NASCAR Race Weekend Central

That’s History: Another NASCAR Season in the Books… Part I

Since the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup season has come to an end, it’s now time to write its legacy in the history books. The way this season’s chapter will be penned should pleasure some, disappoint others… and make the rest downright mad. But, however you slice it, it’s time for a look back in this column over the next couple of weeks. This week, I dug up a column I wrote in April about NASCAR and its fans and how this season might be remembered. I’ve added a few comments in italics, now that we all know the rest of the story, But no matter how many years go by, NASCAR fans remain largely the same – loyal, often vocal, and able to enjoy memories gone by. 2006 is now just that – a memory.

NASCAR fans are a fun group of people. Anyone is willing to share their wisdom and experiences of racing from the “good old days” to last week. Many “old-school” fans will surely tell you that racers today aren’t as good as those from a bygone era. The tracks then were better… and so were the rules. Perhaps they are right. I certainly enjoy watching those precious clips from races run before I was even born; I love the old cars with their distinct styling, the crewmen dressed in white shirts and pants, the rough-and-tumble crowd (both spectators and teams), all of it. Sitting in the infield on a hot summer night, the stories are rich and plentiful:

“Hey, Joe, remember that Daytona race it took three days to decide?”

“Sure do, Bob. What about that time when Richard/Fireball/Junior/Cale/Donnie/Lee/Red,” It could go on like this all weekend and beyond… and it is wonderful.

But then, I got to thinking. As NASCAR’s marketing boom continues, more and more new fans are jumping on the bandwagon every week. And even though NASCAR’s history is available to them in any of several formats – to some of these fans, these races ARE “the good old days” that they will be telling their grandkids about someday, just as generations of fans have done for their children. It was kind of a fun thought to ponder – what kinds of things will young fans two generations removed be hearing about NASCAR in 2006? Now, bear in mind that I am not a Psychic Friend. Some of the events you’ll read about are pure speculation. Some of them might even be based more on what I want to happen than on what is likely to happen, and still others will be just the opposite. Still, here is a glimpse into infield conversation, circa 2026… a past reflection on the 2006 season that is.

“Hey, Mike, remember when Jimmie Johnson won the Daytona 500 after his crew chief got tossed for cheating?” OK, so I knew about this before I wrote the column. Like I said, I’m not a Psychic Friend.

“Sure, Steve. That was the same year that the Cup drivers took all 10 top places in the Busch Series.” I wasn’t far off, either. Thanks to Paul Menard and Johnny Sauter for making me wrong.

“The cars almost looked like stock cars.” Almost.

“Oh, yeah, Sarah’s right. They did. Isn’t that about when ‘ol Kurt started doing those snow angels when he won?” Oh, great, just when I’d erased THAT mental picture from my head…

“Yep. The man’s 48 years old, you’d think he’d come up with something more dignified now. But anyway – Dale Junior won the summer race at Daytona after all those people doubted him. Won five races, as I recall.” Maybe not, but Junior still had a good year, and took one trophy home.

“Four, Bill, you’re memory’s slipping. His rookie driver, that Truex kid, won one though, for DEI. I hear the boy’s gonna retire next year.” He almost pulled it off at Homestead. Martin’s a nice kid. Here’s hoping he’s still mixing it up 20 down the line.

“Lotta rookies won that year, Mike. Truex, Hamlin and Sorenson. And that kid Yeley won three poles, I think.” Thank you, Hamlin, for making me at least partly right. The others – they’ll get theirs.

Robby Gordon won in his own car at the Glen. Never thought I’d see THAT happen.” Close. Robby snagged a top five (fourth) and drove it like he stole it; and that’s a day after he nearly stole a Busch race win from Kurt Busch in the final lap. Like him or hate him, Gordon can flat out drive on a road course.

“How about three Indiana boys crossing the line three-wide at Indy? Newman only won it by about half an inch.” It was a Californian who kissed the bricks.

“I’d forgotten about that one, Sue! 12 cars in the Chase that year, even after Rusty’s kid brother pulled the bump-and-run on Stewart to win the night race at Bristol.” Nope. Although had Tony made it, it might have changed things drastically…

“It wasn’t really much of a Chase though. Kahne and Kenseth gave him a run for his money, but Johnson sure finished where he started. What did he have, eight wins, nine?” If you count the All-Star Race, I was off by two or three. But the outcome was the same, and Kahne will really contend one of these days. This year saw a champion who overcame adversity every step of the way, kept his head, and is one of the nicest people you could ask for to boot… not to mention it was a championship he would have won under either points system.

“Kid retires with more championship hardware than his boss, must’ve done something right.” If he keeps it up, who knows…

“What about the time when Junior/Jeff/Jimmie/Tony/Kasey/Casey/DJ/Kurt/Mark,”

“The racing today, these rules and aero package, it’s messed up. Those were the good old days, everyone.”

“They sure were, Rob, they sure were.”

To a certain extent, the “good old days” are in the mind of the beholder. The best moments, to some fans, may not have happened yet. We need to pay attention to history, hopefully learn from it. But we can’t experience it, no matter how much we’d like to. So we look to our own best days, and find that they’re history too. And now – they truly are.

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