Finally, NASCAR has a feud worth watching as the two best drivers in the series in 2008, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, let their real feelings for each other show at the end of Saturday night's race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Just when it looked like Busch was going to dominate the race by having his Toyota Camry in front for practically the entire race, Edwards was able to use the bumper of his Ford Fusion to loosen up Busch's Toyota late in the race. The widely-accepted short track tactic worked as Busch moved up the track and Edwards went by with the race-winning move.
But after Edwards took the checkered flag, Busch was ticked off and showed it to Edwards when he drove up beside him on the cool-down lap and ran into his car.
Edwards decided he'd had enough of "Young Shrub" and spun him out after the race had ended.
"The way this works is [how] a real smart racer explained to me after he wrecked me and I was real mad," Edwards said. "He said, 'I just had to look at your rear bumper and decide, would you do this to me? And you had before, so it was a real simple decision.'
"Earlier in the year we had a Nationwide race and Kyle was a lot faster than me and he went ahead and got to my back bumper and just smoked the back bumper of my car and sent me up the race track. Afterwards he said, 'Sorry man, my car was just faster.'
"So, in my mind, I had to ask myself when I went down there in the corner, 'Should I lift and brake early and do the best I can, or should I just kind of give him a little tap and see what happens.' So that's the way it went and that's the decision I made. I'd do it again."
Busch was a bit peevish afterwards and vowed to escalate the matter in the Chase when Busch and Edwards will be the two featured combatants in the 10-race series that will determine this year's Sprint Cup champion.
"He spun me out," Busch said. "So I just got into him a little bit and let him know that I didn't appreciate the way he passed me and he retaliated and ended up spinning me out."
When told that Edwards had made a half-hearted apology in Victory Lane for the incident, Busch scoffed.
"He does that and he'll always come back and say he's sorry," Busch said. "He did it at Milwaukee (in a Nationwide Series race to leader Clint Bowyer) and he's done it a few other times. It's just his normal fashion -- that's fine. I've grown to know that now.
"You know, to pass a guy, to hit him getting into the corners and chatter his tires is what he did. But I tried to get him back, but I thought better of it and tried to pull down and pass him back. But I didn't have a good enough car to stick, and Denny [Hamlin] got to his outside and he got by me, and then I had to battle with him toward the end. We were as clean as could be, of course, but just one other dude we had a problem with."
After the race, Busch's team owner, J.D. Gibbs, walked up to Edwards to discuss the situation.
"He just explained to me that you reap what you sow, which I believe, and I explained to him that that's why that happened that way," Edwards said. "That's it. I have a lot of respect for him and the organization. They do a really good job and I really look up to them, so that's that."
After two straight years of watching Jimmie Johnson and his corporate image win the championship with all the excitement of filing your taxes, an Edwards-Busch throw-down could be great fun.
At last, a feud worth watching.
In a week that began with one of the team's transporters burning to the ground, destroying the two primary cars that were set to race at Infineon Speedway, it must have lit a spark under Team Penske as it finished 1-2 in Sunday's IndyCar contest.
After preparing the two backup cars, Helio Castroneves was able to break a 29-race winless drought to capture the Peak Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma County. Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe was second, giving the team its second 1-2 finish this season and the 36th in Indy car competition.
After the race Roger Penske celebrated by whisking into his paddock area on his scooter and climbing into the Team Penske office motorhome parked next to the team's transporters at Infineon Raceway. He went inside, grabbed a Drumstick ice cream cone out of the freezer and plopped into his chair in the back office trying to get out of the heat.
"That was good, wasn't it?" Penske said in his back office. "It shows the true colors of my guys in automobile racing, overcoming adversity and then being able to come back like this. To get Helio off the bubble when he hadn't won a race was key. And Briscoe was a good teammate with strategy to finish both cars and not get into trouble.
"When you throw in what happened earlier this week, it's amazing."
Amazing, but not surprising to a team as well-oiled as Team Penske. What would be devastating to most teams became an obstacle and a challenge to Penske's operation.
The devastating fire all started when the heat from the burning bearing caused a flat tire about 60 miles west of Cheyenne, Wyoming. When the drivers pulled off to the side of the road, they discovered the tire was flat because the wheel was on fire. They tried to put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher, but the fire quickly spread. With consumables such as oil and lubricants fueling the blaze, there was little that could be done to keep the fire under control. Cell phones did not work because there was no signal in the remote area of Wyoming. Soon, the entire transporter was ablaze, so the only thing left to do was unhitch the trailer from the tractor in order to save the semi.
Sadly, the drivers watched it burn. About 30 minutes later, a fire truck finally arrived but it was too late to save two fully-prepared IndyCars, a shock dyno, all the crew member uniforms and other tools.
Team president Tim Cindric estimated a loss between $1 million to $3 million.
After Cindric got the call about the fire, the team started to "dig pretty deep in a big hurry" on Wednesday morning. The team put cars, parts and pieces into another truck, and six hours later, it was beginning the long drive from the team's shop in Mooresville, N.C. to Sonoma, Calif.
Luckily, the team had two IndyCars already at Infineon Raceway that were used in an open test session at the track the week after the Kentucky IRL race.
With the win Castroneves found a silver lining in the incident.
"Hopefully, this fire turned our luck around," said Castroneves. "It's like the flood in Reading, Pennsylvania and we were able to come back and win at Kansas in the next race (in 2006). We seem to overcome in those circumstances."
With the victory, Castroneves was able to trim a 78-point deficit to points leader Scott Dixon down to 43 points, but with two races remaining, the team owner is pragmatic enough to realize it will take an unexpected collapse from Dixon for Castroneves to win the title.
"I think Dixon will be very tough to beat unless he has a DNF," Penske said. "He is a hell of a driver and you will see him use his head the last two races. For us, it was go for it and that's what we did."
IndyCar engines are expected to change its tune beginning in 2011.
Instead of the very loud, near ear-splitting pitch of today's normally-aspirated engines, IndyCar Series officials have confirmed a move back to the softer hum of a turbocharged engine and will discuss that concept at the next Engine Manufacturers Round Table is held in Indianapolis on September 16.
IndyCar Series officials are hopeful that three or four engine manufacturers will agree to become part of the series. Currently, Honda Performance Development is the only engine supplier in the IndyCar Series.
"My understanding is we are going to talk about what the spec might be, turbo being part of that discussion," said Erik Berkman, the president of Honda Performance Development. "The numbers of cylinders and displacements, how to control outputs, whether that be air restrictors or pop-off valves, all of those will be up for discussion at the next Engine Manufacturers Round Table meeting."
The key issue that will be discussed and needs to be resolved is whether to use a four-cylinder engine or a six-cylinder for the new engine architecture that will be used in '11. That is a milestone year for IndyCar racing because it will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500.
IndyCar officials want to increase the horsepower of the new engine formula to around 750 horsepower, up from the current 600 hp. Part of that is to give the cars more speed, acceleration and torque on the road and street courses.
In the old days of IndyCar racing, engines produced 1,000 horsepower and some of the sport's legendary drivers, such as four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears, would like to see a return to that figure to put driver skill back into the equation.
"We have enough horsepower now in the ovals, and if we are going to take downforce away, we might see more crashes," Berkman said. "On the other hand, if we do it in a more reasonable way and don't make a radical change, bringing the driver back into the equation is the right way to do it. On the road courses, we can do more horsepower than we have now.
"In our production car lineup, we are limited up to the six-cylinder engine and more heavily weighted to four-cylinders. That's in the production world, but in racing I think the fans would view going from eight cylinders to six more favorably than going from eight to four."
IndyCar Series team officials have great interest in the results that come from the next Engine Roundtable because it will chart the future direction of the sport.
Mike Hull, the managing director of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing believes bringing in more engine manufacturers is "paramount to success in the series" because it will draw a larger constituency, create a bigger fan base and increase the branding of the series moving forward.
So, once again, IndyCar racing has come full circle. When the series began competition in 1996, it used year-old turbocharged engines that had been purchased from CART teams as the IRL worked toward the implementation of a normally-aspirated formula as the "engine of the future." But 12 years later, the turbocharger is back in vogue in an attempt to bring in more engine manufacturers to help the series grow.
The switch back to turbos is not a revolution, but an evolution and at this stage of the IndyCar Series it will prove to be the right decision financially but may take away some of the close competition on the track that made it a sport worth watching.
"Ya'll need to do your homework." -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. when asked by a reporter his thoughts on Joe Gibbs Racing's "squeaky clean image" being tarnished by the recent Nationwide Series scandal. Earnhardt quickly reminded them that Tony Stewart's Cup car was confiscated at Texas Motor Speedway once.
"I like my spotter; he is a good guy, but man that's ridiculous. We took a bunch of cars out for no reason. I was just running along, heard clear, clear, clear and went up and there was someone still there. We just took out a bunch of cars for no reason and ourselves. I am pretty upset about it. There were a lot of people that got involved in that which shouldn't have been involved at all because it shouldn't have happened." -- Casey Mears, who blamed his spotter for telling him he was clear when he wasn't in Saturday night's NASCAR race at Bristol. The mistake triggered a seven-car crash that brought out the red flag to clean up the wreckage.
It's rare when a trip to Detroit is more appealing than a trip to Southern California, but then again, Fontana, Calif. is certainly no trip to the beach. The Inland Empire community this time of year is as hot as a blast furnace and that was never more evident than last year's NASCAR race when temperatures soared past 110 degrees.
So instead, it's off to Belle Isle for the next to last IndyCar Series race of the season. Unless Scott Dixon has a total collapse and Helio Castroneves wins for the second week in a row, Dixon could wrap up his second series championship in Sunday's race.