Who among us wasn’t a bit emotional to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrate in his own way after the final Cup race of his full-time driving career -- by downing a Budweiser with the team on pit road -- and even moreso by the bearhug he shared with his team owner for the past decade and father figure Rick Hendrick, who lost a son in Ricky Hendrick just as Dale Jr. lost his dad at Daytona in 2001. Those of us who follow the sport closely know how tight these bonds are, and it was all on display Sunday.
Though everyone wanted to know Jr.'s thoughts on retirement, he was just happy about Truex (who won two Busch series titles driving for Dale) getting the Cup title.
“We ran into (Martin) Truex on the back straightaway high-fiving him with our race car. I’m proud of him. What a story for Martin. I love it. We retired and Martin wins the championship. That’s storybook. I hope all the fans enjoyed this season. I know it wasn’t everything we wanted on the race track, but we just had fun off of it and I’m going to miss everybody.”
Getting back to the on-track action, emotions were high there too. All four of the champion contenders were in the championship lead at some point during the race -- Keselowski and Harvick led early, before it turned into a battle between the Toyotas of Kyle Busch and MTJ. As the race neared its end, Truex was almost snakebitten by lapped traffic (including Paul Menard), but thankfully none of those cars affected the outcome.
Larson not a spoiler
Even Kyle Larson played nice and appeared to let the two title contenders battle each other and didn’t step into the fight for the lead despite arguably having a car capable of winning (he didn’t admit to this, but it seemed so as a viewer). As a professional racecar driver, that had to be hard for him to do, so I give him a lot of respect for staying out of the fray when he arguably had the right to stay in it and get a bit more physical (a la Ryan Preece in the Xfinity race on Saturday, who disrupted the battle for the title and arguably cost Elliott Sadler the championship).
Kyle Busch had his own version of emotion going on Sunday after the race, though it was the typical bratty response he gives when something doesn’t go his way. For all the growing up he has done over the past handful of years, in the end he will always be a bit of the whiny Kyle Busch we all know (and many fans love to hate).
Somehow, he decided Joey Logano was to blame for Kyle not being able to take home the title:
“Battling with the 22 (Joey Logano) there. Just wasting too much time with him. He held me up. He was there blocking every chance he got, so got a real buddy there, but that’s racing. That’s what happens.”
Catching up to Toyota
Brad Keselowski continued his ongoing campaign against what he sees as an inequality among the car makes, saying about 2018: “We’ve just got to be faster. We can’t show up and be that far behind on the mile-and-a-halves. We know that. That Toyota car is a good ways in front of us and we’ve got to figure that out.”
This is the end
And I’m emotional for another reason -- there’s no more NASCAR racing for a few months (though I suppose some Silly Season drama will be up for discussion still).
Guess I’ll have more time to write my best seller.