Friday, April 4, 2014

A Step in the Right Direction: Five Questions for Texas

(Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
When Kurt Busch crossed the finish line on Sunday afternoon, everything grew quiet. The goosebumps rose. Time turned back.

It was after the final race of 2011 that seemed like the end for him. The anger, the YouTube video, the repercussions. It added up to walking papers and unemployment.

But Kurt Busch never gave up. He may have fallen off the recovery wagon, but he always climbed back on. That’s admirable.

Nerves tingled as Busch celebrated. The following hours would be full of happy photos and reflections on Twitter. His girlfriend, Patricia Driscoll, was thrilled. Her son, Houston, marveled at his father figure’s victory. The small family enjoyed each other’s company and pizza. It was the simplicity of it all that made me happy.

After ridding himself of burdens and moving mountains that once stood in his way, Kurt Busch has transformed into a new individual, one who knows when to stand up or quiet down. He has returned to the winner’s circle and tasted the rewards of his adjustment.

It was as simple as taking a step in the right direction.

This week, NASCAR heads to Texas Motor Speedway for a Texas-sized throw down. I’m talking tires, rivalries, sponsorship, and more in this week’s Five Questions. Who’s ready to be roped in by some racing?

What will come from Busch’s battle with Brad Keselowski? In his weekly blog entry, the driver of the No. 2 explained last weekend’s pit road incident. The two collided on pit road after Keselowski had a run-in with Kasey Kahne moments prior. He wrote, “Moving ahead, as far as Kurt is concerned, my feeling is this: I got my message out. What’s done is done. I’m ready to move on. Kurt controls what goes on from here. If he feels like he needs to do something else, that’s up to him.” Well, after what Busch said post-win, there might be some action soon; the man behind the No. 41 was unhappy, mentioning that there are still things to handle between them. Keselowski better cross his fingers and hope his newest rival likes to read his posts.

Why is Saturday free? The NASCAR Nationwide Series is back in action tonight, teams gearing up for a throw down under the lights. In most cases, however, it would’ve been on Saturday night. This switch leaves the track quiet for the first part of the weekend. Why? Two words: March Madness. The top two are determined that night, and that would spell "trouble" for ratings. Although I admit it’s a smart move, racecars won’t be on my TV. Boo.

Is the Duck Commander sponsorship bad for the sport? A year ago, we were discussing the effects of a controversial title sponsor at this same race: the NRA. TMS has went a step further and gotten Duck Commander this time around. The company, which produces duck calls for hunters, is owned by the Robertson family. The redneck clan was made famous by "Duck Dynasty," a reality TV program that follows the family and their friends through all their antics. Many media outlets were outraged with NASCAR’s association with the NRA, yet there isn’t any upset about the duck call company. This is a rightful silence; the Robertsons and their company is just teaming with the perfect track for promotional opportunities. To me, this is nothing like the NRA sponsorship, and the comparisons should cease.

Are more tire issues on the horizon? Tire pressures aren’t regulated for this weekend, says NASCAR. The teams are given the freedom to control their levels —and their fate. A lesson from Auto Club Speedway a few weekends ago? Pushing the envelope doesn’t always work. If crew chiefs want to risk it, then they can go ahead. We better not hear any drivers blaming Goodyear; remember who made the actual call, guys.

Can Busch’s performance (and personality) stay on the upswing? There’s no denying that Stewart-Haas Racing has been split; on any given weekend, there is a blunt distinction between the good and the bad cars. Busch was one of the good cars, but it’s what he did with it that was impressive. The way he held off Johnson was remarkable, and the great run begs the question: Will this spike in his career and life last? My answer: absolutely. Busch has shown much improvement in his talent and demeanor, and the rewards will keep coming. Knowing when to pick his battles is a large step in the right direction, and there are many steps to come.

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