Who is the favorite in Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway? There is a strong possibility that it could be Jimmie Johnson. Johnson, despite his woeful showing at Daytona two weeks ago, rebounded at Phoenix and seems ripe for a repeat victory at the track. Of course, a rejuvenated Jeff Gordon has momentum and you can never count out Matt Kenseth, so it’s up in the air. Or is it?
[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]The 2011 season has given us so many surprises, we can’t count on anything. If you had told me on February 1st that the Wood Brothers would win the Daytona 500, that not one Hendrick or Childress car would finish in the top three, Bobby Labonte would be a factor late in the race, and David Gilliland would finish third behind Trevor Bayne and Carl Edwards, I would have called for the men in the white coats. On top of that, if you had told me that Jeff Gordon, who hadn’t won in 66 races, would beat Kyle Busch to win at Phoenix, well…you get the idea.
So, who’s going to win? Johnson won last year, Kenseth (and teammate Greg Biffle) have always been good here, and it’s the Busch brothers’ home track. And then there’s Kevin Harvick. He came so close last year. It’s not easy to call a winner, which is a big difference from the past few years. With multiple car wrecks being the rule at the first two races this year, it could be someone different, which would fit in with what would seem to be the pattern for the 2011 season. Maybe David Ragan?
One thing is certain. With new television ratings better than last year and attendance at the track improving, maybe we’ve seen the end of what many considered a decline in the sport we all love. Maybe it has something to do with the results of the first two races. The measuring stick may be at Bristol in two weeks.
I have covered NASCAR races as a member of the “citizen media corps” for the last 15 years. I’ve been in either the press box or media centers at eight different tracks, and I cannot remember a time when the media really applauded a performance. Oh, I can remember many times when emotions were shared, but never outright cheering. As excited as I was over Trevor Bayne’s winning the Daytona 500 in the Wood Brothers Ford, I found myself restrained at home on February 20th. It’s just second nature. I can still remember February 25, 2001, the week after Dale Earnhardt left us, and the dramatic Steve Park victory. As emotional as that was, there was no cheering in the press box. I also remember October 24, 2004, at Martinsville Speedway. It was the day that Ricky Hendrick and many others perished in a plane crash near the track. No announcement was made about the tragedy and only a radio transmission from a scanner heard that the winner (Jimmie Johnson) would not go to victory lane. Soon enough the news filtered in on what had happened. Unfortunately, for some reason, broadband internet was lost and there was no cellular service available. There was no cheering, but I’ve never seen a group of reporters so upset. The press box was in uproar. No cheering, but plenty of emotion. Is there a difference? I think not.
Maybe those of us who do this as a hobby should learn a little decorum. I didn’t go to Daytona, but I’ll be at many tracks this year. I will, as usual, be professional and report the facts as I see them regardless of my point of view. I have my favorites, and it’s only human that I do, but cheering is not being professional. I hate that Tom Bowles lost his job, and I understand his emotions and the reasons for clapping. Maybe si.com was a little harsh in their decision, but whether you like a driver or do not, or really a situation, you are on the job. Maybe that’s something those of us who blog need to understand a little better. Lessons in life are sometimes hard.