Commentary

How about new man Newman?

Updated: June 19, 2009, 11:14 AM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

Despite "Kyle Busch: Guitar Villain" and "Tony Stewart: fuel conservationist" and the sad fact that Jeremy Mayfield now stands accused of using methamphetamine, nothing specific jumps out at me this week to tackle. Why? Everything, it seems, has been written and rewritten. Randomness, then, prevails. We'll hit what we can.

Marty,

What's changed with Ryan Newman? He was the Rocketman for years and then the last couple years he couldn't win anymore. Now he's back. What changed? (I'm so glad he's back! He's from my town!)

-- Randy Carson in Indiana

Confidence. Happiness. Reaffirmation. Fun. Solace.

Tony Stewart. Really fast cars.

Newman freely admits that things got so bad at Penske that he lost confidence, Randy. He began to wonder where the speed went, whether he'd lost it.

The misery permeated his entire life. It affected his general solace.

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Now he's fast again, smiling more. He remembers now why he loves it so much.

"You lose confidence, but that doesn't necessarily mean you question your ability, as far as the physical sense of driving in [to the corner] deeper or getting to the gas sooner," he said. "From a confidence standpoint, I lost confidence in the ability to drive the car fast. It wasn't fast enough.

"I drove it on the edge but the edge was three-tenths [of a second] slower than it needed to be. It's easy to lose that level of excitement that goes along with that when you're not running well. And therefore I have it back."

It's readily obvious. For Newman, fun fosters wit, sharp as a whip.

Newman's candor is refreshing. He'll tell you what he thinks.

He thinks he's a championship contender.

Again.

Marty,

I was appalled and dismayed at the behavior of Kyle Busch after winning at Nashville. It is enough to have to endure his ongoing arrogance and his childish display of temper when things don't go his way, but the disrespect shown in the winner's circle was too much.

He owes an apology to the craftsmen at the Gibson Les Paul factory who put their heart into their creations. Take the tour Kyle. Joe Gibbs needs to explain sportsmanship to the "kid."

He is not the kind of role model young people need. I don't care how fast he can drive, this disrespectful behavior has no place in NASCAR. God, may he never win at Martinsville!

-- Deborah D., Hot Springs, Ark.

I almost left this alone. A week has passed since it happened but the e-mails haven't stopped, so that tells me folks are still debating it. Deborah's e-mail showed up Thursday morning, for example.

First of all, the only point in the argument that has any true validity -- and no rebuttal -- is that Busch owned the guitar. The moment he won the race it became his property. And regardless of the man hours that went into making it or the beauty or the sacredness of the piece, it was his prerogative to do with it as he so chose. He's also 24 years old and still trying to figure out who he is. What I thought was cool at 24 now embarrasses the hell out of me.

[+] EnlargeKyle Busch
AP Photo/Donn JonesKyle Busch may wish he had that guitar trophy in one piece when he's 50. Then again, maybe not.

I'm 33 now. What Busch did made me sick. I hated it. As if it matters.

Track No. 2 on Eric Church's new album is a song called "Lotta Boot Left to Fill." During the song, Church trashes the boy band culture, how contrived it is, more a product of marketing and technology than sweat and talent. The song is a reminder that that's not how the legends became legends. An excerpt:

"I don't think Waylon done it that way
And if he was here he'd say Hoss, neither did Hank
I ain't dogging what you're doing
But boys come on let's get real
You still got a lotta boot left to fill …

"You say you're the real deal
But you play what nobody feels
You sing about Johnny Cash
The man in black would've whipped your ass!
"

I was driving down the highway this week and that stanza filled my pickup truck. It hit me that that's sort of how I feel about Smashville. I can't imagine Davey Allison doing that. I can't imagine Richard Petty doing that. Dale Earnhardt? The Man in Black would've whipped his … well, you know …

The legends had to work so hard for everything they got. Every trophy was, indeed, sacred. It was validation of all they'd fought for. Busch has gotten so used to winning, anything else is a letdown. That's obvious by his reaction to adversity.

Every Cup driver will tell you he's still racing for trophies. Makes you wonder if Busch wins so often that a trophy's just a trophy. Even the most unique one there is. He said Friday he'd do it again in that particular instance. But he wouldn't do it in the future.

He said he wanted to share the win with his boys, offer them a tangible reminder of the victory. Busch is good to his team. Ask them. They love working for the guy. He drives his face off every single lap. They never have to question his commitment. He comes to the shop to see them. That doesn't go unnoticed. That tells them he's with them and appreciates what they do. Apparently they appreciated the guitar slam.

I guess ultimately it's about respect. Like Deborah, most folks saw what Busch did to that guitar as disrespectful -- to artist Sam Bass, to Nashville Superspeedway and the tradition they've built around that trophy, to those that craft Gibson guitars, to the sport in general.

He doesn't owe anyone any apologies. It was his property, albeit property he'll probably wish he had when he's 50. He said J.D. Gibbs' kids thought it was awesome. Maybe mine would, too.

Maybe I'm just turning into the old dude who doesn't get it anymore, all old and crotchety. But there's another line in another Church song that goes like this: "I believe in keeping your mouth shut and carry a big stick."

Busch carries a hell of a big stick behind the wheel. He needn't use any gimmicks.

Random

Speaking of Church, he and I, along with champion marksman Bill McGuire, managed to win the Porter Wagoner Memorial fishing tournament Tuesday in Nashville. You'd have thought we won the Daytona 500. We were fueled by Bud Light, Jack Daniel's and SPF 50. Unfortunately, the latter failed us. I look like a human ketchup bottle. I'll blog about it in detail later this weekend.

Marty,

I always hear how huge a deal it is that Tony Stewart is doing so well as an owner and driver at the same time. What does he have that Michael Waltrip doesn't? Why has Waltrip not had the same success as Tony?

-- Summer Mason, Chicago

Stewart-Haas Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing aren't comparable, Summer.

[+] EnlargeMichael Waltrip
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesMichael Waltrip and his race team have a come a very long way in a very short time.

What Stewart is doing is impressive. What Waltrip is doing is amazing.

Stewart made a difficult decision to leave Joe Gibbs Racing. But he did it knowing full well he was walking into Hendrick Motorsports engines and cars and people and information. Jimmie Johnson told me he didn't believe Stewart would be a championship contender when the season began. Rather, he thought they may need to check Stewart into a mental hospital.

But Stewart built an excellent management group and they've thrived. He's a hands-on owner who pats his guys on the backside. He carries an old-school authentic vibe for which his guys enjoy working hard. The folks at SHR are having a blast racing cars, and kudos are most certainly in order.

But Waltrip built his organization from dirt. They were left for dead after one season.

They were a joke.

Now, two years later they're winners and run up front every weekend. If you'd have told me two years ago MWR would be where it is now I'd have laughed in your face.

And they're going to win next weekend, too. Marcos Ambrose will win Sonoma.

A guy wrote me an e-mail this week to note that he loves to read my writing and hates to hear me talk, says I try to sound overly intelligent and use big words that don't exist. I now know how a driver feels when he reads my criticism of his ability.

Marty,

Does this race mean more to the drivers with the economy? It means a lot to the fans around here.

-- Mandy Ramon, Flint, Mich.

Given the horrible economic conditions in Detroit, most drivers carry extra incentive to win Sunday at Michigan, Mandy. Some don't much care. They should. The ol' boys working third shift down at the factory don't have much hope.

And while it would be little solace, a win by their brand in the backyard would at least give employees and retirees some bragging rights down at the watering hole.

I care deeply about that stuff. Maybe I'm too dramatic. Maybe others don't care so much.

That's my time, Six. I'll do better next time. Promise. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to make some television.

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.

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