By Jerry Bonkowski
I just love fireworks displays. Saturday, we got two shows for the price of one at Daytona International Speedway.
While the main fireworks display came after the race, the preliminary show wasn't half bad itself, when Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch tangled on the final turn of the final lap of the Coke Zero 400.
Like a pinball and Roman Candle both in one, Busch first bounced off Stewart, spun and bounced off the wall, bounced off Kasey Kahne and then off Joey Logano, with fireworks-like sparks flying everywhere from each point of contact.
It was great theatrics, causing the 100,000-plus fans at DIS, as well as several million watching on their TVs, to go "oooh" and "aaah" before they really ooohed and aaahed a few moments later during the racetrack's real and planned post-race fireworks extravaganza.
To his credit, Busch took the end of the race in stride. He and Stewart were both battling for the same piece of real estate, just like Busch has done so with numerous other drivers over the course of his career.
And when you do battle like that, especially when the younger Busch brother tried to block Stewart from getting a final run, something – and someone – was going to have to give, even if it wasn't by choice.
End result: Stewart got into the back of Busch's car and sent the No. 18 Toyota on one hell of a ride, while Stewart's No. 14 went on to victory lane for the second time this season.
While Stewart was making his way to victory lane, Busch didn't play the fool. He didn't make a spectacle of himself walking back to pit road, didn't chase after Stewart or angrily throw his helmet at him or call him out. Of course, with Tony probably outweighing Kyle by 70 pounds or more, Busch may have thought twice about putting up his dukes.
Sure, Busch wasn't happy when NASCAR officials forcibly took him by the arms and directed him to a track truck for a ride to the infield care center to get checked out.
The officials were actually doing Busch a favor, because he took a nasty hit first from the retaining wall, then from Kahne, whose car lifted Busch's up almost 45 degrees in the air – pushing it across the finish line, no less – and then when Logano couldn't seen through the resulting smoke and smashed broadside into Busch's driver's side door.
Busch then did the right thing by declining to be interviewed or talk about the incident afterward. A cooler head prevailed and that was the smartest thing Busch could have done. He's to be commended for that.
Stewart, as well, is to be commended. I can't recall him ever feeling so bad about a win. He actually was unhappy at how he earned the win.
"It's not the way I like to win a race," Stewart said afterward.
That's why Saturday night's race finish was one of the most enjoyable I've seen in a long time. It wasn't because of the race-ending multi-car wreck. Rather, it was how two of the sport's most fiery and tempestuous drivers both held their tongue, kept their cool and let the end result play out the way it did.
To me, that's true sportsmanship on both Busch's and Stewart's part, which we haven't always been able to say after other episodes in both of their respective racing careers, particularly on the Sprint Cup level.
Kyle sucked it up and Tony lamented about a finish he'd rather not have had play out the way it did. No one went charging after the other, especially at a place that has seen more than its shares of fisticuffs and brawls over the years. We weren't going to see a replay of the Allison-Yarborough tilt at Daytona following the 1979 Daytona 500, or even anything close to it.
Busch displayed perhaps some of the greatest restraint he has ever shown in his brief Cup career, and for that he's to be applauded. Whether you like him or not, he didn't pout, throw a tantrum or a punch.
Ditto for Stewart. He didn't rub it in Busch's face, he didn't claim Busch got what he deserved for trying to block, nor did Stewart intentionally go looking for Busch to apologize for what happened.
Rather, Tony let Kyle cool off, calm down and accept things at his own pace and in his own style. I'm sure they'll talk in the next day or two and everything will be forgiven and forgotten from both their viewpoints.
Honestly, no one was really to blame for how the Busch-Stewart wreck occurred. It was as close to a perfect example of a so-called "racing incident" as you'll see anywhere.
Saturday's pre-fireworks display was the perfect prelude for the main event. As Stewart and Busch have both said numerous times in their careers, that's racin.' No one should feel bad about it at all.
But damn, you have to admit it was a hell of a show on the track, just like the one in the skies that followed after the checkered flag fell.