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BUMP STOPS: Rivalries, Racing and Radical Tweets

Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Photo: NASCAR

It's Wednesday again. Time to dust off the ol' Mini Stock and dust it off for a test spin around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...

THERE'S BEEN A lot of talk recently about the fact that the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is sorely lacking in the rivalry department.

After last weekend's season-opening Icebreaker 150 at Thompson International Speedway, I'm starting to think that might not be the case. It hasn't heated up to the level of a Ted Christopher vs. Bo Gunning or a Jimmy Blewett vs. The World, but this Ron Silk-Rowan Pennink stuff has the chance to really get entertaining.

In a lot of ways, it already has. Sunday's verbal sparring following Silk's controversial win was simply a nice topper to the whole thing – one of those racing incidents that makes you want to get to the next track for the next race on the schedule as soon as possible.

Silk says that Pennink “drove him into the weeds” on a late-race restart. Pennink says that Silk “spun his tires” on the final restart. Silk says he didn't, adding “that's what I would say, too.” Silk says Pennink “got what he deserved” when NASCAR penalized him for jumping the final restart, Pennink says Silk left him no choice.

On the surface, it's two drivers quibbling over an emotional ending – one that left Pennink without a win and left Silk booed loudly in Victory Lane. But it's not quite that simple.

 

Go back almost a full year to last May, when Silk and Pennink leaned heavily on one another while racing in the back half of the Top-10 at Stafford Motor Speedway. The rivalry started bubbling then, with both drivers critical of one other's efforts in the garage area following the race. It continued to other points during the season. The two genuinely seem not to like one another all that much, and the hard feelings seem to be the one thing that get the otherwise calm and collected Silk a little emotional.

Silk won his first career Tour championship last season, and Pennink was in contention for most of the season before stumbling a bit over the final few events of the year. If there are any factors keeping this from becoming the new, best, most heated rivalry in Modified racing in the northeast, they are in Pennink's house.

It's clear that Silk has elevated over the last couple of years to a driver capable of winning three or four races each season and being in the championship hunt right down to the season finale at Thompson each October. Pennink, now, has to take that next step. If he and his team can similarly evolve the way Silk has – to a championship-caliber team that wins multiple races each season, then this rivalry will take off.

After all, if both the No. 6 and No. 93 teams are battling for race wins and the championship each and every season, they're going to be battling each other.

And when it comes to two drivers that don't seem to like one another all that much and have proven a willingness to mix it up both on and off the track, it could add up to the kind of rivalry the Whelen Modified Tour has lacked in recent seasons.

ONE THING BECAME clear in Brian Hoar's ACT Late Model Tour victory at Lee USA Speedway on Sunday.

This is shaping up to be a much tighter championship battle than we've seen over the last couple of seasons. And there are going to be a number of players in that picture by the time September and October roll around.

Hoar beat Wayne Helliwell, Austin Theriault and Joey Polewarczyk. I'll be shocked if those four aren't the guys settling the championship amongst themselves. But the finishing order also tells us something else.

As hometown drivers have stolen ACT wins from the bigger Tour teams over the last few seasons, and as its detractors have tried leading us to believe that ACT Late Model racing is a virtual crapshoot every weekend, we're learning otherwise. Take last weekend's opener as a prime example.

The cream of the ACT touring crop – Hoar, Helliwell, Theriault and Polewarczyk, all of whom have resumes to back up their championship aspirations – rose to the top on Sunday at Lee. Hoar, who has more wins (34) and championships (8) than any driver in ACT history, used a pit stop to make adjustments with 33 laps remaining that catapulted him to victory. Helliwell, who led laps early in the race, dogged Hoar right to the end – to the point where Hoar said he was positively driving “on defense.” Theriault posted his seventh straight Top-10 finish in ACT competition. Polewarczyk, a winner of some of the most prestigious Late Model events anywhere (New Hampshire Motor Speedway, The Milk Bowl, New Smyrna Speedway), recovered from a penalty in the closing laps to drive all the way back into the Top-5.

If Sunday's NH Governor's Cup 150 didn't prove that this Tour's best can make their own luck week in and week out, I'm not sure anything will.

DID YOU KNOW that before Kix was Kix, the hair-band/power ballad rockers were widely regarded in the early 1908s as the best live cover band in the greater Baltimore area?

No? You didn't?

Me either.

SEEMED THAT ALL of the talk coming out of last Saturday night's Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway was about how tedious an experience it was, particularly on television.

Just two cautions – both of them for debris, at that – left a lot of folks wondering why they had just wasted three and a half hours of a Saturday night that could have been spent on things far more exciting. Candlepin bowling, for instance. Or ballroom dancing class. Or, say, watching your dog sleep on the floor.

So it came as a big surprise when NASCAR Hall of Famer and NASCAR on FOX analyst Darrell Waltrip took to Twitter Sunday morning and proclaimed what a great race he'd just witnessed the night before.

“Last nights race was amazing, 500mi in 3 hrs that fast,” is what Waltrip's Twitter account proclaimed.

Better yet, he followed that Tweet with one equally as puzzling: “One thing to remember about last night, when someone sets a record, something extraordinary happened!”

Certainly, Waltrip has a job at FOX where he is expected to promote NASCAR racing. But as Waltrip becomes more and more of a personality and less and less an actual “analyst” of what is happening in the sport, one has to wonder if his Texas comments point to something more.

Has Waltrip become completely disconnected from NASCAR's fans? Were Sunday's Tweets final proof that it's a disconnect that can never be reconnected?

Sadly, it seems like the answer is yes.

If a race is bad, there's no harm in saying so. Instead of trying to convince me that what I saw was great – because teams “Went through a TOTAL of 822 tires on Saturday night!” or because Dale Jr. “went 202 mph at the end of the fronstretch on Lap 76!” or because “Danica showed us how to crash safely!” – tell me why we saw the kind of race we did. There's no harm in the truth.

When I turned on NESN Wednesday morning, a station partially owned by the Boston Red Sox, nobody was telling me that the Sox' 18-3 loss to Texas was “interesting” because minor league call-up Jason Repko perfectly played a routine fly ball for an out in center field in the Top of the 4th inning. In fact, the Red Sox own website referred to the game as a “shellacking.”

Waltrip should learn a lesson there.

TURNS OUT NASCAR'S reporting of Ryan Preece turning in a new NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour track record in qualifying at Thompson International Speedway on Saturday afternoon was inaccurate.

A misprint in the pre-race notes supplied in the press box at Thompson had listed Bobby Santos III's track record time – set in the 2011 Icebreaker – incorrectly. The track record at Thompson stands as Santos' time of 18.237 seconds (123.376 mph). Preece's time was 18.387 seconds (122.369 mph) around the .625-mile oval.

YOU'VE BEEN A great audience. Try the 32-ounce prime rib special, and don't forget to tip your waitress. The Marshall Tucker Band is here, so stick around.

– TB