Issues left over from Brickyard

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   The Brickyard 400 lived up to its billing this past Sunday. The Indy race proved it rivaled Daytona as stock car racing's top event, providing us with a great stories of the continued resurgence of Bill Elliott and Rusty Wallace's frustration at trying to win one of stock car racing's "majors."
   More than that, it left people talking with the latest Tony Stewart temper tantrum and Jimmy Spencer sending Kurt Busch into the turn three wall.
   On the subject of Stewart, I will present both sides of the issue. I can sympathize to a point with the competitors. Unlike any other major league sport, the press has full access to the garage area after the race.
   If you are a writer or photographer covering the NFL, major college football or the NBA, you likely aren't going to get anything until after the coach has talked to his team in the locker room.
   Your car has just faded back in the pack, like Stewart's did at Indianapolis and then press people are all over you before you have a chance to cool off.
   This single incident wasn't all that had people in Indy talking about Stewart. It was just the final icing on the cake, as over the course of the weekend he had parked his IROC car when it was apparent he wasn't going to beat Kevin Harvick for the championship, had told how winning the pole for the race meant very little to him, and talked of his homecoming week being his most miserable of the year.
   Stewart told of the 400 phone calls the only night he was off of old friends and acquaintances wanting him to hang out.
   I witnessed all the top drivers, Stewart included, mobbed every time they would leave their trailers and race cars. It's a constant barrage of autograph, photo and interview requests these drivers face. Tony has stated in the past, he is to a point claustrophobic. I imagine the crush of the crowd has to be torture sometimes.
   Keep in mind to, the NASCAR stars are asked the same questions, week after week after week after week. Case in point, Wallace was asked after finishing second in the race the same tired question he's probably heard 400 times this season about the "veterans vs. the young guns". While giving an answer, you could see the frustration in Wallace's face as he responded to the reporter's mindless inquiry.
   That being said, it is my opinion that Tony Stewart acted like a big baby over the weekend. He and the other drivers racing in Winston Cup know the environment they are getting into before they become a part of it. I never before had been at a race, where the team owner had to issue the post race statement about the day, like Joe Gibbs was forced to do.
   If Tony doesn't want any part of the media attention, he can get out of the spotlight. With the millions he has made off the fan support and media build-up that helped him become a star, Tony can buy himself a Late Model stock car or a sprint car and become the king of his chosen local short track.
   Otherwise, it is his responsibility whether he likes it or not to go out of his way act professionally when dealing with these people. Let me put it in the simplest terms. Each of us have parts of our job we do not like, but, we are forced to do it. The reward for most of us is simply we get to keep our job with nowhere near the salary Stewart is raking in.
   Onto the issue of Jimmy Spencer ramming the back end of Kurt Busch, was it an accident like Spencer claimed or the vindictive act that Busch insisted. Only Spencer knows the truth, but watching it my opinion is that Mr. Excitement took the No. 97 out.
   To my untrained eye, it was a blatant hit. Busch made the pass clean and yes, he did slide up the track right in front of Spencer. From that point, it appeared Spencer never lifted his foot off the gas pedal and never hit the brakes.
   The possibility that the closing rate of Spencer's car was too fast for him to react does exist, but in watching several replays of the accident it seems unlikely.
   The incident looked similar to one I witnessed two years ago in a 4-cylinder class race at Kingsport Speedway, where the driver ran roughshod over the driver in front of him.
   In this case, I put myself in Kurt Busch's shoes. His on-track antics may not be the image NASCAR wants to portray, but they were relatively calm to what many would have done. Busch was correct in his assessment of the Bristol bump that put this feud on the map, talking about a hit at 100 miles per hour compared to Spencer's boot at twice that speed.
   Post-race comments from Busch added more fuel to the fire in this ongoing feud and will probably end up costing him in fines after NASCAR meets with both drivers later in the week. That is justified, although I do feel that Spencer is the one who should receive the stiffer penalty as his action was far more dangerous than Busch running his lip.
   With Busch still mathematically in the points chase and so much to lose for both drivers, look for the feud to be put on hold for the rest of this year. However ugly the emotion and the bad press coming out of Indy was, it did add some color to the series and for that the 2002 running of the Brickyard 400 earned its status as a marquee event.