Bad boys don’t always finish first

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It’s easy to believe bad boys finish first and the good guy is always overlooked, but not in NASCAR.

Jimmie Johnson has come in first in five consecutive championships and he’s never once been labeled a bad boy on any race track, so I’ve heard. As a matter of fact, he’s been labeled vanilla, boring and so nice that some people yawn when they watch him, but is that necessary? His driving ability on a variety of different tracks and auto racing divisions proves that Johnson is No. 1 when it comes to racing.

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Another driver that has proven to be amazing on a variety of different tracks is Kyle Busch. Once known as the bad boy of NASCAR for declining and storming away from interviews after a bad race, Busch has shown a huge difference on the track, with the media and on television. He now responds more calmly, and his recent altercation with Kevin Harvick also shows his maturity level has grown. He now knows that he can’t be the bad boy and a championship winner at the same time.

Fans were quick to call Busch out on his accident with Harvick, but let’s look at the facts in front of us. Harvick did park on pit road. Harvick did park directly in front of Busch, knowing full well he was probably mad. Harvick did get out of his car, going after an angry Busch, knowing he’s in front of him and knowing that pit road is filled with innocent people standing around.

Busch proceeding forward to hit Harvick's car could have and should have been avoided, but it happened. How Busch handled himself afterword is to be noticed. After leaving the NASCAR hauler, Busch did tell reporters on TV, “It’s between us.”

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Harvick also has a bad boy reputation from his past. He’s known to climb over cars when he’s upset, but in recent interviews he’s composed himself, telling reporters right after the meeting in the trailer to pay attention to Regan Smith’s win.

During Truck qualifications in Dover last Friday, a reporter asked Busch about last week and he responded that it wasn't his specialty and that his specialty was right there on the track racing.

Busch and Harvick have driving abilities that could take them far in their careers. Busch is young enough to pull some amazing championship wins; there’s time for him to possibly catch up to the King and the Intimidator's seven-win tie for the championship. Harvick may not be so lucky and Johnson only has to win the title three more times to beat Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt; whether he does it in the next three seasons or in the future is yet to be determined.

Busch and Harvick are on a four-week probation, whether or not this denies them a championship this season is also to be determined.

What can we learn from the good guy who does finish first?

Interviews: Every time there’s a journalist with Johnson, he’s polite, considerate, interviews with patience and a friendly tone of voice.

Driver interactions: I’m sure Johnson has had a few run-ins with other drivers in his career; the guy has been in business since he was a kid. He’s learned a lot, but no serious incidences have been caused by Johnson in the last five seasons. Last weekend in Darlington, the #42 car spun him out and when word got back that Juan Pablo Montoya was sorry, Johnson politely responded, “I’m sure he is.” Johnson has built a good reputation with other drivers, especially with his teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin.

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Harvick has a good relationship with his teammates at Richard Childress Racing. They proved that they stick up for each other on the track last season, when Harvick made contact with and confronted Denny Hamlin after Hamlin made comments against RCR in regard to Clint Bowyer and the No. 33 team's New Hampshire penalty. The Joe Gibbs teams and the Richard Childress teams seem to have a lot of conflict between them. The Gibbs boys have even gotten in each other's way in the past, for example, when Busch went to Hamlin's hauler upset after how they raced each other in last year's All-Star Race. Could the three of them pulling together to stick up for each other more often benefit them? Joey Logano is spending a lot of time with Busch; should Hamlin join them more often and become a more active team member?

Focus: Johnson has an ability to focus on the track and in the garage; he’s mastered tunnel vision. Even last year, when Harvick and Hamlin feuded in the garage not far from his car, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus were curious to see what the other two were fighting about, but they looked away and continued to focus on their car. When Hamlin’s team tried to create a distraction for the 48 team, they didn’t flinch. Knaus was heard to say the 11 team needs to focus on the championship, not on what the 48 team was doing.

Marriage: So many people will roll their eyes when they read this part, but it has been proven throughout history that what happens in someone’s personal life can carry over to their job. Johnson’s marriage to Chandra is not the focus in racing, but it’s obvious the two have a wonderful relationship. She is with him at almost every race track. Becoming a father has also proven to be a positive force in Johnson’s life.

Some reporters have questioned if Busch being a newlywed has been the changing force in his behavior toward the media, but he once answered that it’s also because his life has fallen into place. His shop is now open, his truck team is now doing well and his wins are coming in.

Being single isn’t going to deny a championship to a driver, like Denny Hamlin, but sometimes, your actions in your personal life can bear heavy weight in your career. In the media and the garage, Hamlin may not be known as the bad boy, but in the Lake Norman and Charlotte scenes, there’s a different opinion. Hamlin’s season thus far hasn’t been much to brag about. I was wrong in choosing him to win the championship at the beginning of the season, but there may be a chance left for Hamlin.

Whether you’re a bad boy on the track, at home or in spirit, don’t assume it’ll mean you’ll finish first.

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In conclusion, there’s another good boy who has struggled and has finished last in races but not with fans. He’s not an eight-time "most popular driver" winner because of a "bad boy attitude," but because he’s honest and true to himself and his sponsors. Dale Earnhardt Jr. avoided colliding and spinning out Harvick in Martinsville in April, which denied him a race win. Earnhardt Jr. also believed pushing Johnson in Talladega was wiser because he felt the 48 car was faster; it was a wise business move on Earnhardt Jr.’s part, but he finished 4th that day. He told reporters at Charlotte Motor Speedway last Tuesday that he doesn’t feel competitive enough to be angry (like Harvick and Busch were in Darlington), nor does Earnhardt Jr. see a win in his near future, but believes contending in top spots does lead to wins. Right now, Earnhardt Jr. is 4th in points and the possibility of finishing at the top of the points at the end of season is realistic as is a win.

In NASCAR, good boys do finish first and NASCAR’s eight-time most popular driver is looking for his first championship. Could the influence of Johnson and good guy crew chief Steve Letarte lead him to that win this year or in 2012? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Genevieve is a freelance writer living on Lake Norman in North Carolina.

*The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
Bad boys don’t always finish first Bad boys don’t always finish first Reviewed by Unknown on Monday, May 16, 2011 Rating: 5