No After You

Does anyone actually want to win the 2002 Winston Cup championship? Right now the chase seems like that old Three Stooges routine, “No, after you. I insist.” When Sterling Marlin crashed out on lap nine the other points contenders should have been like a pack of wolves surrounding a downed caribou. But rather than any of them leaping onto the carcass and taking a few huge mouthfuls of meat while warning off the others, everyone had a polite few nibbles with only Mark Martin getting a real mouthful. It’s seemed that way all season. If Marlin has problems his competition politely has problems of their own.

Look at where the eight drivers trailing Marlin after Darlington finished at Richmond; Jeff Gordon (40th), Mark Martin (sixth, you cad!) Tony Stewart (30th), Jimmie Johnson (13th, may need a refresher course from Miss Manners) Rusty Wallace (15th ,exusable only in that he seemed in position to win his first race since Moses was in grammar school.) Ricky Rudd (7th), Dale Jarrett (31st). Only Matt Kenseth, who was tenth heading into Richmond, broke protocol and was rude enough to win the race, though he did his best to finish poorly blowing two tires and going a lap down at one point. Gordon and Martin both seemed to have strong enough runs going to take over the points lead at times during the race but neither did. Rusty Wallace, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Rusty Wallace, Ricky Rudd and Dale Jarrett all seemed to have solid top ten cars prior to various and sundry problems.

Part of the problem was the Richmond track. Friday night’s Busch race resembled a Joie Chitwood Thrill Show gone badly awry. Even during the Cup race the second groove which normally makes for such entertaining races at Richmond never fully came in. Of course starting the race on a track that was still oily from a No Bull Five show car losing an engine didn’t help matters much either. Later in the race part of the track lighting system went out for a portion of the race. Are Moe, Larry and Curly running this show or what?

Matt Kenseth was as high as second place in points earlier this year, putting himself in position by winning three races in the first fifteen events. Apparently realizing his lapse of manners towards the points leader after winning Michigan Matt then went on a streak where he missed top 10 finishes in seven of the next ten races including four finishes of 30th or worse. As mentioned above it didn’t appear to be Kenseth’s night Saturday either. He blew two right front tires (not literally) and was a lap down at one point. Fortunately the other contenders were polite enough to realize Kenseth had gone above and beyond the call of duty and went ahead and had problems themselves.

Ryan Newman still hasn’t won a Winston Cup race, but he finished 2nd for the fifth time this season at Richmond. He’s ahead of two-race winner Jimmie Johnson in rookie points in what appears to be another case of manners run amuck.

Jeff Green’s third place finish was his second best result of the 2002 season. And in brighter news for Green, the series returns to New Hampshire where he scored his best 2002 finish, second, next week. Will he be rude enough at NHIS to score a win?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was also a lap down at one point in the race after getting caught off pit sequence when Tim Sauter blew an engine. The bad news for Junior was the leader he needed to let him have a lap back was none other than Ward Burton who still has issues with Dale after their little display of bad manners at Bristol. Junior was finally able to get his lap back, and took advantage of other’s misfortunes to finish fourth.

Todd Bodine’s career looked in serious jeopardy (yet again) early this season when K-Mart went chapter 11 and his team lost their sponsor. No, he hasn’t had a win, and yes, the last two weeks have been tough, but you can’t argue with Bodine’s results. He finished fifth Saturday night to claim his first top 5 of the season but has three other top 10s. Bodine whose average finish is 24th in fifteen races he’s run to date has also eclipsed the million dollar earnings mark this year. Anymore questions as to why your ticket to Saturday night’s race cost so much?

Martin was the only driver in the top ten in points to really make a charge at Sterling Marlin after Marlin encountered problems (and the 41 car) early. He came home sixth and is a mere four or nine (depending on whose stats you use) points behind Marlin at this point. The polite thing for Mark to do would be to wreck on the parade lap next week at New Hampshire, but I don’t think he’ll go for that. There have been too many seasons people thought Martin was going to win the title but lost it in the end. This season few people gave him a chance to be champion but he’s about as close as you can be at this point in the season and not be the favorite, manners be damned. (By the way even Mark wasn’t a complete bore. Two more positions forward and he’d be leading the points.)

Since the problems within the team became public Ricky Rudd has been running like a drunken one-legged man up an icy slope. Apparently this week Rudd and McSwain made peace which might have helped Ricky to finish seventh. But Robert Yates still hates Rudd and vica-versa. Don’t you hate rude people?

The kind of season he’s had probably contributed to Ward Burton’s eighth place finish. After winning the Daytona 500, Ward’s season hit the sewer. Towards the end of the event other teams gambled on a timely caution or that they’d make it on gas. Burton’s crew knew their luck is so lousy they’d never make it to the end of the race and took the conservative strategy in stopping for a splash and go stop. That pessimism paid off with a top ten finish.

Dave Blaney scored his second top 10 finish of the 2002 finish coming home ninth.

Jeremy Mayfield hasn’t lived up to expectations this year with the Ray Evernham team. He scored his first top ten finish since the last Richmond race, which seems eons ago, and only his third of the 2002 season Saturday night. In a slump or just exceptionally polite? You make the call. Oh and he’s earned close to two million dollars this year despite the slump. The very, very rich are different from you and I. They can afford to be genteel.

I keep waiting for one of these drivers in the top ten to toss aside manners and rip off a series of strong finishes to bypass Marlin at the top of the charts. It seemed Jeff Gordon was poised to do so, but he apologized for his gluttonous behavior of the last two weeks by scoring his first DNF in 56 races Saturday. Others said Stewart was in position to do so, but if those allegations concerning the post-race incident at Bristol turn out to be true (a very big if) he may not even finish out the season in Winston Cup or if he does he might be sidelined for one or more events. After all, there is simply no excuse for a lapse of manners in this year’s game of “No, after you. I insist.”

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2002

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