I'm still developing my NASCAR fandom.
As such, I usually avoid chatting too much about things that involve racing. I plead ignorance, because I still don't know much about how everything works.
Saturday, however, was too interesting to avoid commenting on.
First, you had media darling Michael Waltrip upset with Casey Mears, the Forgotten Hendrick Driver. Waltrip was bumped into the wall by Mears, who got too high because his spotter drank too much Crown Royal (or maybe was simply not paying attention). Waltrip responded by driving into Mears' back bumper and carrying him around the track. A bit of a bunk move by Waltrip, but also an understandable blowup. Waltrip had to think Mears was the dumbest guy on the track, and he was upset that his racecar was wrecked. Considering that Waltrip is 33rd in owner points (fall out of the top 35, and you have to race your way in every week), he has to be feeling a tinge of heat.
That wasn't it. Not by a longshot. Denny Hamlin led like 850 laps Saturday. It was weird, because they only run 400 in this race. And Hamlin didn't even finish on the lead lap. After a late pit stop for tires (which was the right call, because Hamlin had run a ton of laps on the previous set of tires, and he had - by far - the best car), Hamlin ran into trouble. His right front started to slowly go flat. Hamlin knew it, as the car handled different on the turns and wasn't getting nearly as much speed.
Consequently, teammate Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., both closed the gap quickly. At one point, the three were dramatically three-wide, with Earnhardt passing Hamlin on the high side, Busch on the low. Earnhardt got a better push and took the lead in the race, much to the delight of 112,000 fans in attendance. As Hamlin fell back, Earnhardt surged. Busch couldn't keep up, and Earnhardt began to look like a shoo-in for his first win in two years (last win: Richmond, spring 2006).
Oh, but there was one more twist. Instead of pitting with that dying tire, Hamlin chose to stay on the track, hoping to remain on the lead lap and coax a top-ten finish out of a bad situation. Instead, the tire finally gave out, and Hamlin stopped his car on the high side of the racetrack. Once the caution flag flew, Hamlin made his way to the pit.
The damage was done. The caution reeled Earnhardt back in, and after the restart, he had to battle Busch for first. Earnhardt was staying high, Busch low on the turns. On one of the turns, Busch got too high. Earnhardt didn't give any more, and was run up the track and into the wall by Busch.
For a guy who already has a reputation, Busch's move was, well, bush. Not surprising, however.
In the end, there are two villians here, and they both drive for Joe Gibbs. Hamlin deliberately stopped his car on the track, and it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out that he did it to help a teammate. Busch had no shot of catching Earnhardt without a caution, and Hamlin had no shot of staying on the lead lap without one. In the end, NASCAR caught on to Hamlin's game, parking him for two laps and preventing him from running all 400 laps. Meanwhile, karma caught up with Busch, who ran Earnhardt into the wall. Clint Bowyer passed Busch as he was tangled with Earnhardt, and the classy, quiet, unassuming Bowyer got his second career win. It's terribly unfortunate he wasn't driving his usual 07 race car design, which is among the best going right now. And I don't even drink Jack Daniels.
At least there was one happy part to the ending.