Craig Murto: When is enough enough?

Craig Murto

John Wes Townley is only 26 years old, but racing’s already had enough of him.

Dubbed “John Wrecks Weekly” by fans, Townley exists in the sport because his father is the co-founder of the Zaxby’s chain of chicken restaurants, which sponsors his racing efforts. Currently a full-time driver in the Camping World Truck Series, Townley’s actions last Saturday night at Gateway Motorsports Park east of St. Louis show why he really would better serve the family business with a desk job.

Late in the race Townley spun himself into the wall by chopping across the nose of the truck driven by Spencer Gallagher. But obviously the mostly oblivious Townley blamed Gallagher, because a few laps later in the race he used his truck as a weapon to get revenge and crashed both of them.

But then he got out of the truck and decided to throw some sucker punches and attempt to fight Gallagher, who did his best to keep Townley’s arms tied up. Broadcasters made light of the scuffle, which was actually pretty disgusting. Fans reacted with tweets on social media, such as “The reason John Wes Townley didn’t know how to hit Spencer Gallagher is because Spencer Gallagher is not a wall.”

Townley’s had limited success. He’s won in Automobile Racing Club of America competition, and won his first NASCAR race last year at Las Vegas when the truck of Matt Crafton pitted for fuel.

It seems every up-and-coming racer with Townley’s backing can win an ARCA race; just get put behind the wheel of a car that’s light-years better than the rest of the field. The NASCAR win was honest, but any hope that it represented a change in Townley’s erratic driving style were dashed in short order.

In 2016 NASCAR instituted a “caution clock” in the truck series, which dictates that if the race goes 20 minutes without a yellow flag, the caution will be displayed automatically. Fans immediately jumped on the notion that the caution clock was unnecessary with Townley on the track.

There’s also a joke among fans that if you’re going to eat at Zaxby’s on race day, do it before the race in which Townley competes, otherwise the price of chicken might go up to help pay for crash damage.

Townley knows about crash damage. Even Richard Childress at one point fired him after six races because he was tired of crashed cars. Crash damage caused by Townley over the years must be in the millions of dollars. If NASCAR chooses to suspend him because of the fight, many competitors will breathe a sigh of relief knowing their equipment is safe for one more week.

It must be nice to have unlimited financial resources with which to race. But Townley isn’t doing anything for Zaxby’s. It’s probably time for his father to hire another driver and give John Wes a desk job.

Tony Stewart, though, called Townley his new hero and promised to celebrate his win on the road course at Sonoma, California, by eating in a Zaxby’s. Stewart was impressed that Townley “showed emotion” and “did something with it.” Stewart also halfheartedly said he wanted to see how much Townley might get fined by NASCAR, because Stewart himself has a number of drivers to pay back before he retires at the end of the season and wants to know what it’ll cost him.

It was good to see Stewart break an 84-race winless streak. He pit with 25 laps to go when his team heard NASCAR chatter that there may be debris on the track. Sure enough, the caution came out a lap later, and when the leaders pit it put Stewart up front. He fought hard the rest of the race to keep the top spot, including the last lap when Denny Hamlin passed him in Turn 7, only for Stewart to regain the lead exiting the final Turn 11.

The win was a welcome break for Stewart, who’s had a rough few years. In 2014 he broke his leg badly in a Sprint Car crash. Last year he was involved in a Sprint Car incident that left a driver dead on the track. This year he broke his back before the NASCAR season began and missed eight races. Now 32nd in points, Stewart only has to make up two more positions in points to compete in The Chase in this, his final year.

The Camping World Truck Series also has a “chase” format this year. Chances are John Wes Townley won’t make it. After this past week, many fans are asking themselves, “When is enough enough?”

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.