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This weekend marks the 26th race of the 2008 Sprint Cup season, and the final race before the fifth annual Championship Chase begins. With David Ragan and Kasey Kahne getting set to make a last-ditch effort to get into title contention, Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin are among a few men walking on egg shells, a tightrope, and over the abyss at the .750-mile short track in Henrico County, Va. Saturday night.
Why, then, am I so completely underwhelmed with apathy matched only by a sustaining member of the Green Party?
Perhaps I’ve had a long week of work following the holiday weekend, or I’m still trying to rid my mind of those horrific images from Sunday. No, not Hurricane Gustav – but that mind-numbingly boring and predictable event from Auto Club Speedway, the one that’s always advertised as a stock car race but never is. Tell me I wasn’t the one lone soul whose interest was piqued only when the safety lights fell from the heavens and onto the track. The coverage and competition was so insufferable, I began lamenting the passing of the Phantom Caution from 2007 – and prayed for its merciful return.
What ensued was Michigan on mescaline; another 250-lap endurance of eyelids. This race, this discourse from the same series that once gave us Donnie, Cale and Bobby kicking, punching and beating each other with helmets in the infield grass.
With that said, Richmond has always been something to look forward to in NASCAR, even before things seemingly took a left turn for the worse. It was always viewed as the perfect short track: slow and confining enough to produce good, hard, close-quarters racing, but not as cramped as Martinsville, with half of the field becoming little more than a moving chicane for the leaders. With the Car of Tomorrow offering a glimpse of the future, passing at Richmond has become a thing of the past.
But the track has always produced fantastic racing, and is a throwback and reminder as to what was right with NASCAR for so many years. Through the mid-’90s and early part of the 2000s, each weekend was wrought with anxious energy as fans eagerly anticipated the drop of the green flag. That has cooled in recent years, and this year has reached an all-time low rating of approval. You think the President and Congress have a low approval rating? Check out those dismal marks registered by the Pepsi 500 at California last weekend.
It would appear that I am not alone with the problem I have been suffering with – NADS (NASCAR Attention Deficit Syndrome). My NADS is just killing me lately, and I suspect that other’s NADS have taken a beating this season, as well. Hopefully my NADS will be able to rebound this Friday and Saturday night as the wick is about to be turned up a little bit – and the amplifier knobs are set to 11. As much grief as the Chase format has received from purists in recent years, maybe this is one year where it finally pays off.
While it is hard to identify one thing in particular as the root cause of this negative phenomenon, it isn’t a mystery that many share the same opinion as myself. One can literally see it at any number of venues or media outlets. Ratings are down, wide swathes of grandstands are empty; the blogs and message boards across the Internet are echoing the same lack of passion and interest that once burned bright but a few short years ago. Short of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin showing up to give the command to start engines – punctuating it with a three-round burst from an M4 combat rifle while riding atop a moose – I do not feel the same anticipation and “I-can’t-wait-for-Saturday-to-get-here!” feeling I did back in 2004 or even 2006.
This is to not say that I don’t still love stock car racing or that I am turning my back on NASCAR. It merely underscores the lack of interest and verve that used to surround a short-track race at night, at one of the greatest tracks on the circuit. So here’s hoping for an eventful Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, and a salute to all of America’s heroes who will be on hand and honored as well. If there is one thing that NASCAR still does right, it is to show their support and appreciation for those who sacrifice so much – and who often receive so little in return. It is because of them we are able to sit here, and spend precious time complaining about what in actuality is still a pretty decent way to spend a Saturday evening or a Sunday night.
May that spark be lit anew all over again.