Nobody wants to be the bad guy

BY Darrell Waltrip • April 5, 2011

What an incredible race we had Sunday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway.

That kind of racing gets me fired up. Those boys were like a bunch of bulls in a china shop. They were bouncing off each other, or doing some bump-and-runs. Basically it was no-harm, no-foul throughout the race. It was good hard-nosed racing like I grew up doing.

It’s exciting and fun to watch great short-track racing like that.

I have to admit that the wreck with Martin Truex Jr. and Kasey Kahne was frightening. You don’t ever like to see that.

Thankfully, both guys were OK. It’s a real testament to how well, across the board, the safety improvements we have in our sport have worked.

The race was great and we had another exciting finish, but what was really interesting to me was what happened after the race.

It started with winner Kevin Harvick’s comments about how he guessed he was the bad guy for passing Dale Earnhardt Jr. and keeping him from winning the race.

Then we interview Dale Jr. and he says he didn’t want to be the bad guy, so he goes and talks to Kyle Busch to make sure they didn’t have a problem with each other.

Then you have Kyle Busch, who is working on changing his image and has no desire to be the bad guy.

So nobody wanted to be the bad guy Sunday.

What’s funny about that is that of the three guys – Kevin, Dale Jr. and Kyle -- two of them, Kevin and Kyle, have a history of being the bad guy. Kevin loves stirring the pot and being an instigator. Then you have Kyle, who has been dubbed NASCAR’s bad boy for the past couple years, but he doesn’t want to be the bad guy, either.

I can’t blame either of those guys for not wanting that label. I’ve been there and done that. It’s funny at the time, but it gets old quick because it’s not fun. It wears on you and takes away from your talent or what you might have accomplished.

Trust me, you do get tired of being the bad guy.

Seeing Dale Jr. talk to Kyle was pretty darn neat in my book. He and Kyle had some contact. Kyle had been pushed around a little bit Sunday, so I was fully expecting, knowing his history, that he would retaliate. Kyle didn’t, though, and I am glad to see it.

The thing about Sunday that I admired the most about Dale Jr. was he had the opportunity to win, but didn’t wreck Kevin Harvick to do it. I admire him for how he handled those last few laps. Just put yourself in his position. He hadn’t won in more than two years and he was one good bump from taking it all away from Kevin.

Everyone knows Dale Jr. is our sport's most popular driver. The pressure on him is immense. Everyone pulls for him. Did you see the entire Martinsville crowd rise to its feet Sunday when he took the lead? The fans cheers were louder than the engines.

See the thing is, Dale Jr. doesn’t want to win that way. Since Sunday I’ve had so many people ask me, “Do you know what his Dad would have done?” Well of course I do, I raced with him for 20-plus years. He would have knocked Kevin out of the way and gone on to win.

That’s not Dale Jr. He’s not his Dad. Sure he has to live in that shadow, but he doesn’t have to live out that shadow. That’s what I admired about Junior on Sunday. He could have easily gone into the corner and taken Harvick out, but he didn’t.

Dale Jr. doesn’t want to win a race only because he ran over somebody or punted them out of the way. He’s not that kind of guy. Dale Jr. is a gentleman, and he knows dumping Kevin wouldn’t have been the gentleman’s way of winning a race.

I am no different than the fan in the stand. I am passionate about watching great racing. That’s how I am. That’s how I see the races and how I call the races on FOX. I am a fan of all these guys. Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Dale Jr., Kevin, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and on and on – I am a fan of any guy who goes out there and races his guts out plus puts on a great show.

What I saw Sunday from Dale Jr. made me proud of him. He could have easily wiped out Kevin Harvick and won that race. Most people, not counting Harvick fans, would have probably been OK with it.

I respect Dale Jr. for not racing that way. What he did was the right way to race and I appreciate him for it.

What a difference a year makes, and I keep reminding Dale Jr. of that. Last year he simply wasn’t competitive. It’s not going to change overnight as if by magic. You have to be competitive and he is doing that. He’s getting top 10s. Then he needs to get top fives and before you know it, you’ll see that No. 88 in Victory Lane.

He and his new crew chief Steve Letarte are working great together. They are building the foundation the right way, one piece at a time. Those two have great chemistry. This weekend we are at Texas Motor Speedway, where Dale Jr. got his first Nationwide and first Cup win, so expectations are high.

Then naturally we have Talladega coming up in two weeks, which is probably Junior’s favorite track of them all. We’ve seen the fall of Junior Nation these past couple years, but this year and maybe as soon as these next two races it wouldn’t surprise me to see the return of Dale Jr. and Junior Nation to the top of the heap.

It’s a good thing for Dale, his team and his legion of fans, but it’s also a very good thing for NASCAR.

Oh by the way

Another good thing for the sport this year has been our Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne. It’s well-documented how his win electrified the fans and our sport. I know the young man has struggled but he just needs more experience at these tracks.

The thing that is impressive to me about Trevor is he knows he has a lot to learn and he is not too proud to ask for help. I watch him at the track. I watch him talk to the veterans like Jimmie Johnson or Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon and others. He wants to learn, and he asks a lot of questions.

Trevor has to be excited about the next two races. We are going to Texas, where he made his NASCAR Sprint Cup debut last year. He ran great there last fall and finished 17th.

Then like we mentioned earlier, in two weeks we roll into Talladega. I can only imagine that the Wood Brothers will have a car just as good for that race as they had for Daytona back in February. Watch out, because this kid might just get him another win on a superspeedway. I, for one, would love to see it. I am big fan of his. Trevor is a great kid and has such a bright future in NASCAR.

Oh by the way II

Saturday at Martinsville in the Truck race was another last-lap pass for the win. Across the board in all our series we are having exciting racing. The competition has been phenomenal. I get excited and can’t wait to get to the next track. You just never know how it will all play out until we see that checkered flag. These guys and gals in all three series are putting on one heck of a show and I am fortunate to be up in the television booth being a part of it.

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