I don’t get soccer. Two pairs of rubber boots for goals and a ball only to witness a scoreless tie is not much of a sport. Basketball? Anyone who is 6-6 should be able to slam a ball into a hoop ten feet above the ground. Others love such sports, worship the star players, and know who is in the lineup, the strategy the teams follow, the history and the storylines. Believe it or not, there are actually some poor souls out there who still think NASCAR is only about a bunch of folks turning left. However, we know it is much more than that.
For example, we have former IndyCar driver Danica Patrick now driving full-time in the Cup series. The 31-year old raven haired beauty was the first female to win the pole for the Daytona 500, the first to lead green flag laps there, and recorded the best ever finish for a woman in the iconic race. Her fellow rookie this season is her boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Currently, the gentleman leads the lady by 39 points after six events.
There is the car. Years and tons of cash have been spent to make what is referred to as the sixth generation of stock car model a safer car, hopefully a better racing car. It looks more like the street model, and arguably is even more appealing than what is found in the showroom. However, you criticize it at your own peril.
Yes, NASCAR has feuds, some even including the sanctioning body and its drivers. When Denny Hamlin voiced a mild criticism of the car after the race in Las Vegas, NASCAR hit him with a $25,000 fine. Hamlin’s initial reaction was basically to tell them to go to hell. The fans sure seemed to like that. It would seem that even good ole boys and girls like to see someone stick it right back to the man.
Hamlin then got into a peeing contest with former team-mate Joey Logano as they suggested the other could go tweet himself. Racing side by side for the win at California, Logano drove into Hamlin, sending Denny head-on into the inside wall. Hamlin picked up a fractured back, will be out for a few weeks, and will need to win a couple and a return to the Top 20 to keep his hopes alive for a title. While he might not have been sold on how good the car raced, you can be sure he doesn’t doubt its safety. It could, and should, have been much worse.
Logano is a 22-year old phenom who has just two wins since moving up from the Nationwide series full-time in 2009. He wants respect. He needs respect. After wrecking Hamlin, he got into a tussle with former champion Tony Stewart. At 6-1 Logano is trying now to demand respect from his peers. Sadly, at 140 pounds, no one is taking seriously anything physical he does that does not involve him in a car or beside a burly crew member.
Surely, a lady does not need any protection out there with the gentlemen. Last Sunday, Brian Vickers seemed to take some liberties bumping Danica’s car on the final lap. As they crossed the line, Kevin Harvick spun Vickers around, then sat beside him to prevent Brian exiting the track, no doubt glaring at him through the window. You don’t mess with a lady like that was the message. Funny, nobody does that when someone tries to take liberties with Logano.
Vickers is a fine talent who lost his full-time ride in 2010 when blood clots were found in his legs and around his lungs. The 29-year old should be a feel good story, but his bump on Patrick was not his first indiscretion on Sunday. He had tapped her earlier, sending her into Dale Earnhardt Jr, who was spun in the incident. It brought back memories of Vickers’ first win in 2006 at Talladega. He and then team-mate Jimmie Johnson pulled out to pass the leading Earnhardt. Vickers clipped Johnson, taking out both his opponents to go on to the win. His victory celebration seemed a bit over the top considering how he had just removed the sport’s most popular driver to do it. Funny, some of us forget to start the dishwasher for our spouse, but we can remember an incident from a race even after more than six years.
We have our heros. Brad Keselowski is an outspoken 29-year old who won his first championship last November. Jimmie Johnson has five of them, Jeff Gordon four, and Tony Stewart has three. Kurt Busch is a former champion who could not control his mouth and lost some good rides along the way. Now, as an underdog, some find themselves cheering for the man they once booed. His brother Kyle is a throw back, a hard charger who takes no prisoners. The soon to be 28-year old has 25 Cup wins to go with 54 Nationwide victories and 30 more on the Craftsman tour. Some think he might be a worthy successor to the late Dale Earnhardt.
Then again, most Earnhardt fans picked that successor years ago. Junior finished second in the race that claimed his father’s life. When they returned to Daytona that July, Junior won it. He won 13 races between 2001 and 2004, taking six that final year including the Daytona 500. In that time, Junior won five times at Talladega, including four straight, to go with a pair of runner-up finishes. Earnhardt might have won only four of his 19 career flags since those special years and at 38 some think he might to moving closer to the end. Then you remember his dad was just two months shy of his 50th birthday when he died, and nobody told Dale Earnhardt that he was over the hill. At least, not to his face.
We watch to see if Junior can stay in contention, if Jimmie, or Jeff, or Tony might win another title. We watch to see if one Busch brother can put all the pieces together or if the other can pick up the pieces to allow a Denver based team a take that next step. We watch to see who is mad at whom, who might want to get physical, who tries to make the race winning move, who succeeds and who fails in a mass of shredded sheet metal. We tune in to see if pretenders can become contenders, if certain teams can win, if other teams can step it up, and if yet others can reach a level of respectability. For those of us who care, it is more than a bunch of guys and a gal turning left.