Rough And Tumble

For the first time since 1999, short-track races appeared back-to-back on the Nextel Cup schedule. That caused some trepidation among those asked to compete at both Bristol and Martinsville on consecutive weekends, mostly drivers.

But who, pray tell, is worrying about the poor, overworked fabricators back in the shop?

The carnage from the Food City 500 resembled nothing so much as a group of unruly four-year-olds cavorting down the juice aisle at the local grocery store, leaving nothing but cracked and broken bottles dripping fluids all over the floor. Only the bottles were stock cars, and the fluids which keep them cool took the place of the old Welch’s,

Short-track racing is a contact sport, and this is what happens when you put 43 cars in such close proximity to each other and the unforgiving concrete walls while traveling at better than 130 miles per hour. The tiniest mistake can turn into instant chaos.

Take, for example, Jeff Burton. Running along trying to get his lap back, Burton was as fast as the leaders and had been near the front all day. Jimmie Johnson, who usually avoids contact, made that tiny mistake and ended Burton’s day by spinning him into the wall. To add insult to injury, Kurt Busch picked the wrong path around the crash and wound up clouting the Cingular Chevy right on the nose—at nearly full speed.

Happily, both drivers walked away, Johnson apologized for the miscue that sent Burton around, and everyone piled into the haulers for the ride home, thinking they’d have to do this again in seven days.

Bobby Hamilton nudged Ken Schrader and started a big crash 167 laps from the finish, and took the blame for it, saying, “I guess everybody thinks I’m a big SOB right now.”

As Ken Schrader said, having two short-track races together on the schedule mans the restaurants of Dallas-Fort Worth will get a workout later this month. “There’s going to be a lot of guys saying, ‘let me buy you dinner’ when we get to Texas,” the veteran driver quipped in the run-up to Martinsville.

Give and take is fine, but too much taking can lead to too much giving, if you know what I mean. Instead of giving a guy a break in traffic, the emotion of the day just might mean giving a guy the business.

All part of the game, to be sure, but there’s usually plenty of time to cool off before the next short-track event. Incidents that incite are given a chance to cool down before the next situation arises. Not so this month, and it will be interesting to see what is carried over from Bristol to Martinsville.

No matter what happens on Sunday, there’s been a half-season worth of action packed into the first five races of 2005. Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts 500 will be a whole lot of fun to watch.

About that dinner in Texas…I’ll have steak, please.

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