Rac­ing needs all per­son­al­i­ties, both po­lite and rude

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY JENNA FRYER

CHAR­LOTTE, N.C. | Kyle Lar­son lost a race he prob­a­bly should have won be­cause of a late cau­tion.

Lar­son didn’t pout Sun­day about the out­come at Dover In­ter­na­tional Speed­way. He had a win in sight, a cau­tion bunched the field and Jim­mie John­son beat Lar­son on the restart.

As dis­ap­point­ing as it was to Lar­son, he was pro­fes­sional in de­feat.

“Jim­mie is the best of our time, prob­a­bly the best of all time,” Lar­son said. “He just has ob­vi­ously a lot more ex­pe­ri­ence than I do out on the front row late in races, and ex­e­cuted a lot bet­ter than I did. I’ve got to get bet­ter at that and maybe get some more wins.”

For those keep­ing score at home, John­son won at Dover for the 11th time and his 86th ca­reer vic­tory tied him with Hall of Famer Cale Yar­bor­ough on NASCAR’s all-time win list. Lar­son is in the midst of a break­out sea­son, but has just two Cup ca­reer wins.

The en­tire post-race scene was a stark con­trast to just one week ago, when a cranky Kyle Busch faced de­feat at Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way. He thought he had the Coca-Cola 600 won, only to learn Austin Dil­lon had stretched his fuel mileage to the vic­tory. It was Dil­lon’s first ca­reer Cup vic­tory, and de­nied Busch his first vic­tory in a Cup car in a points race at Char­lotte. He’d won a week ear­lier in the $1 mil­lion All-Star race for his first Cup win at Char­lotte in a race that doesn’t al­low him to check Char­lotte off his Cup re­sume.

So as Busch met his re­quired pos­trace me­dia obli­ga­tion, the ex­change went like this:

Ques­tion: “Were you sur­prised that Austin could stretch it on fuel? What does it mean for Austin to get his first win?”

Busch: “I’m not sur­prised about any­thing. Con­grat­u­la­tions.”

Mod­er­a­tor: “Kyle, thanks for your time.”

Busch dropped the mi­cro­phone and walked out of the room.

Fans blasted him for be­hind boor­ish. Dale Earn­hardt Jr. pub­licly en­cour­aged Busch to never change. Brad Ke­selowski, who does not get along with Busch, waxed po­etic about sports­man­ship and class. The en­tire thing is overblown. Busch was not un­pro­fes­sional dur­ing his visit to the me­dia cen­ter. He sim­ply lacked gra­cious­ness in de­feat. He was asked a ques­tion, he an­swered it curtly and summed up his frus­tra­tion over a win­less sea­son with Joe Gibbs Rac­ing and an in­abil­ity to knock Char­lotte off his wish list. No one asked Busch a sin­gle fol­low-up ques­tion, ei­ther; he was ex­cused after his mic drop be­cause no one dared poke the bear.

There were many times in Tony Stewart’s ca­reer where he was an­grily took things out on re­porters or even fans. “Smoke’s in a bad mood,” the think­ing went, and ev­ery­one turned a blind eye.

Why the dif­fer­ence in re­ac­tion be­tween Stewart and Busch? Prob­a­bly be­cause Stewart has a charm­ing side that he uses to dis­arm his crit­ics. He would even­tu­ally come around (some­times it took a while) and have an en­tire room laugh­ing at his wicked hu­mor and self­dep­re­cat­ing wit.

Busch is not Stewart. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad per­son.

It takes all kinds to make NASCAR go around. Sports, at its heart, is en­ter­tain­ment. John­son wasn’t pop­u­lar dur­ing his record run of ti­tles be­cause fans found him too bor­ing. Busch and, to a larger de­gree, his brother, Kurt, are of­ten crit­i­cized be­cause they are far more like Gregg Popovich than, say, Steve Kerr.

Look, Kevin Har­vick has never taken los­ing well. Chase El­liott, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney and many of the new­com­ers have shown signs of prick­li­ness fol­low­ing de­feat. Lar­son, John­son, Ke­selowski are part of a group that can still be can­did and po­lite even when dis­ap­pointed.

After a crush of me­dia fol­lowed Fer­nando Alonso’s ev­ery move around the In­di­anapo­lis 500 for nearly a month, and he’d done count­less pro­mo­tional obli­ga­tions with a smile, his en­gine failed with 20 laps re­main­ing in the big­gest race in the world. The two-time For­mula One cham­pion fin­ished 24th.

Rather than whine about it, Alonso made his way through a crazed fan zone, went up­stairs to the me­dia cen­ter and an­swered ev­ery sin­gle ques­tion posed.

When he was done, he thanked the me­dia for his two week shadow, then toasted the as­sem­bled crowd with a car­ton of milk.

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