Mark Bechtel wrote a book published in 2011 titled “He Crashed Me So I Crashed Him Back.”
It’s a terrific book, one that I read with fascination. Its plot centered on the 1979 NASCAR season, which if you remember started with a crash and fistfight in the Daytona 500 and continued with much more contact and rivalry as the year went on. It was a season that featured thrills from the larger than life personalities often mentioned when reminiscing about the “good old days” of this sport.
Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson rewrote the book Sunday afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway, and it was equally as terrific.
Part one goes like this: After a long day of having his Joe Gibbs Racing team work on his car, Busch finds himself in the lead as the laps wind down. Behind him a new character enters the fray — Larson makes a hard charge inside the final 15 laps. Suddenly the two are within arm’s reach of each other and navigating traffic.
The action picks up in Turn 1 on the final lap with Larson diving low and sliding all the way up into Busch’s left rear, knocking Busch into the wall. At the climax we see the two racing down the backstretch with Larson taking the lead into Turn 3. But Busch wanted to write the last chapter and he did — by sending Larson spinning, himself bouncing off the wall before grabbing the checkered flag for the fifth time this season.
The CliffsNotes version would say fenders were bent, paint traded, the lead swapped back and forth.
For an epilogue there was no whining or fighting about being raced too hard or hit unnecessarily. Both drivers expressed how it had been a fun sequence of frantic action, a “fair game” scenario after the first contact had been made. Larson even threw a thumbs-up out of his car window to Busch on the cool down lap.
“I hit him first,” said Larson. “I roughed him up, he roughed me up. That’s racing.”
NASCAR is a contact sport, and all its great highlights feature drivers bumping, nudging or flat-out wrecking each other. Earnhardt, Pearson, Waltrip, Wallace and Allison were no choir boys as all famously earned their share of battle scars throughout their careers.
Busch and Larson not only gave us a finish worthy of being listed among the best we’ve seen but they weren’t afraid to make the same kind of contact like those who came before them. As determined as they are talented, it would have been disappointing had Busch and Larson not gone at it. Although, normally it happens at Bristol Motor Speedway like a few months ago when Busch put the bumper to Larson for the win, not at a mile-and-a-half.
I cannot stress or write enough on this platform that this is what NASCAR needs more of. Not only because it makes for fantastic racing and storylines while bringing the sport back to its roots, but in an era of pushing the importance of winning and playoff points we should want to see a driver throwing caution to the wind with a last-grasp effort for a victory. Followed by another driver bearing down on the steering wheel even harder after something he wants has been taken away.
Larson did the former in Turn 1, Busch the latter in Turn 3.
Austin Cindric certainly had the ‘win at all costs’ mindset last September in the Camping World Truck Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Although his run-in with Kaz Grala was not as celebrated or exciting since Cindric left nothing to chance with his move to make the playoffs. Cindric admitted he did what he had to do to make the playoffs against a driver who already had a victory.
In that case, this writer found it fine that Cindric pulled the move he did with the attitude he had. I was also fine with Grala feeling he was dumped. Sometimes in big-time auto racing, one driver gives no damns while there are hurt feelings on the other end.
With Busch and Larson though, these two were smiling afterward, and that added to the excitement because both understood what goes around comes around. And they were able to take care of it within the same race; both got their shots in. Neither went into the final lap with intentions of flat-out wrecking the other. (Hey, that’s fine too sometimes. Rivalries never hurt anybody).
For a detailed read on what Busch and Larson said about the last lap, you can go here. But spoiler alert, neither complained about it, and we shouldn’t either.
Some races are going to be snoozers throughout the field. Others are going to see a driver at the front of the field spank the competition.
Then there are going to be those like Chicagoland where they wrecked once, they wrecked twice, and it was fantastic.