NASCAR Race Weekend Central

The Yellow Stripe: Reasons to Keep Watching NASCAR in 2009 (No Really, There Are… I Think)

It’s a good time to be a Jimmie Johnson fan right now. In fact, scratch that, it’s a stupendously, unconscionably, ridiculously good time to be a double J devotee. How else can you explain your boy running about a mile behind from the chasing pack like a little scared rabbit and still finishing sixth – it beggars belief, it really does. I wish I could say fortune favors the brave, but there was nothing brave about riding around so far back from the snarling draft he may as well have been in a different zip code.

Johnson’s (repeated) good fortune aside, Sunday’s race was, not to pull any punches, excrement. I’m normally a cheerleader for our sport, or at least I try to be by writing positive articles, but even I – an eternal optimist – am finding it close to impossible to write anything good about that shambolic fiasco I was unfortunate enough to waste three hours of my life watching this past Sunday. Like many of the good folks who comment on the site, I was appalled by the lack of racing and then the carnage at the end of what purported to be a NASCAR race, but was in fact little more than a glorified 2.66-mile long game of Scalextric (slot cars-ed).

And I’m still bemused by NASCAR’s bizarre decision on the bump drafting just hours before the race. I mean come on people; we’re not talking about a quiet drive through the countryside here. We’re talking about Talladega. The sad thing is the decision rendered by the “experts” absolutely killed the race as a spectacle as a number of drivers pointed out after. And guess what? After 180 some laps of eye-gouging, soul-destroying follow the leader rubbish we still got two epic crashes. Speaking of those crashes, I can’t help but wonder how much worse the Ryan Newman incident would have been if it was Michael Waltrip who suffered that accident. One final point: Why does ESPN persist in showing the driver’s worried other half running to the in-field care center? That’s ghoulish – and no, that’s not a delayed Halloween joke; it’s akin to ambulance chasing.

So as we look toward the denouement of a season that has staggered from one crisis to the next, it’s hard to be anything but scared for the future of our sport as the powers that be methodically and systematically run it into the ground. As a writer, though, I like a challenge and my challenge this week is to come up with reasons to keep watching over the final three races. Cue the tumbleweed and the awkward silence… thinking… thinking… OK, here we go:

Surely, it can’t get any worse…

At times this season, NASCAR has been little more than a car racing version of WWE with strange “timely” cautions, inexplicably boring racing and sheer Johnson related tedium. But with three races to go surely it can’t get any worse right? After all, we don’t have to go back to Kansas or Auto Club Speedway…(sorry Kev in SoCal- it’s low hanging fruit.)

We’ve come this far…

If you’re reading this article you’ve come this far and like anything it’s always good to finish what you started. With 33 down and three to go you can do it. I promise.

Three good tracks to go…

Thankfully we don’t have to think about Talladega until next April. Up next is Texas which can be, to be fair, somewhat hit or miss but overall it’s not a bad track. Ditto Phoenix, a circuit I nearly always enjoy watching and finally Homestead which qualifies as a good track only because it’s the (blessed) last race of the season.

Can Junior find more ways to plumb new depths?

It’s hard to fathom quite how bad Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s season has been this year. But there are still three races for Jooooonya to find new and previously unexplored ways to encounter bad luck. The wheelman of the No. 88 Chevy might be the only person who wants the season to end more than the disaffected fanbase.

We can stop talking about the Chase…

With a 184-point lead for the three-time champ, barring a disaster of hitherto unseen, Titanic-esque proportions, Johnson will win this year’s title. With that in mind, we don’t have to talk about the Chase these last three races because the Chase, in all its serial ineptitude, is to all intents and purposes over.

And focus on the racing…

With the above point in mind, we as fans and writers can concentrate on each individual race. Sure, ESPN will bang on about points and the possibilities for those trailing the automatons – sorry, No. 48 team, but as we head into the winter break, we can focus on each race and enjoy them (we hope) as standalone events and not as part of the mythical Chase beast.

What will Nationwide champ Kyle Busch have in store?

After the guitar smashing antics in victory lane at Nashville earlier this year, I can’t help but wonder what Kyle Busch and “Krew” have planned to celebrate his Nationwide Series championship? Perhaps a reenactment of the siege of Troy or the labors of Hercules; one way or another it’s gonna be fun to watch.

Despite it all, we’ll miss it in the offseason (I think)

And for all my complaining (and the huge volume of criticism from fans) we’ll all miss NASCAR in the offseason. Well, those who are still interested in watching.

Two final points to finish up this week:

  • I really enjoyed the Truck race – it felt like a real race and not some kind of 200-mph disaster movie the Cup race almost became. Plus you had Chrissy and Mike Wallace racing together and you had Mario Gosselin sponsored by MyTireMonkey.com. Now if there’s a better name for a sponsor I haven’t seen it yet.
  • And finally, congratulations to fellow countryman Jensen Button on winning his first Formula 1 crown. Given that he was out of a ride just months before the start of the season and saddled with a reputation as a playboy after nine years with just a solitary victory, his entire Brawn team’s effort was fantastic. Yes, he wasn’t so good in the second half of the season, but six wins in the first seven races (of 17) set him on the way to a championship. Well done Mr. Button.

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