwing equipment and personnel at the problem, and the Front Row team has picked up the gauntlet.
When Buescher got collected in the Lap 85 wreck on Sunday, he was prepared to drive his battered vehicle to pit road for repairs. But NASCAR wouldn’t give him a push out of the mud. The team lost precious time as Chris took a ride to the care center and his car was towed to the garage. But they didn’t give up. They could still gain a position or two if they got their car back out before the end of the race which was just four laps away.
They did it! The combined will of driver and team saw the No. 34 finish in 30th place, maintaining its 31st points position, and still within shouting distance of achieving the impossible dream: a place in the Chase.
Two teams battled it out under differing conditions, and with different goals in mind, but they both placed the highest priority on making it all come true and living the mantra, “Whatever it takes.” In my eyes, both Hamlin and Buescher earned a trophy on Sunday. But we’ll just have to accept a spot in the Chase for them instead.
Have you noticed the peacock? NBC Sports broadcast of NASCAR events includes a color coded peacock in the upper right hand corner of your screen. The little guy’s feathers turn bright green for a start/restart and after about 20 or 30 seconds, he fluffs his tail back into the rainbow. He does this dance for cautions, final laps, and red flags. Check it out during the Bristol broadcast.
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