CONCORD, N.C. -- Sports are driven by athletic competition, not the guys who sign the checks.
Every once in awhile, though, there's that rare moment in sports where the guys upstairs deserve to be
Which car owner ended the day on top? We'll start with that in the 5 Things We Learned From The Coca-Cola 600:
A history teacher could have written a syllabus based on the 10 hours of racing Sunday alone. After winning open-wheel's biggest event, Ganassi became the first owner to take home Daytona 500 and Indy 500 trophies in the same year. On the IndyCar side, driver
That denied Penske a track-record 16th 500 victory. But six hours later, his NASCAR ace
"Roger is an amazing individual," said Busch, whose car owner watched the finish on TV. "To beat Ganassi, that's what it's all about -- having that fresh rivalry."
But it's a battle that comes with respect built in. Ganassi went out of his way to congratulate "good buddy" Penske after Charlotte's checkered flag, and good friends Busch and McMurray went out of their way to compliment each other. The friendly battle even had McMurray joking on the radio to let the No. 2 team know he'd be coming by and passing them on the racetrack shortly.
"Two weeks back at Darlington, I followed McMurray around all day, and I know that I was hungry for a Big Mac," Busch said. "He was driving a McDonald's car then. But I know he's going to stop by this week and have a Miller Lite with us. That's how it's like with us off the track."
Looking at the day as a whole, while Ganassi gains the prestigious trophy, it's Penske who comes out on top. Not only does he throw the Charlotte monkey off his back, but Busch has clearly re-emerged as a top challenger to the
"There's not one week that we don't improve something on our cars when we show up," Busch said, showing confidence while looking towards the future. So on a day where both men combined to lead 451 of 600 laps, the advantage goes to an owner in Penske seeking a new historic achievement: his first Cup title.
Johnson was perhaps the most surprising of all. The man most successful at Charlotte was snakebit by its tricky Turn 4 on Lap 168, getting too aggressive after losing the lead and struggling to maintain inside the top 5.
"All of a sudden, I just got wicked, wicked loose a couple of times. Just dirty air," he told crew chief
But he wasn't the only one who pushed it over the edge.
Ironically, Martin himself played the slow and steady wins the race game to perfection. Outside the top 10 the first three hours, he worked his way to fourth by the checkered, showing how to drive within your means and then use strategy to pull out a solid finish over those final 100 miles.
Kyle Busch's night should have ended like those other superstars, an innocent victim of a pit road collision with
Two years ago, that would have left him dead in the water, but tonight's roulette wheel happened to land on "new Kyle." Patiently working with crew chief
"These are the nights that championships are made of," he told me. "I'm not dissatisfied at all we didn't win tonight's race. We got it back going at the end where we could finish well."
Busch even played it cool after the veteran Burton confronted him post-race. Angry over contact that cut his left-rear tire on the final restart, one of NASCAR's classy veterans called Busch classless, along with a whole slew of other words we can't print.
"He's real aggressive. That's cool," Burton said. "But when he starts affecting me with his aggressiveness, I just will not put up with it. I've been around here long enough. I just will not tolerate it."
For his part, Busch could have gone after him in the press ala teammate Denny Hamlin. But this time, he made it clear he's not out for blood with one of racing's most respected drivers.
"He was just real mad at me," he claimed. "I would be more than happy to sit with Jeff Burton, talk with him about it, and for him to point out a replay to me."
Was that Kyle Busch pointing to conflict resolution? He may earn himself a Sprint Cup title yet, as long as "old Kyle" stays trapped in the closet for good.
Say that tongue-twister three times fast. But on a night in which no Fords finished higher than eighth, leading just nine laps, there was no shortage of quotes from the Blue Oval crowd letting loose about their lack of speed.
"We don't have anything that can run with these guys," said
"We were terrible," added 14th-place
And then there was
Unfortunately, an A for effort doesn't get you anywhere close to Victory Lane. And with five of the 10 Chase races on intermediate tracks, it's clear the Ford package must be light-years better if its drivers are expected to contend for the title.
Michael Waltrip Racing's veteran leader,