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Kyle Busch may be more mature, but he still pouts and sulks way too much -- he needs a championship-caliber persona

Kyle Busch still acts too childish when things don't go his way (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)



   By Mike Mulhern

   Kyle Busch may be the best driver in NASCAR today, but he's got a ways to go in maturing.
   When things go okay for him, he's okay.
   But when things go bad, as they did in Saturday night's Southern 500, he sulks and pouts and vanishes into the night.
   Not championship cool, to say the least.
   Maybe Joe Gibbs, who owns this part of the franchise, should have a word with Busch.
   Yes, finishing 34th is disappointing, particularly after rocking to his third win of the season just a week earlier at Richmond…particularly after winning this same race one year ago.
   However pouting isn't championship graceful, and someone – maybe crew chief Steve Addington, maybe Gibbs, maybe general manager Jimmy Makar, maybe NASCAR president Mike Helton – should tell Busch just that.
   The scene: Busch was running top-10, on a lightning-fast track (too fast, some would say, for its size), on a rough-and-tumble night where most drivers looked like rookies.
   Then, on lap 281 of the 367-lapper Busch slid into the fourth turn wall, just after a restart, banged up his right-front fender, and three laps later the tire blew.
   Crash – "We killed the right side, and it pretty much ended our night," Busch said.
   Of course in Busch's defense he had a rough Friday night too at Darlington Raceway – dominating Friday's Nationwide race until cutting a tire while leading with only four laps to go.
    And, again in Busch's defense, the speeds at Darlington since last year's repave are simply too darned fast. Greg Biffle said that last year, after winning the pole at record speed; and then this year teammate Matt Kenseth broke that record with an even faster qualifying lap.

That ain't the way to have fun. David Ragan (6) had a rough night, and so did Juan Pablo Montoya (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Drivers simply couldn't handle their cars at these speeds on such a tight track.

   In fact, here's a modest proposal to consider: that NASCAR should cut speeds across the board at all its big tracks by 15 mph to 20 mph, to make for better racing.
   The last lap at Talladega drivers were turning the fastest laps of the day, over 203 mph. Too fast.
   At Charlotte next week drivers will be hitting well over 200 mph too, on a 1-1/2-mile track. Too fast.
   And here at Darlington Matt Kenseth set a track record in qualifying at nearly 180 mph, easily topping 190 mph at the end of the backstretch (the old frontstretch)…..this on a track originally designed for cars racing at 80 mph. Too fast.
   Good idea, or bad idea?
   Certainly slower speeds would make it easier on Goodyear.
   But how to do it, and how to do it inexpensively? Smaller cubic inches would seem logical; however Cup teams pointed to Friday's Nationwide race, and other Nationwide races, as not very compelling action, even though the Nationwide cars have less horsepower.
   Fiddling with NASCAR's established rear-end gear limit rules might work, might not. Engine builders say their drivers are already hitting rev-limiter chip limits at Talladega, and crew chiefs fret that the gear rule has actually made engines less responsive: "Our engines are already 'gear-bound,'" crew chief Greg Zipadelli says, when asked if Talladega speeds could be lowered by adjusting the gearing.

When you're spinning on the straight, you know it's a bad night....and yes it was for Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Another suggestion for NASCAR, to make it easier on Goodyear and its right-side tires: NASCAR should allow teams to lower their frame rails, to lower the center of gravity.
   Another suggestion: take that silly – and dangerous – front 'splitter' off these cars. Drivers were deliberately cutting each others tires with that razer-sharp splitter at Richmond. So put some 'real' bumpers back on these cars, raise the front bumper, to allow teams to let the chassis 'travel' more in the corners….and ban those expensive, exotic 'bump-stops.' (A heavy steel cross-member under the nose of the car could protect the engine from traveling too far.)
    It would seem that some of NASCAR's car-of-tomorrow chassis designs desperately need major revision.

Too many drivers at Darlington drove like werewolves under the full moon. But Joey Logano (whose crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, here watches Saturday's action) was one of the coolest under pressure (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

Nevertheless several drivers were quite impressive during Saturday night's 4-1/2-hour race: winner Mark Martin of course; runnerup Jimmie Johnson, who rallied well after wiping his primary car Friday; rookie Joey Logano, who had a simply stunning night and could well have won; and teammates Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman, who have been just amazing this spring, running for their own brand new team.
    "That's the best I've run in the Southern 500 so I'm ecstatic," Stewart said.
   "I wish we could have gotten the track position, but I'm real proud of our guys. We're doing things right."
    Newman, despite a stomach virus, not good in the debilitating heat, led early and ran strong all night. "My stomach was messed up all day, and by lap 150 I was having cold chills," Newman said.
   Newman finished fourth, right behind Stewart, and jut ahead of Jeff Gordon, who was one of several drivers clearly feeling the effects of the heat and length of the race and the intense tension of the high-speed action.
    So it seems only a matter of time before Stewart and Newman both get tour wins for Stewart's new team. "We are knocking on the door, and we're going to get there," Newman said. "I think we went 140 laps on our left-side tires at the end of the race. If you'd put us out front, we might have been able to win the race."
   It was surprising that track position was more important than fresh tires at this 1.366-mile oval, which has had a reputation as a tire-eating track over the years. The new asphalt, however, doesn't seem to wear tires badly at all. And it was curious to study the various tire stop strategies crew chiefs chose.
   Gordon and Stewart opted to stop for new tires late in the race, while Martin and Johnson didn't. And even with new rubber Gordon and Stewart couldn't gain ground on the two.
   Gordon: "This is not 'old Darlington.' This is the new Darlington, with the new surface and new tire.
   "Goodyear needs to soften this tire up a little bit. It's a little too hard.
     "It's just a one-groove race track…but it's challenging in so many ways.
    "And when you have a one-groove race track like that, you know pit strategy is going to be key."
   One of the night's surprises was Martin Truex Jr. (whose 2010 status is up for debate). Truex ran strong enough to win, and he pulled off a sixth.
   "Man, we finally got a finish we deserved," Truex said. "We have really hit on something, starting with Phoenix (three weeks ago). We were really good at Talladega and got caught up in a wreck. We were running top-five at Richmond most of the race and got caught up in a wreck.
     "We really just needed to continue running well -- and have a little more luck. We found that.
    "We had a great car all night; it just wasn't the best in traffic, but when we got out front, we had a rocket ship."

Greg Biffle (16) had the best car at Darlington, according to Jeff Gordon. But the speeds and the hard tires and the narrow track just made for a nightmare of a night in the Southern 500 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


A flush airdam like the "old"

A flush airdam like the "old" cars had will go a long way to helping get the COT to actually handle better. It can go with the other chassis changes noted in the piece.

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