“The Moment I Knew”.

I feel like I’m all up in my feelings needing to play Taylor Swift songs about having to break up with someone you love because you just can’t justify or rationalize being with them any longer. And no, this isn’t about a woman. Well, kinda, I did equate the Braves to a woman once, and God that was accurate.

(Yes, this is a Taylor Swift playlist to get through today)

(Yes, this is a Taylor Swift playlist to get through today)

But I can’t with them anymore. These latest revelations are too damning, and too egregious. I have made excuse after excuse, and tried desperately to keep this fleeting love alive. I get the feeling that continuing on with the Braves is a lot like dating me. At some point, it simply becomes impossible to justify and rationalize continuing to do so. And this article, these revelations, these practices, reading those things, that was “The Moment I Knew”.

Finally, I  have reached that point and I have to love them from a distance. I wouldn’t even take free tickets to attend a game at this point, as every person in that stadium represents someone supporting what this wretched organization is doing to our beloved Braves.

I’ve dealt with a lot of losing teams in my life. 1-10 Tech in 1994, the 13 win Hawks team, my high school football team won one game my freshman and sophomore years, Bill Elliott’s 1999 & 2000 seasons, etc…. I can, although not always gracefully, handle the losing. Just care. Try. Show me you have a desire to win. Care about the fans. You know, simple stuff that really shouldn’t be that difficult. While I don’t like it, and I expect better, I’m not going to jump ship because my team stinks. I’ve never been that way, and never will be. I’ve been supporting losers my entire life in Atlanta, and really, it’s so ingrained as a part of me, I don’t know that I’d be the same without this long standing practice.

But this is beyond just losing on the field. This is being a horrible organization that makes horrible decisions on and off the field and represents itself in a way that is in no way concerned with its primary consumers, supporters, or fans. Not only are we possibly one of the worst sports teams in history, (which is fine by me, if you’re going to be bad, then be REALLY bad) there is the Hector Olivera situation, the fact that apparently we can’t keep an infield at a Major League quality, the continued employment of Fredi Gonzalez, the shady move to use public money to build an unnecessary new stadium, and now it’s being shown that we are out here fleecing tax payers all over the southeast. In other words, we epitomize everything wrong in sports today. And in many ways, we epitomize everything wrong in American business today. The Atlanta Braves are “big business” on Wall Street.

And I used “we” on purpose there. Because I don’t know when I’ll use it again as it pertains to the Atlanta Braves. I can no longer consider myself as a part of the Braves, because the Braves sure don’t consider me, or you, or any of us, a part of them. “We” is used by sports fans because we’re made to feel a part of the team, part of the organization, and even if it’s minuscule, we feel in some way our presence and our support contributes to the team’s success. These Atlanta Braves no longer do that. When they get their affairs in order, as in, a new owner, call me then. But they are now a they.

In a perfect world the shiny new money maker would be as empty as Turner Field next year, but it won’t be. The sheep will be out in masses lining the pockets of Liberty Media, while under the false pretense that Liberty gives a damn about a quality on field product, and even worse, under the false pretense they give one single shit about the fans or the communities they pillage to make their money. They’ll continue drinking the kool-aid that Liberty is just waiting for the new stadium to start spending, and then they’ll try to improve this team and quickly.

Hey, enjoy all this young talent, because like the bunch that came up at the beginning of this decade, once they’re established, they won’t be long for Atlanta. They’ll be flipped to acquire more “assets” as opposed to being paid to produce and help create a quality on field product that might actually cost Liberty Media some money to upkeep.

See, Liberty Media has figured out that in order to make profits, and to earn revenue, they don’t need to invest in the on field product at all. In fact, they hardly need to invest. They get tax paying citizens to make the investment, and then they get to reap the profits. I thought the Cobb County deal was bad, an ownership group recognizing new stadiums make money, no matter the on field product. Turns out, this is how they do business throughout the organization.

Because that’s all the Atlanta Braves are now, an asset, a part of a larger business, based halfway across the country that cares nothing about the locals that they’ve stolen from by making false promises to. This isn’t a baseball team trying to win. This isn’t a baseball team trying to make a difference in communities. Not even close. I mean, we thought the Yankees were the “Evil Empire”.

“Keep in mind, the Braves now are a fairly major real estate business as opposed to just a baseball club.”- John Malone, Chairman of Liberty Media

I will always love the Atlanta Braves fans, players, and the Atlanta Braves baseball team. But the Atlanta Braves “baseball” team as we knew it, no longer exists. It’s more machine now than baseball team, twisted and evil.

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, Braves, Personal, Sports

Thanks For the Memories? Good Riddance Turner Field

I love how the Atlanta, errr, the Metro Atlanta Braves, are making 2016 about saying goodbye to Turner Field and all the “great memories” to have taken place. I mean, I get it, anything to distract ticket buyers and fans from the atrocity that is on the field, but this is just laughable.

The only people who should be saying, “Thanks for the memories”, to Turner Field are Atlanta Braves playoff opponents.

There have been 11, yes, 11 playoff series clinched at Turner Field over the 20 years it has been around. In nine of them, the Atlanta Braves watched from the home dugout as someone else celebrated on their field. Nine times they watched someone come into their house and slap them around and leave with all their valuables, and their wife. Half of the national league has celebrated winning a postseason series at Turner Field.

Seriously.

Just think about that for a minute. Half the league has won a playoff series and sprayed champagne inside a clubhouse at Turner Field. In only two decades. That’s special, folks, real special.

By comparison, there were eight playoff series clinched in Atlanta Fulton County Stadium in the 90s, and the Braves were victorious in six of those.

So spare me the, “thanks for the memories” bullshit when it comes to Turner Field.

Whether it was Eric Gregg calling strikes in Cuba in game five to set up a stunning defeat to the rent-a-title Marlins to begin the Turner Field legacy, Sterling Hitchock two hitting a team that won 106 games during the regular season while your Cy Young Award winner gets shelled in an elimination game, or giving up 24 runs to the Cardinals in a trio of games after allowing the fewest in the regular season, Turner Field has been not just the culmination of disappointment, but ugly disappointment. And disappointment it all too often hosted.

There’s losing three straight at home, with a four error game in the middle of it against Arizona to look back fondly on, following that up with a game five loss at home against San Francisco.

Or maybe you prefer remembering 2003 when the Braves led the National League in runs scored by over a full run per game, only to strike out 18 times in 15 1/3 innings against Kerry Wood at Turner while totaling five hits, including just three in an elimination game as a team the Braves won 13 more games than during the season advanced to the NLCS.

If that’s not a sunny enough memory, try 2004, watching Carlos Beltran go ape shit as the Braves allow 17 hits at home in an elimination game. Though, that’s what you get when Jaret Wright is your game five starter, I suppose.

If you still haven’t had enough fun going down memory lane, I’ve saved the best for last. And I only need for words.

Brooks Conrad.

Infield Fly.

Turner Field can’t be a distant memory soon enough. Unless you’re an Atlanta Braves playoff opponent, then you’re going to kinda miss the place.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, Braves, Sports

No Ordinary Rookie

 

hi-res-4bc696297ff34db34d90d044d2f4ac30_crop_north

Past meets future as Jeff Gordon passes the torch to a new generation, and a new legacy for the 24.

Coming into a big time sport as a rookie with enormous hype is one of the tougher challenges in sports. The pressure, the change in lifestyle, the new found fame, it’s no wonder so many rookies have crumbled under such expectations, some to the point of no recovery.

But imagine the challenge when not only you are hyped up to be the next great thing, BUT you are also the immediate successor to a legend. And by legend, I mean legend. I’m not talking about trying to replace an all-star like Jason Heyward in your lineup, or Joe Johnson on your basketball team. I’m talking about trying to replace Babe Ruth or Kobe Bryant.

Jeff Gordon is in the argument for the greatest NASCAR driver of all-time. Not just of his era, but of any era, and his three year stretch from 1996 thru 1998 is still one of the most dominant periods in modern American sports, but that’s another story for another day. Being tabbed to replace Jeff Gordon, with Gordon going out while making NASCAR’s version of the Final Four and competing for a fifth championship, has few valid comparisons in sports history.

While similar to replacing Joe Montana in San Francisco, or Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, it’s still different. In football you still have 52 other guys on the roster. You still have the same team, with the same logo, and many of the same players. You still have the same history of an organization that existed before that particular legend became a part of it. At the end of the day, you’re still one of many people to play quarterback for the 49ers or for the Colts.

What Chase is doing replacing Jeff Gordon is almost unparalleled. The only person to ever win a Sprint Cup race in a car numbered 24 is, for the time being anyway, Jeff Gordon. The commercial isn’t hyperbole or inaccurate in anyway, 24 is more than a number. It is a legacy all on it’s own, and it’s a legacy created by one man.

But within the past five to seven years it began to dawn on us all that at some point, that one man would no longer continue to drive competitively at this level. So what then? Would Rick Hendrick, the owner who took a chance on the fast but crash happy 20-year-old kid back in the early 90s retire the number? Or would he look for a successor? And would it be an established veteran or would he try to repeat history with another young hotshot?

In February of 2011 the plan began to take shape when Rick Hendrick signed a 15-year-old high school freshman from Georgia to a multi-year driver agreement.

The driver? Chase Elliott. You know, son of another NASCAR legend, Georgia’s favorite son, Bill Elliott.

By 2013 Elliott was winning races in the truck series, and by 2014 was running full-time in the Xfinity Series, where as an 18-year-old rookie he not only won three races, he also took home Most Popular Driver, Rookie of the Year, and the series championship.

By January of 2015, with Jeff Gordon announcing that 2015 would be his last season of competitive racing, Elliott was tabbed with the most pressure packed responsibility since Kevin Harvick slid into the seat of Richard Childress’ GM Goodwrench Chevrolet in February of 2001 following the death of Dale Earnhardt.

Fast forward to 2016 with Elliott coming off a 2015 season in which he followed up his championship by finishing second in points and winning another race. For the first time since November of 1992, a premier series NASCAR event was set to take place without Jeff Gordon in it.

However, the 24 car would be there. But with a new look, though the number kept it’s same font and style, new sponsors, and more importantly, a new driver.

All eyes were on the 20-year-old who promptly went out and won the pole for the biggest race of the year. Typically, the fastest qualifier is awarded the Coors Light Pole Award. Only Elliott isn’t of legal drinking age and ineligible for such an aware, or to carry such a decal on his racecar.

So here we are, hot shot 20-year-old kid considered the next big thing, replacing one of the greatest to ever participate in the sport and taking over a car number that’s a legacy and as iconic as almost any number in sports, on the pole for the biggest race of the year, and, oh yeah, in addition to the huge shoes of Jeff Gordon to fill, there’s the small matter of being Bill Elliott’s son.

Nobody can sustain these kind of expectations and possibly live up to the hype, right? Surely the kid is going to crumble. Maybe not beyond repair, but we should be pumping the brakes a bit on his rookie season, no? Give him a couple of years to really get his feet wet and settle into his role, right?

No, not this rookie. Not this rookie who, well, really doesn’t seem like a rookie.

We know what happened at Daytona, the 500 turned into a disaster early. Immediately the criticism began, and it looked like maybe the moment was too big right now. It was too much pressure. Maybe Rick Hendrick had brought him along too soon.

Or maybe any such notion couldn’t be further from the truth.

Elliott rebounded from that 37th place finish with a strong top ten run at his home track of Atlanta the next week, only to have a very questionable pit strategy decision by crew chief Alan Gustafson cost him multiple positions late in the race at Las Vegas and leave him mired back in the pack after running up in the top ten all race long. Eventually Elliott would get collected in a wreck not of his own making and finish 38th.

In an interview following the Las Vegas wreck Elliott seemed extremely frustrated, and placed a lot of the blame, needlessly I might add, on himself. He knew what was happening. He had wrecked in two of the first three races, and the naysayers were going to get louder.

Well that’s as loud as they’ve gotten. Since the wreck at Vegas Elliott has done nothing but silence even the most skeptical of critics. Over the last six races Elliott has an average finish of 8.5 and has moved himself solidly into playoff position. But that doesn’t even tell the whole story. He has established himself as a viable threat to win races.

Over the last four races Elliott has finishes of 6th, 20th, 5th, and 4th. In three of those four races he found himself in second position at some point in the race’s final 15%, and without late cautions at California, Texas and Bristol, could very well be looking at a streak of three runner-up finishes in his last four races, though many would argue without a caution at Texas, he may very well have won.

But to truly appreciate what Elliott has done so far this year, you have to put it into perspective by comparing it to the debuts of some other stars in recent, or not so recent, memory.

The chart below illustrates how some of NASCAR’s top drivers and strongest rookie campaigns compare to Elliott’s after the first eight events of their first full-time season. With rookies being rookies and apt to putting cars into fences, the chart also looks at their average finish by taking away the two worst performances in the season’s first eight races, to give a better indicator of how they finished when they, well, actually finished.

Age Top 5 Top 10 Avg St Avg Fin Best 6 Avg Points
Chase Elliott 20 2 5 12 15.8 8.5 12
Jeff Gordon 21 2 4 10.7 16.5 10.7 12
Kyle Busch 20 1 2 24.3 21.4 15.7 25
Jimmie Johnson 26 1 5 14.7 13.3 7.2 7
Tony Stewart 28 0 2 9.9 16.8 11.7 10
Dale Earnhardt Sr 28 2 3 9.1 11.8 8.3 8
Bill Elliott 27 4 5 11 11.5 6.8 5
Dale Earnhardt Jr 25 1 2 8.5 22 16.3 19
Ryan Newman 24 2 4 13.4 19.8 12.8 16
Davey Allison 26 1 2 7.4 18.8 18.8 21
Matt Kenseth 28 0 2 17.1 21.8 15.7 21
Joey Logano 19 0 0 25.4 29.1 25.3 33
Kyle Larson 21 2 4 16.4 16.1 10.7 14
Jeff Gordon 2015 1 5 11.7 16.3 9.3 9

 

*note, Davey Allison didn’t attempt races six through eight, but came back and won race number nine at Talladega, and won again at Dover, giving him two wins in his first eight starts of his rookie, but not within the first eight races of the season*

Elliott compares favorably to the majority on this list. In fact, factoring age, depending on which aspect you value more heavily, an argument could be made that his start to his career has been as impressive, if not more, than anyone on this list.

The only drivers on this list to have five top ten finishes among the first eight races are Jimmie Johnson and then the father and son duo of Bill and Chase and Elliott. Bill Elliott was the only one to finish in the top five on more than two occasions, and the only one sitting in the top five in points (he would finish 3rd and capture his first career win in the season finale at Riverside) at this juncture of the season. However, it should also be noted that the elder Elliott had run 21 races the year before (not a full season) and despite having never run 75% of the schedule, had started nearly 100 races before the 1983 season began, so he wasn’t exactly a rookie.

While the Elliotts are the only ones on the list with five top tens and more than one top five finish, the Earnhardts are the only ones who won a race this early in the going of their rookie season. There is a reason NASCAR is known as such a family sport, after all.

Elliott’s average finish of 15.8 is topped by the asterisked elder Elliott, and then only Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson. I guess that’s not bad company. I mean, the two non Elliotts only combined to win nearly 150 races and 13 championships between them.

And just for good measure, I took the time to see how Elliott is doing through eight races this year as compared to that guy he took over for, that Gordon fella.

I’d say he’s doing a mighty fine job stepping into those shoes in the 24 car. And he’s only trending upwards.

I said weeks ago I thought Richmond would be Elliott’s first win. His career average finish in the Xfinity Series there is 2.5, having finished second on two occasions, won once, and fifth in his other appearance. With the trend of how the team has been running lately, that prediction may very well come true.

But even if it doesn’t, Elliott has proven Hendrick knew what he was doing, and that the 24 would be in good hands and Elliott is not only capable of simply carrying the number into the future, but he may very well be able to give that number a new legacy for an entirely new generation of fans.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under NASCAR, Sports

The “New” Kyle Busch Was a Myth

kyleflp2ready-300x255

Kyle Busch shows his displeasure, and his maturity, with a NASCAR official after Busch was nabbed for speeding on pit road at Texas in 2010.

Last year after suffering a career threatening injury at Daytona in an Xfinity Series race and after the birth of his first child, it appeared a new Kyle Busch had emerged. NASCAR’s bad boy seemed to have gone through a period of reflection and maturation that brought along with it a new perspective. And along with that new seemingly new mature and more mellow Kyle Busch came a series championship, his first in any of NASCAR’s top divisions, let alone in the Sprint Cup Series.

No, it simply turns out he was just having unprecedented success, and well, everyone can be pleasant when they’re winning. Kyle, ala Cam Newton, is fun, engaging and a treat for his sport when things are going well, as demonstrated in the viral video (carefully orchestrated by his wife Samantha of course) after his Martinsville win where Busch signed a hat for a fan while they were sitting in traffic leaving the race. But Busch, also ala Newton, is an absolutely terrible loser and a horrible example to young fans everywhere. Petulant child and spoiled brat are the first words that come to mind.

The winning of 2015 had just been so much that we sort of forgot who Kyle Busch truly was. We allowed the wool to be pulled over our eyes and to be convinced that Busch had changed, much like Cam Newton had done.

But when the times weren’t so good, both went back to being, in the immortal words of Dennis Green, “Exactly who we thought they were”.

Busch’s rap sheet is well known in NASCAR circles, and arguably, it’s well known outside of the NASCAR world.

Whether its winning the first Car of Tomorrow race (granted, he’s right, those cars were awful) and proceeding to trash the car in victory lane instead of celebrate his win, or it’s melting down on his pit crew, or NASCAR officials, Kyle Busch has a long list of actions and deeds that would cause even the likes of Rasheed Wallace or Lou Piniella to want to grab him by the shoulders and ask him what was wrong with him. I’m sure even Tony Stewart looked at Kyle and thought, “Geez man, you need to chill out”.

While considered perhaps the most talented driver in the garage, many pointed to Busch’s volatile nature as the primary reason that despite having won 28 races in his first nine seasons, Busch had failed to finish any higher than 8th in points.

Struggles in the chase were attributed to the taxation placed on his team and crew chief for having to endure the headache and stress that Kyle Busch was for 9 consecutive months. It got so bad with his first team, none other than Rick Hendrick, that Hendrick let the uber talented, but uber temperamental Busch leave his stable and head over to rival team Joe Gibbs Racing and, Chevrolet allowed him to join the Toyota camp.

Busch’s ways not only did not fit in at all with the Rick Hendrick model, they wore then crew chief Alan Gustafson out to the point he simply couldn’t take dealing with the youngster anymore. It’s amazing he was willing to take on another 20 year old prodigy after Jeff Gordon retired, though, clearly, Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch are not cut from the same cloth when it comes to personalities.

In 2011 everything really came to a head with Kyle Busch, as he not once, but twice, utilized his car (or truck) in extra curricular activity under yellow as a weapon, and then additionally proceeded to endanger lives on pit road by using his vehicle in such a fashion there as well.

First was the Kevin Harvick incident at Darlington, one that regular Bert Show listeners may even be aware of due to Bert’s affinity for Harvick and Harvick’s appearance on the show where he discussed their disdain, and their wive’s disdain, for each other.

Busch not only deliberately wrecked Kevin Harvick after the yellow flag flew and dangerously turned him head on into the wall ruining his night, he also risked ruining the night of many other drivers in the field by sending Harvick across the track. But Busch didn’t stop there, as shown in the above video. When confronted by Harvick afterwards, Busch wanted no part of manning up to Harvick, instead, he chose to recklessly push a 3500 pound racecar aimlessly along pit road where many innocent pedestrians were present. Busch of course had no regard for the safety of those people, Busch was doing what Busch does, seeing red, and reacting, with no concerns for anyone else.

Unfortunately, the Harvick situation wasn’t even the worst transgression of 2011. While running a support race in a lower series of NASCAR (still a heated debate over this practice) Busch reached even a new low for him.

While Busch was just there racing for wins and trophies, though some would argue bullying, against lesser competition, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series veteran Ron Hornaday was racing for a championship as the season was winding down. As sometimes happen in racing, where “rubbing is racing”, Hornaday and Busch got together as seen on the video. While Busch had a right to be agitated, what he did next was beyond deplorable.

What he did to Harvick at Darlington was dangerous, but the speeds were slower and the impact was fortunately lessened and not as directly head on. What Busch did to Ron Hornaday, in yet another case of Busch taking out his frustrations while using his vehicle under caution, was even more dangerous and could have injured Hornaday. But once again, Kyle Busch gave no second thoughts to the well being of others. Once again, Busch saw red, and that was it.

The act was so egregious that sponsor M&Ms pulled their sponsorship for the remaining races of the season and refused to have their name or logos adorn the no. 18 Toyotas for the remainder of the season.

And that brings us to this past Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway where Kyle Busch, fresh off consecutive Sprint Cup wins and dominating the Xfinity Series where for only the second time since Daytona where Busch didn’t race over the course of the weekend.

He bemoaned the fact that neither of the two best cars (alluding to himself and Kyle Larson) won on Saturday, in a typical Kyle Busch whiny kind of way following his second place finish to teammate Erik Jones. So the mood for Busch entering Sunday was already shaky, at best.

Despite having a fast racecar, Busch and his team had problems with tire wear and Busch found the wall early in the race. The team recovered however, only for Busch to be spun out at a later junction in the event. The team recovered from this too, as well as two different pit road speeding penalties incurred by Busch and still found themselves competitive and in the mix as the race passed halfway. It was then that the race’s seventh caution flag flew, and it was the fourth time Kyle Busch was a part of it. This time though, there would be no recovery.

Busch, as evidenced by his comments after the race, was clearly angry and irate following the second tire issue that sent his car careening into the wall. In a hurry to get the car behind the wall, and get himself out of it so he could undoubtedly go pout somewhere and probably throw a few things, Busch took an abnormal route to get behind the wall in the garage area and bring the car to the attention of his team.

Busch’s desired location to park his racecar happened to be one where a congregation of fans had gathered, but apparently this was of no concern to Busch as he entered the area behind the wall.

Obviously, one can find plenty of fault with the woman herself as she was not exactly grouped with the other fans in the area, so I’m not downplaying her role in the matter, and as a fan, you are responsible for being aware of your surroundings and staying out of the way of the cars. However, the driver too has a responsibility to be aware of THEIR surroundings and to be cognizant of spectators, crewmen, reporters and any number of other people, or objects, that may come into their pathway in the garage area. In this situation, it appears both dropped the ball.

But here is where this is a problem for Kyle Busch. His reputation precedes him. When your rap sheet reads like his, you don’t get the benefit of the doubt. His angry comments following the race where he said, “I’m sick and tired of coming here because it sucks to race”, certainly don’t paint the picture of someone in control of their emotions, and certainly do nothing to dispel the notion that Busch entered the garage area ticked off and in his typical aloof and of no concern with anyone else state of mind.

Was the woman in a place she shouldn’t have been? It would appear that way. However, while she was behind a “rope” of sorts, perhaps indicating she shouldn’t be there, let’s not forget that Busch drove straight through that rope. He didn’t enter this area behind pit wall in the normal and designated manner. Could that be because of the damage to his car, or the convenience factor? Sure it could. But going against the norm should mean he was even more cognizant of his surroundings, as doing the unexpected might leave some people not prepared for his actions. Again, he has a responsibility too.

It’s like in a parking lot a supermarket or shopping mall, even if the pedestrian has darted out from a car in the middle of the parking lot, or is crossing somewhere that seems not be designated for that, as the driver of the large, potentially deadly, vehicle, the driver has a responsibility too. Because ultimately, the driver hits the pedestrian, not the other way around.

So while Busch certainly wasn’t aiming to hit anyone, he certainly wasn’t doing enough not to. Once again, Busch’s anger and frustration boiled over to the point that he had zero concern for the well being or safety of anyone else.

I’ve heard the argument that, “If this was any other driver, it wouldn’t be a story”. This is incredibly weak. Because it wasn’t “any other driver”, and it’s never been (at least not to my knowledge though I wouldn’t be surprised if there were past incidents) “any other driver”. And that’s not a coincidence. There’s a reason things like this happen to someone like Kyle Busch and not to other drivers. It’s because they don’t let them happen.

For Busch, I’m curious if a penalty is forthcoming. Earlier I mentioned that Bristol was only the second time since Daytona that Busch failed to win an Xfinity Series race or Sprint Cup race over the course of the weekend. The last time this happened was of course at California where Busch’s anger resulted in him leaving California lighter in the wallet, and perhaps more importantly, on probation through April 27th.

After cutting a tire down while leading on the last lap of the Xfinity Series race on Saturday, Busch complained that no caution was thrown when his tire blew and tore apart the left front of his car. A caution of course would have frozen the field, and Busch would have been allowed to win the race despite having a flat left front tire and torn up racecar that could not run at race speed. The race stayed Green and eventually Austin Dillon came around Busch off of turn four on the last lap to take the victory, though not without Busch making one last attempt to wreck Dillon as he drove by.

After the race, Busch seemingly forgot, or didn’t care, about who pays his bills and who enables him to drive cars for a living and blew off the mandatory trip to the media center for the second place finisher. I understand being frustrated after losing, but as with Cam Newton after the Super Bowl, you have a job to do. It’s simply a part of it. If you don’t like your job, or can’t handle it, then find a new one. What makes it even worse though is we’re talking about the Xfinity Series where Busch has made a mockery of the season by dominating with his powerful Joe Gibbs Toyotas. He’s there “just for fun”, making childish reactions like this all the worse.

Busch compounded the matter when on Sunday during the Sprint Cup race he accused NASCAR of fixing the race over his team radio. While running second with three laps to go in the Sprint Cup race Busch again had late tire problems and hit the wall. Busch elected against coming to pit road and by staying on the track forced NASCAR to throw a caution.

This of course eviscerated Busch and led to a tirade over the team radio where, due to NASCAR not throwing the caution for him on Saturday, he accused NASCAR of “fixing races”. NASCAR lets drivers and teams get away with criticisms of officiating that are audible to the public far more than other sports, but even they need to draw a line at accusations of blatant fixing of results.

Ultimately Busch received the fine and probation only for failing to meet his media obligations on Saturday, but you have to wonder if his actions Sunday didn’t impact the punishment to at least some degree.

We’re not even a quarter of the way into the 2016 season and already Kyle Busch has had two weekends of classic Kyle Busch behavior.

There’s no denying Busch’s talent, nor his success and his ability to give his sponsors air time. But there’s a line for everyone. Kurt Busch, his older brother no less, is a defending series champion who was twice fired by big time teams with major sponsors who decided the headache simply wasn’t worth it. M&Ms already drew a line once, and Kyle better think twice before approaching it again.

While 2015 Kyle Busch was a champion on and off the track, 2016 Kyle Busch has quickly reverted back to older versions of the defending series champion. For Kyle Busch’s sake and his fans sake, he needs to find last year’s version. Because this Kyle Busch isn’t a champion in any sense of the word.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under NASCAR, Sports

Ricky Rudd,Good, but no Hall of Famer

In today’s day and age I know full well that if one is to in any way speak even the least bit negatively about someone, or not speak completely positive, they’re deemed as simply being a “hater”. So let me get this out of the way, I do not hate Ricky Rudd. At all. In fact, I’ve always kinda liked Rudd. As a kid, and still as an adult, I liked the Quaker State car he drove. I liked how he raced Dale Earnhardt at North Wilkesboro in 1989, and then Davey Allison at Sears Point in 1991. I liked his toughness. I liked that he was never flashy, but was always competitive. I liked the way he drove.

But liking someone doesn’t make them a legend, and it doesn’t make them great, and it doesn’t make them worthy of the Hall of Fame.

And neither does longevity. Yes, to have longevity, typically you have to be good at what you do to keep people wanting to employ you to do it. However, you do not have to be “great” at what you do to have had longevity. Do you know how many  backup quarterbacks spend 15 years as such? Not that Rudd is a backup quarterback, but he’s not a Peyton Manning, and really, he might not even be a Matt Ryan.

Ricky Rudd competed for the season long points championship 25 times in his NASCAR Sprint Cup career. He finished higher than 4th one time.

In 1991 Rudd managed to finish 2nd in Winston Cup points to Dale Earnhardt, and it was the only time Rudd ever really sniffed a championship. Rudd found himself just 59 points behind Earnhardt with five races to go. Rudd wouldn’t finish in the top ten again and barely clung to second in points at season’s end.

He was engaged in a season long points battle in 2001 with Jeff Gordon, but just like 10 years prior, he faltered down the stretch and this time he failed to finish in the top three. After a third place at Kansas saw Rudd sit in second in points, 222 points out of first with eight races remaining, Rudd went on to finish outside of the top 20 in five of the final eight events of the season and plummet to fourth in points.

The most important criteria for greatness in a NASCAR driver’s career is the championship. No career is complete without one. Ask Mark Martin. But at least Martin had several bridesmaid seasons, and turned in seasons that were championship worthy. The same cannot be said of Rudd.

So the next place you look is total wins, right? I’m sorry, 23 wins in 32 years is not impressive. Yes, the consistency and the streak of winning at least one race every year for 16 straight seasons is impressive. But you know what’s more impressive? Putting more than one or two wins together in a season. Ricky Rudd never won more than twice in any given season.

His career wins total of 23 ranks him 33rd all-time, but as I get into later, the wins are rather empty, void of many signature wins in big races, and as mentioned before, they aren’t accompanied by a championship, or even being a regular contender for win.

It should also be noteworthy that there is a plethora of active drivers within 2-5 wins of Rudd, including Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, and Brad Keselowski. All four have either won multiple major races, accompanied Rudd as having finished runner-up in points, won the Daytona 500, or won a championship. And all four still have the ability to add to their resumes. Of the lot, only Keselowski looks like he may one day have a case to be in the Hall of Fame, but this is precisely the lot of drivers Rudd belongs to. Good, not great.

And you have to keep in mind that a guy like Joey Logano is just getting started, another season like he had in 2015 and he’ll be right there with Rudd in wins, and may very well have himself a championship as well. Plus you have to consider all the young talent coming up and what they will likely accomplish in their careers. Are we really going to put a 23 win Ricky Rudd in the Hall of Fame?

In fact, if you look at the current field of Sprint Cup drivers, Rudd’s career accomplishments rank him somewhere in the 10-15 realm, at best. Again, that’s not bad, and nothing to hang his head about, but when you can easily point out 10 drivers (Johnson, Stewart, Harvick, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Edwards, Keselowski, Earnhardt Jr, Kenseth) currently who are more deserving of being in the Hall of Fame, it’s pretty much impossible to make a case that throughout all of NASCAR history, Rudd’s career will stand up to the test of time and deserves to be memorialized and remembered as one of the greatest of all time.

I’m sorry, this is not greatness. It’s consistent. It’s solid. It’s a career to be proud of. But you can’t consider someone a hall of famer if they never won more than two races in a season and only once finished higher than 4th in points.

When it comes to top five finishes, his high for a single season was 14. Only once did he get at least 20 top ten finishes. These are things the great drivers do with regularity. Rudd not only didn’t do it with regularity, he didn’t do it at all.

Another startling number is the number of times Rudd failed to finish a race. While he’s lauded for his consistency, which is accurate, Rudd also had a difficult time finishing a lot of races. Granted, a large portion of that came from the two years he spent with Kenny Bernstein in the Quaker State Buick, as Rudd amassed 12 DNFs in those two years, including an incredible dozen of them in 1988. Even still, failing to finish 189 races is a big deal. He failed to finish one in every five events he started with a DNF percentage of close to 21. By comparison, Bill Elliott and Dale Earnhardt, the same era, had DNF percentages of 14.

Do I need to continue making the case?

For some, they may not have had the championships, or even the total wins, but the races they won were the ones that mattered. There will always be something to be said about coming up big on the sports biggest stages, and too often Rudd failed to do so.

1404344217000-Rudd1997

Ricky Rudd’s crowning achievement, his 1997 victory at Indianapolis in the Brickyard 400, at that time joining Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett as the only winners of the event. Alas, he came up too short too often on the biggest stage and lacks the credentials of a truly iconic star, which is what the Hall of Fame should be about.

Aside from the Brickyard 400 that he won in 1997, Rudd was rarely a factor in the sports biggest races. Rudd made 60 starts at Daytona, and led a total of 45 laps, finishing in the top 5 only 7 times. Twenty-nine times Rudd started a Daytona 500, and he was running in the top 5 at the conclusion on just four of those occasions. All told, in nearly 30 starts in the Daytona 500, Rudd only led a total of 13 laps.

His numbers at Charlotte aren’t much better. Over 60 starts were made at the speedway, and less than 10 of those resulted in a top 5 finish. In the Coke 600, another one of NASCAR’s crown jewels, Rudd managed to finish in the top five just three times. Even more astonishing is that in 30 plus years of racing, Rudd only led 99 laps in the event. For his career, Rudd only led 1.5% of the laps he completed at Charlotte.

His numbers at Darlington are a little better, aided by winning the spring race there in 1991. But when it came to the real prize, the Southern 500, Rudd again fell short, way short, time and time again. Only four times did Rudd ever finish the grueling Southern 500 in the top five.

The sport’s three biggest races, and in a 30 year career, Rudd only managed to finish in the top five 11 times on the big stage with just one victory. I’m sorry, that’s not hall of fame stuff.

The hall of fame is for those who were the best of the best, the elite. Ricky Rudd, at no point in his career was ever that driver. He had a very good career, but don’t cheapen the Hall of Fame by inviting just anyone who had a solid career and won a few races. Because if you let Ricky Rudd, then you open the door to let way too many people who don’t deserve to have their name mentioned with the true greats of the sport. A hall of fame should be selective. Letting Ricky Rudd in would prove that this one is not.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sports

Chase Elliott Martinsville Preview

This weekend Chase Elliott returns to Martinsville, sight of an inauspicious Cup debut last spring where Elliott quickly learned some lessons about driving Cup cars. Clearly, this lesson, along with many others, was not for naught, as Elliott enters the season’s sixth race 16th in points, but already with three top ten finishes. I could go on and on about how impressive he has been to start the season, but I’ll get into that a later date, this is about looking ahead to Martinsville where Elliott will debut the 3M colors.

As mentioned, Elliott’s debut at Martinsville didn’t exactly go like he wanted, and in looking at his history at the track, it might be, outside of Talladega, his worst track among NASCAR’s top three divisions.

Aside from last year’s Cup race, Elliott has made two Camping World Truck Series starts at the paperclip shaped half mile, and his best finish was 6th in 2013. He finished 20th in his other start at Martinsville, though it wasn’t completely reflective of how he ran that day as late problems hampered his day.

chasemartinsville

Chase Elliott’s Sprint Cup Debut was a rough one at Martinsville, expect the young man to perform much better this time around.

All totaled though, Elliott has an average starting position of 15.7 and average finish of 21.3 in his three total starts at the Virginia track. Last year’s race hardly ever got started as Elliott fell victim to the accordion effect of an incident in front of him and plowed into the back of a car early in the going. The incident was a lesson on the impetus of track position, as back in the back, bad things can happen.

But don’t let this fool you regarding Elliott’s short track prowess. When it comes to getting around tracks under a mile in length, Elliott is clearly not his father’s son.

Elliott has made 19 starts on short tracks in NASCAR’s top three series, and 15 of those starts resulted in top ten finishes, with two of the four finishes outside of the top 10 coming here at Martinsville.

Elliott’s career numbers at short tracks include an average start of 9.2 and an average finish of 9.4. His driver rating at short tracks is an impressive 100.4, and that’s with those Martinsville showings weighing the number down.

Factoring in his performance in ARCA and in the K&N series at tracks that NASCAR’s top three series also visit, Elliott has 30 starts on short tracks. He’s finished in the top ten in a remarkable 25 of them.

Elliott probably wanted the week off least of all, as he and his team had really picked up some momentum at the end of the west coast swing, and had clearly established themselves as a weekly contender and top ten, maybe even top five car. But Martinsville is as different from the tracks we’ve just run on as Daytona was, so it’s an entirely new animal.

But confidence should be sky-high, despite his woes in the past at Clay Earl’s little racetrack. The organization he races for, Hendrick Motorsports, absolutely dominates Martinsville. And his particular 24 team was victorious with Jeff Gordon the last time the Sprint Cup Series visited here last fall as Gordon took home an immensely popular victory securing himself into NASCAR’s version of the Final Four.

I don’t expect Elliott to win on Sunday, but I also don’t expect him to continue on the trend he’s been on at the track either. Martinsville is a grueling track and some veteran NASCAR stars still haven’t mastered it. But one of Elliott’s biggest strengths is the ability to manage his car, tires, and equipment, and that could be a big key on Sunday.

Look for him to hang around the top 15 all day, and if he can stay on the lead lap, look for him to be strong at the end and push for a top ten finish. That first win will likely have to wait, but there’s another short track in Virginia we’ll be visiting soon that may be ripe for that to take place.

Leave a comment

Filed under NASCAR, Sports

Gordon, Not Earnhardt, is NASCAR’s Michael Jordan

What is, an unpopular opinion for $200, Alex?

It may be deemed blasphemous in some circles, but I’m here to tell you that Jeff Gordon is NASCAR’s Michael Jordan, and Michael Jordan is saying goodbye on Sunday after 23 years of being at the pinnacle of his sport.

Yes, I know the comparisons have long been between Dale Earnhardt and Michael Jordan, but I’m going to argue that Dale Earnhardt was more of a Magic Johnson, paving the way for Michael Jordan, err, Jeff Gordon.

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird catapulted the NBA to the forefront of American sports in the 80s. Their rivalry, their flair, their skill, and their professionalism put the NBA on the map in a way it had never before been. Michael Jordan took the NBA from there and elevated it to another stratosphere. Jordan took the game global.

Much the same story occurred with NASCAR. Dale Earnhardt put the sport on the map. He made it okay to be a NASCAR fan. He made it okay to admit you tuned in on Sundays to a bunch of cars driving in circles. His clashes with Darrell Waltrip and Bill Elliott in the 80s took the sport from the back pages of newspapers around the country to the front pages on Monday mornings.

It was Jeff Gordon however who made NASCAR a national mainstay and took the sport from the deep south and integrated it nationwide. While many will lament the loss of it’s southern roots, those in NASCAR certainly don’t lament the millions upon millions of dollars corporate America has invested into the sport, thanks in large part to Jeff Gordon.

Gordon, without the southern accent and with the GQ looks, took NASCAR to Wall Street. He took NASCAR to corporate America. And corporate America ate it up. Gordon helped eliminate (largely) the stereotypes associated with NASCAR. You didn’t have to sound like an uneducated hick to be a NASCAR superstar. You didn’t have to be from the south to be a superstar in NASCAR. And you no longer had to be “redneck” to be a fan.

Gordon became the first NASCAR driver to host Saturday Night Live. And whether you liked NASCAR, or sports in general, you knew who Jeff Gordon was. And if you did like NASCAR, Jeff Gordon was as polarizing as they come.

Gordon’s career has run full circle. When he entered the sport as a 21 year old phenom there was a ton of interest as to whether this hot shot from California, where in the words of legendary Harry Hogge , “You’re not really anything”, could cut it in the rough and tumble world of stock car racing. Once Gordon proved not only that he could cut it, but that he wasn’t afraid to push back against the best of the best and would be intimidated by no one, fans began to turn on the newcomer to the sport. Gordon quickly became public enemy number one, and it was a role he embraced. The more they booed, the more he was winning.

Gordon’s 1998 season of 13 wins and 28 top ten finishes in a single season (33 races) might possibly be the greatest single season in the modern era, and is undoubtedly one of the greatest single seasons turned in in American sports history. To compare, it ranks up there with the Bulls 70 win season, and, in many ways, surpasses it, thanks to his utter dominance that year and the distance between himself and his closest championship competitors, Mark Martin (7 wins and 26 top 10 finishes himself) and Dale Jarrett (3 wins 22 top 10s). Gordon won the championship by 364 points over Martin, who enjoyed a season that in all but rare instances would have easily been enough to walk home with a championship. As evidenced by the fact that Jarrett, who had a good year in his own right, finished a whopping 709 points behind Gordon.

To say people grew tired of him winning every other week is a very, very mild understatement.

But as his career cycled through into it’s twilight, guys like Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch (and more recently Joey Logano) have assumed Gordon’s place at the top of the “NASCAR’s Most Hated” list. As for Gordon, he might very well be the second most popular driver in the sport today. And it’s easily arguable that come Sunday at Homestead, he will be THE most popular driver on the track.

For years, Jeff Gordon wins were met with boos and with angry fans, upset that “Wonder Boy” had won yet another race. But when Gordon took the checkered flag at Martinsville a few weeks ago to secure his place in the championship round of NASCAR’s chase, his win was met with thunderous applause, and an ovation that seemed to last for several minutes. It was the kind of moment that reminded us why we watched sports. For a man that had won 93 career events, there was as much raw emotion and joy in this win as there was when he shed tears in victory lane at Charlotte in 21 and a half years earlier when he won his first career race.

I’m sure it was something new for the four time champion, and I’m sure it is something he will never forget. Well, unless he manages to top it this Sunday by taking what could well be the most popular championship in the sports history.

gordonpetty_zps5deca9b9

It is no coincidence that Jeff Gordon made his debut in the same race “The King”, Richard Petty, he of 200 wins and seven championships, made his final start. Never before has there been such an official changing of the guard.

But it wasn’t just the symbolism in Gordon’s career beginning where Petty’s ended. It was Gordon’s arrival on the scene and willingness, and ability, to go toe to toe with, and beat, the sports biggest stars from the get go.

gordonearnhardt

In his first start at Daytona, Gordon out-dueled Bill Elliott in the Gatorade 125 mile qualifying race, and then finished 5th in the Daytona 500. The next year in the Busch Clash All-Star race, Gordon taught the Daytona master himself, Dale Earnhardt, a thing or two with a gutsy move around the Intimidator with just under two laps left to steal a victory.

It was perhaps that moment where Gordon and Earnhardt had their Magic and Michael moment. It was then that the world saw Gordon wasn’t going to back down from anyone, and he was here and here to take the throne atop American motorsports. And it was here where Dale Earnhardt realized this was going to happen, and there really wasn’t going to be anything he could do about it.

93 wins later, four championships, three Daytona 500 trophies, SIX Southern 500 wins, 3 Coca-Cola 600 and five Brickyard 400 triumphs later, Jeff Gordon gets the opportunity to do what few in sports are afforded the chance to do; leave on top. The odds are against him in Homestead, but don’t tell him that. They were against him when the Chase started, and yet, here he is, one victory away from a fifth championship to wrap up one of the greatest professional sports careers this country has ever seen.

It would be the perfect swan song and one of the greatest goodbyes in sports history. It would be the goodbye Michael Jordan should have had.

thanks24

Leave a comment

Filed under NASCAR, Sports