By John Close:
Time heals all wounds.
So does a good dose of reality.
After two weeks of on- and off-track chaos thanks to the Richmond race manipulation mess, Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire was a welcome return to normal for the sport.
The action was fast and tight, the racing ‘100 percent.’
The winner was so overcome by emotion that he cried in Victory Lane.
The battle for the championship – and not the race muddling of Michael Waltrip Racing and subsequent ‘ripple effect’ decrees by NASCAR – was the primary focus.
It was a good day to remember why the hell you liked NASCAR to begin with.
Needless to say, NASCAR has taken some significant hits in popularity and credibility recently. Thousands of media reports pulled back the curtain on the sport – not just on the track – but off it too.
It wasn’t pretty. Some were exposed/labeled as cheaters, others as inept meddlers.
Millions of dollars lost, more to come.
Viability issues in play.
May questions still to be answered.
Fortunately, however, all of that got put to the side for three hours on a glorious fall afternoon in New Hampshire Sunday.
Matt Kenseth turned in a dazzling performance to win his second-straight Chase race. Meanwhile, Kenseth’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch finished second making it a good old fashioned waxing by JGR and their friends at Toyota. These guys have come off the top rope to open the Chase and they are definately racing for it.
Additional story lines included the pit stop and bump-up foibles of Jeff Gordon and the problems for his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne – who may have suffered a concussion in a hard wreck 50 laps from the finish. If he didn’t, Kahne has some apologies to issue to garage-trusted and iconic NASCAR reporter Dr. Jerry Punch for his behavior in their post-crash interview.
Of course, NASCAR’s Richmond fiasco wasn’t completely out of the picture at New Hampshire. Martin Truex, Jr. – kicked out of the final championship field despite the fact he had nothing to do with the Richmond misgivings of his Michael Waltrip Racing teammates – led nearly one-third of the race Sunday.
If he had won yesterday, this would be a completely different column.
Instead, NASCAR fans were treated to a solid event with little or no controversySunday. Like the crisp New England day, it was a badly needed dose of reality for a sport, it’s competitors, and especially it’s fans.
It was also a reminder that no matter how badly people mess up, stock car racing is still a great sport where people do amazing things.
It’s not wrasslin’ as many today would like you to believe. Even in it’s most ‘managed’ or ‘manipulated’ states, it’s never been that.
It’s racing – highly skilled people on warp drive. Sunday’s event at New Hampshire went a long way in restoring that reality to many.
About John Close
John Close covered his first race as a professional media member in 1985. Since then, Close – a former Associated Press newspaper sports editor – has written countless articles for numerous motorsports magazines, trade publications and Internet sites.
Close has also authored two books – Tony Stewart – From Indy Phenom To NASCAR Superstar and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series – From Desert Dust To Superspeedways.
Close also spotted more than 150 NASCAR Cup, Nationwide and Truck events from 1995-2008. His third book – On The Spot – a volume about the history of NASCAR race spotting, will be published later this year.
You can direct comments/inquiries to Close at closefinishes@carolina.