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You’re No. 1! A brief oral history of obscene gestures in NASCAR

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While there is plenty to debate on what is NASCAR’s most famous number, whether it is the No. 3, No. 43 or some other, there’s no doubt what the sport’s most famous digit is.

The middle digit.

You know, the middle finger.

Unlike other sports where athletes are exposed to fans and cameras throughout an event, NASCAR drivers are hidden from view when they compete, often giving them the chance to express their feelings toward a competitor.

Sure, you’ve heard them cuss on the radio about a driver, but sometimes the message needs to be seen by a competitor immediately. So they stick their hand out the window and raise the middle finger at a person who wronged them.

“If you’re really mad and you want them to know it, that’s when you tell them they’re No. 1,’’ Martin Truex Jr. said.

Middle finger No. 1 that is.

A tradition passed down from generations, drivers aren’t shy in sharing their feelings. Champions, occasional winners and those who have yet to do so have practiced the art of the finger flip. Some, such as Aric Almirola, learned from masters — Tony Stewart.

“I can’t remember what race it was, but at one point … I think we rubbed a little bit and he shot me the bird,’’ Almirola said of Stewart. “And I was like, ‘Man that was odd, we were just racing.’ Later on in the race, I got back by him and just for the fun of it, I returned the one-finger salute.

“After the race, he made it known to me that the reason he was giving me the one-finger salute early on in the race was because it was early on in the race. I was a rookie in the sport. (Stewart said) that early in the race there’s no reason to race that hard. Just let me go, and later on if you’re faster than me, I’ll return the favor and let you go. So, I learned a valuable lesson that day, but it all stemmed from the one-finger salute.”

Stewart isn’t the only driver to deliver a message. Brad Keselowski did so to future teammate Joey Logano during Xfinity practice at Dover in 2008. It was Logano’s first time in the series after having just turned 18 years old and being eligible to compete.

“I’m going out to drive this thing for the first time,’’ Logano said. “It was probably two or three minutes since practice started. Brad is out there, and he’s making a couple of laps.

“It was my fault. I deserved to get the finger. I pulled up on the race track right in front of him, and he had to like slow down and go around me, and I screwed up his lap.

“He flipped me off down the back straightaway. I was still in third gear. This is my Xfinity debut, first time on the race track in practice, and I got flipped off before I got to fourth gear. Now look at us. Now we get along great. I apologized. I told him I didn’t know what I was doing.’’

How memorable was that moment for Keselowski?

“That was 10 years ago, and we’re still talking about it,’’ he said.

Some drivers have sought to make sure their message was understood and excelled driving with one hand while hanging their left hand out the window giving the bird.

Ty Dillon recalls such an experience with Kyle Busch a couple of years ago.

“I was running third or something,’’ Dillon said of the Xfinity race. “He had to come back through the field, and I was like racing him hard because I wanted my spot, I wanted to stay third.

“I think he hit me a couple of times and he went by me and for a whole lap, he gave me the bird all the way around the track. I am driving as hard as I can, and I can’t run him down. He’s got the bird out the window with one hand, running away from me and … it was one of those moments like, ‘OK I get it, I get it.’ ’’ 

Trevor Bayne almost got it when former driver Brian Scott delivered his salute in Bayne’s car after a race.

“Brian flipped me off and so after the race, I’m jacking him up, and he comes over and puts it in the car,’’ Bayne said of Scott’s salute. “I said, ‘If you flip me off one more time, I’ll break your finger off.’

“He put it in the car, and I grabbed it, and I started pulling on it. Like a bunch of high schoolers. I think somebody pulled him out. It was really silly, but that’s probably the most memorable, but I’ve been on the receiving end a lot. Sometimes deservingly so.’’

Kurt Busch notes that he received the bird from Dale Earnhardt Sr. in what was Earnhardt’s last race, the 2001 Daytona 500.

“I got one right away in my career as a rookie in Daytona,’’ Kurt Busch said. “This guy driving this black (No.) 3 car came cruising up the middle, and I was like, ‘Did I do something wrong?’ because he was definitely communicating to me that I was his hero for that moment.’’

That’s one area that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not like his father. At least now.

“I did it a lot when I was younger,’’ he said of displaying the bird. “After a while, it really ticks you off when someone does it to you, especially somebody young, so I think I realized over a period of time it’s best not to do that.

“Not just worrying about getting caught on TV or anything like that. I guess when it happens to you, it’s hard to control yourself, you get really upset and do something really stupid. I don’t want anybody to do something really stupid if I’m flipping them off. I try to communicate in different ways.’’

Earnhardt is correct. Flipping the bird can have consequences for the person who delivers the message.

“I’ve seen guys chase each other around the racetrack lap after lap trying to wreck each other,’’ Truex said. “I’ve seen somebody let somebody go past them so they could try to wreck them.’’

Not all middle fingers are seen by the person for whom they’re intended.

“When I try to flip people off, my arms aren’t very long so I only get half a finger out,’’ AJ Allmendinger joked. “So I don’t think anybody’s ever seen me flip them off.’’

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. credits Jimmie Johnson for top 10; congratulates Austin Dillon for Coke 600 win

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CONCORD, N.C. – On the night the number synonymous with his legendary father returned to victory lane, Dale Earnhardt Jr. found some consolation in his final Coca-Cola 600.

Earnhardt placed 10th in the circuit’s longest race, his best showing since a fifth in the April 9 race at Texas Motor Speedway. He improved a spot to 23rd in the points standings after a dismal showing by his No. 88 Chevrolet in last week’s All-Star Race.

“The car got better last couple of runs,” Earnhardt said. “We made a lot of changes, and some of them (were) working pretty good.  We would have liked to have run a little bit better than that for sure.  We think we should be running in the top five every week as a team, so that is still not really good enough, but compared to last week it’s a huge improvement.”

Earnhardt credited some of the improvement to teammate Jimmie Johnson, who finished 17th after his No. 48 Chevy ran out of fuel while leading with two laps remaining.

“He was communicating with me all week, calling me, talking on the phone,” Earnhardt said. “He would come across the garage and get in my window even during practice.  Get out of his car and come talk to me.  What a great teammate. I hated to see him run out of gas.”

But he was happy to see the win by Austin Dillon in the No. 3 Chevrolet that was driven by his father. Richard Childress Racing sidelined the number from February 2001-14 after the seven-time champion’s death on the final lap of the Daytona 500.

“Congratulations to Austin, man, that is awesome for RCR and Richard,” Earnhardt said. “Anytime they can win, it’s pretty cool.”

Earnhardt will get one more shot to win at Charlotte. In 34 starts at the 1.5-mile oval, he has a career-best third in the 2015 Coca-Cola 600.

Martin Truex Jr.: VHT ‘a huge factor’ in Coca-Cola 600 — but wouldn’t work as well elsewhere

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CONCORD, N.C. — Though the rain paid a visit to the Coca-Cola 600, the traction agent applied high in the corners of Charlotte Motor Speedway was a “huge factor” in NASCAR’s longest race, according to Martin Truex Jr.

Truex, who led a race high 233 laps, lauded the VHT chemical used to improve racing at the 1.5-mile track after a dud of an All-Star Race.

“I think last weekend the middle groove, middle to high middle, was nonexistent,” Truex said after finishing third early Monday morning. “It was the slickest part of the racetrack.”

But that changed Sunday. Following Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, NASCAR and the track reapplied refresh coats of VHT to the upper grooves in the turns after consulting drivers and crew chiefs. Even after a downpour swept over the track on Lap 143, Truex said the traction compound was a factor for 375 of the race’s 400 laps.

“It was the main groove,” Truex said of the higher grooves. “Where typically there is the least grip (there) on this racetrack, it was the most tonight. It definitely played a factor. It changed the race quite a bit. I think the downforce rules this year changed it quite a bit as well. The bottom of the racetrack is so bumpy and so slick, I’m telling you after 10 laps it’s all you can do to make laps without crashing down there.

“It definitely changed the race tonight. It made it a lot of fun. I thought it was a good addition.”

Winner Austin Dillon thought the VHT – also known as PJ1 TrackBite – benefited the race. But the Richard Childress Racing drive would like to see a change in where the agent is applied to the track surface.

“The middle groove had a lot of speed, took away from the bottom,” Dillon said. That’s usually dominant here. The bottom got good again. After the rain, the bottom was pretty dominant. As the race went on, I could actually see the VHT leaving the track. It was getting clean higher and higher.

“We’ve got something there as far as trying it. It’s not a bad thing. I really think we should try it more often. I think the next thing you look into is the placement of it. I feel like we needed more on the very top because the middle was really dominant, but you couldn’t really get into the top of it like you needed to. That would be my next shot at it. It’s not a bad thing at all. I like it.”

What’s next?

The chemical has been used on the concrete high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway and the asphalt of Charlotte and been mostly praised.

Should it be tried at any other tracks on the NASCAR circuit?

“I don’t think so,” Truex said. “I think this track is so unique, the pavement here, the geometry of the racetrack, the bumps that are in it. It’s almost got a concrete feel the way the bumps are. They’re really, really small, high‑frequency bumps, almost like a washboard, kind of the feeling you get at Dover (International Speedway). Most asphalt tracks are not bumpy that way. They’re more of a swell. The car kind of goes through swells, a place like (Chicagoland Speedway) or Atlanta (Motor Speedway).

“It’s very, very different here. The pavement is different than anywhere we go. The bumps in the racetrack are way different than anywhere we go. I think both of those things kind of contribute to us needing to do some different things here to change-up the racing.”

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. defends Kyle Busch’s surly mood after the Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. – A second-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 left Kyle Busch in an irate mood, which is perfectly fine, according to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

A seemingly agitated Busch, cupping his face in his hands after sitting down, entered the media center at Charlotte Motor Speedway Center shortly after 12:30 a.m. Sunday. It was roughly 10 minutes after Austin Dillon scored the first victory of his career in NASCAR’s premier series by stretching his final tank of fuel for 70 laps.

Was Busch surprised that Dillon made the checkered flag? What did it mean for a driver to get his first win?

“I’m not surprised about anything,” Busch snapped. “Congratulations.”

He dropped the mic on the dais. There were no further questions. (The video is available above).

Shortly afterward on Twitter, Earnhardt took up for his peer (whom he replaced at Hendrick Motorsports in 2008).

Busch, who hasn’t won since last July at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (a span of 28 races) gave more elaborate answers shortly after exiting his No. 18 Toyota, which finished 0.835 seconds behind Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet.

He apparently didn’t realize until late in the race that his pass of Martin Truex Jr. (who led a race-high 233 laps) with a lap remaining was for second instead of the victory.

“This M&M’s Camry was awesome tonight,” Busch said. “It was just super fast. I mean we had one of the fastest cars all night long and then (Truex) was probably the fastest. There at the end, somehow we ran him down. You know he got a straightaway out on us, but there that last 100 laps we were able to get back to him and pass him so you know that was promising for us there at the end in order to get a second-place finish, but man just so, so disappointed.

“I don’t know. We ran our own race. We did what we needed to do and it wasn’t – it wasn’t the right game. We come up short and finish second.

“It’s a frustrating night, man. There’s nothing we could’ve done different.”

Others took a different view of Busch’s tirade.

But some agreed with Earnhardt’s stance.

After defending Busch, Earnhardt also poked some fun at him later Monday, too.

 

Martin Truex Jr. takes Cup points lead after Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

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CONCORD, N.C. — Martin Truex Jr. took over the Cup points lead with a third-place finish in Saturday’s Coca-Cola 600.

The Furniture Row Racing driver, who led a race-high 233 laps, also extended his lead in the playoff standings by winning the second stage and bringing his total to 16 points.

Kyle Larson, who had led the standings for eight consecutive races since Phoenix International Raceway, fell to second in the rankings after crashing and finishing a season-worst 33rd. Larson trails Truex by five points in the race for the regular-season championship (and 15 playoff points).

Click here for the points standings after Charlotte.