The July race at Daytona has traditionally been a 4th of July extravaganza, complete with wonderful fireworks as the winner enters Victory Lane. This year, there were fireworks of a different nature starting in turn 4 of the 15th lap.
Denny Hamlin was leading, and team mate, Tony Stewart, ran into the rear of Denny. Both cars wrecked, and caused secondary wrecks involving Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Reed Sorenson. The melee was startling enough, but what happened in the garage later is where the fireworks show really started.
The media was waiting for Tony, and they got exactly what they wanted! Dave Rodman, of NASCAR.com reported Tony's tirade against Denny.
"The No. 11 just stopped for no reason, right in the middle of Turn 4," Stewart said. "I'm sure he was getting tight because for three laps in a row we were catching him through the center and the exit of the corner.While the above statement was hauntingly similar to Tony's comments about David Gilliland at Michigan, Tony decides to add fuel to the fire by stating:
"All of a sudden he just stops on the exit of [Turn] 4 in front of 42 cars and I guess expects all of us to drive around him. I don't know. It's tore up two really good racecars."
Stewart said Hamlin had "tried to crash us on Friday in practice and didn't get it done so he finished it off [Saturday]."
Now, it is eerily similar to what Tony has said about other drivers, including Gilliland.
Rodman even reports:
Stewart's frustration was doubly evident, as, when his crew told him over the radio that Hamlin's No. 11 crew was going to help push Stewart's car toward the garage, he said "don't let them touch this [expletive] thing."Tony takes it a step further when holding court with a camera crew from ESPN's Nascar Now.
We got one team mate here that is a superstar and he wants to be his own one man band and he is about to succeed at it.It is obvious that something is bothering Tony to the point of pain. Is it that he is the only driver in the top ten to not have a win? Is it possible that his team mate, Denny, won before Tony won? Is it possible that Tony has surrounded himself by folks who reinforce his bad behavior and in fact, encourage it? Is it possible that the 'fix' of moving back to Indiana was only a band-aid? It could be any, all or some of that, or none of it.
What we do know is Hamlin took the high road.
"If he wants to blame it on me I'll be the bigger man -- I'll take responsibility for it. He's been around this sport longer than I have and he probably knows more than I do, so I'll just take it for what it's worth."Coach Gibbs tried to defend the actions of his drivers.
"The two guys are very competitive, we're running up front and we've got real good cars and that's something that can happen," Gibbs said after visiting the garage with his son, team president J.D. Gibbs. "That's really what happened -- it's just one of those unfortunate things.However, Rodman writes that Gibbs had not seen the incident, nor had he heard Tony's comments.
"Both guys are going as hard as they can and I think both of these guys are real competitive. I think they're good teammates and I think it's just something that happened [Saturday night]."
As I review much of the reporting about the incident, I am struck that some of the media are not as much on Tony's side as in the past. One wonders if the "Tony is Tony" attitude is wearing thin on the media, much like it is wearing thin on fans.
Some fans still staunchly defend their driver. Many emails remind me that he has a big heart, and gives generously to all around him. I will concede that the Good Tony is indeed good. It is just that the Evil Tony is so rotten.
Frankly, I would love to have one month were his grade-school antics are not the highlight of the news. However, Tony continues to make a target of himself. One wonders how long it will be before Home Depot steps in and sanctions him again.