Column: NASCAR gave us what we wanted at Chicagoland

By Jeremiah Davis

JOLIET, Ill. – The finish of Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway can be summed up succinctly and accurately by race-winner Kyle Busch.

“If you don’t like that kind of racing, don’t even watch,” Busch told NBCSports on the front stretch.

The last few years, racing fans have wished for what we all saw at the end of a brutally hot 400 miles on an aging, worn racing surface. We all want racers to drive and behave like racers. We want it to come down to the end, to watch these brave drivers throw sense and caution out the window to earn a victory. Invariably, especially at mile-and-a-half racetracks, the results don’t live up. The nature of the beast says someone is going to win by a wide margin.

Instead, we got Kyle Larson running the tippy-top line, bouncing once off the wall after running down Busch from 3.5 seconds back. We got lapped car drama impeding Busch, allowing Larson to overcome his mistake. We got an almost-slide-job, resulting in contact and a lead change. We got repayment in the form of Larson’s back bumper serving as Busch’s brakes. We got Larson dead sideways in a Sprint-Car-like drift from the center of Turns 3 & 4 to the exit, unable to completely save it.

We got a bow and mock tears wiped away.

We got what we’ve asked for.

“When I was going down the backstretch, I was like, ‘Hell, no, you’re not taking this one away right now.’  This was kind of where I was at,” Busch said. “I was just going to do anything that it took for us to be able to get back to the start/finish line first.

“With the move that we made, I felt, was it an aggressive move?  Absolutely.  Was Larson’s an aggressive move?  Could he have gotten off the throttle sooner and not hit me into the wall off of two?  Absolutely.  It goes both ways sometimes.  Obviously it’s going to be good for the storylines and good for the replays of exciting finishes here at Chicago.  I’m glad we were on the front end of it, I guess.”

Busch’s reaction to the boos on the front stretch – wiping away the tears and blowing a kiss – are part of a role he’s accepted as the villain of NASCAR, the black hat few can beat but most everyone fears. That role can only belong to a true racer, whether fans can accept that or not.

That’s the other thing we got on Sunday: we got two honest-to-God racers behaving like honest-to-God racers. Larson went to Victory Lane after the race – and after giving Busch a thumbs up on track – to discuss what happened. As Busch told it to media in his post-race press conference:

“He just said ‑ I actually said first, ‘I thought you were going to slide me.’ I was all ready for that,” Busch said. “He was like, ‘No, I didn’t have enough room. By the time you got back to my outside, I had no other choice, stall you out, I hit you.’ ‘You knew it was fair game after that?’ ‘Yeah, I knew.’ That’s how it went down. ‘All right, as long as we’re good, you understood that was how it was going to be.’ He was like, ‘No, it’s totally on me for initiating it, for starting it.’  It was all good.

“I do appreciate him coming over and saying something about it and being receptive to what all went down.”

Yes, racing can be done cleanly. There was no *need* for Larson to make contact with Busch, as Busch explained. But no one wrecked the other. They leaned on each other. They used the means in front of them to try to win a race.

That final lap was as entertaining a lap as we’ve seen from a NASCAR race, and for sure the best single lap since Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose went wild at Watkins Glen in 2012.

Larson didn’t do the wry, “I didn’t mean to hit him,” thing. Neither were angry or annoyed at the other.  It was fair game for both of them, and when you can look each other in the eye after, shake hands and laugh about it, why should anyone question what happened? Larson owned it, and it made what happened on track even more memorable.

“When I ran in there and figured I wasn’t going to have enough momentum to clear him and get going, I kind of made the plan to try and squeeze into him, to bog him down.  It worked,” Larson said. “I hit him first, so…  I roughed him up, he roughed me up.  That’s racing.

“Like I said, he roughed me up, then I roughed him up.  I can’t be mad at him.”

It’s hard not to let a race like Sunday’s fire a person up, especially since NASCAR has been a letdown at several points in the last few years. The dominance this season of Busch, Kevin Harvick – who had his own wide-open move to win Stage 2 – and Martin Truex Jr. lends itself to some snoozers.

That leads me to believe wholeheartedly that if the other Kyle had won Sunday, the grandstands in Joliet would’ve erupted with a much different sound. It’s bunk. That finish deserves all the praise available, because it’s exactly what we wanted and exactly what racing is supposed to be about.

It might not be Petty-Pearson in 1976 or One Hot Night at Charlotte in 1992, but if it isn’t, it was damn close.

For once, let’s stop and appreciate that.

“It was a good day, a great finish, an exciting one for that, especially at a mile‑and‑a‑half,” Busch said. “People don’t necessarily see those very much anymore.  Man, you just got to be pumped for that.  It’s cool.”

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