For years NASCAR has experienced an uneventful silly season. For those new fans that have no clue what I’m talking about – in a nutshell, it was a time during the season when drivers lost their seats and moved to other teams. Rumors floated and speculation ran rampant. Now, with a controlled media and a higher level of job security for big named drivers, the silly season of old is long gone. But with the news about Dale Earnhardt Jr., retiring, Matt Kenseth being replaced by a younger driver and now the rumors of Kurt Busch being kicked out of Stewart-Haas Racing, we find ourselves in a somewhat entertaining 2017 silly season.
A few weeks ago, while reading through the massive amount of Twitter chatter about Joe Gibbs Racing dumping Matt Kenseth (a former series champion) for a much younger driver, one particular tweet caught my attention. Johnny “Joey” Jones (@Johnny_Joey) had something to say about the subject. Wait…I’m sure some of you are asking who is Johnny “Joey” Jones? Staff Sergeant (Ret) Johnny “Joey” Jones is an American hero and someone I admire and follow on a regular basis. He is one of our national treasures wounded in combat. Today, you will find him working to better the lives of military families and is a military analyst for Fox News. He has credibility…he follows NASCAR and knows many of the drivers.
His tweet was straightforward and to the point. It said, “Damn, @JoeGibbsRacing is ruthless…stole Carl couldn’t keep him in the sport, stole Matt kicking him aside…but Kyle can do whateves.” When I first read it, I laughed. Then it got me thinking and I parked it in the back of my mind.
Strangely, I began to hear more people question the motives of Joe Gibbs Racing – not only for the Matt Kenseth situation, but the Carl Edwards retirement too. And as usual, I’m hearing this discussion from the folks not financially tied to the sport – you know, from those outside of Daytona Beach, Charlotte or within walking distance of a NASCAR mega-track (Yes NASCAR insiders, we the people of old-school NASCAR still talk about the hot topics of the day).
Then Indianapolis happened. What happened? Denny Hamlin made an outrageous comment during the Brickyard 400 as he was racing against Roush Fenway Racing’s (RFR) Trevor Bayne. Hamlin said to his team over the radio, “I’ll be so glad when that company is out of money.” My mind immediately went back to Johnny “Joey” Jones’ Twitter comment – one word he used in particular, “ruthless.”
Hamlin later took to Twitter and apologized for the comment saying in a post, “Apologize. Said mean things. I wasn’t talking about RFR btw. I just looked at my surroundings and knew it was about to get bad. I was right.”
Did Hamlin apologize or brag that he was right? Nonetheless, it was a horrible comment and even if he wasn’t talking about RFR, it goes beyond competition – it was wishing bad things to happen to people. And Denny Hamlin represents Joe Gibbs Racing – a company that can suspend their own employees for standing up for their driver, but allow a driver to wish harm on a competing organization.
If you have followed NASCAR over the years, especially since Toyota joined the NASCAR Cup Series in 2007, you know Jack Roush (owner of Roush Fenway Racing) has been and continues to be no fan of Toyota. It’s fully documented and his quotes on the subject are plentiful and entertaining.
He once said he planned to “hand Toyota their heads.”
That he was “going to war” with Toyota.
Mr. Roush told the media, “They [Toyota] will try to outspend everyone and place the rest of us in a catch-up scenario,” and, “They will upset the established equilibrium.”
One of Roush’s partners at Ford called Toyota a “predator” and as I read in one column, Roush even calls Toyota the “dark side.”
Now, I’m not looking to start a conspiracy. I am only asking questions. Is there a true war between JGR/Toyota and Jack Roush? Does Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota hate Jack Roush so much (due to Roush’s past comments) that they would work to destroy his organization? Is JGR by association with Toyota really a “predator” and did they steal Roush’s two best drivers, to hurt the Roush organization…only to kick both drivers to the curb later? How well has Roush done without Edwards and Kenseth?
I cannot answer these questions (except for the last one and not so good), but perception is reality and many fans believe JGR does have it in for Roush Fenway Racing. And Hamlin’s comments only fuel the fire.
I’ve been an outspoken critic about how NASCAR has lost one of the most important puzzle pieces from when the sport had skyrocketed off the popularity charts – rivalries. Yes, format changes have hurt the sport. And yes, big money has hurt them too. But not having true rivalries – like when Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett and Darrell Waltrip were racing has hurt the sport. But I never imagined, as I’ve been begging for rivalries to return that behind the scenes, if true, one organization or driver would want another company to lose more than a race on a Sunday afternoon. Wishing for them to lose everything takes rivalry to a whole new level.
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