It would be simple to say Kurt Busch won on Sunday and decide that was all that happened at Texas. But as we NASCAR fans know, it’s never that simple.
Yesterday, I sat down to watch the Dickies 500 with one known fact in my head… Jimmie Johnson was on his way to clinching his fourth consecutive Sprint Cup. Now, the NASCAR journalist in me recognizes this accomplishment with a huge amount of admiration for the No. 48 team. The fan that resides in my gut has been snarling at the screen for most of the Chase saying, “Geez! Do we have to go through this again?”
It’s quite possible that we won’t. hysterical giggles of relief in the background
The lap 3 incident involving the Lowe’s Chevy sent Johnson to the garage and, at the time, made a 150-point dent in his lead.
The possibilities exploded into my mind like a summer afternoon sunburst. The race was no longer just about Johnson stealing all the glory. Multiple storylines appeared. Jeff Gordon was suddenly staring at a possible fifth Cup. Mark Martin could see the podium for his first Cup. And despite the difficulty, and unpopularity of its driver, it was plausible that the No. 18 would manage to take home a third trophy in a single weekend from the same track.
The afternoon progressed. Kyle’s brother, Kurt, joined him at the front of the field, and the Busch brothers provided solid restart competition all day. Marcos Ambrose’s No. 47 appeared in the top 10, and oddly enough, it stayed there.
This race spoke to me to days gone by… seasons oft remembered. Back when I was still trying to understand everything that the early cable broadcasts were attempting to teach this new NASCAR fan. My father would stop by in the living room and ask, “Are you watching this?”
I’d smile and nod. “Yeah. It’s really kind of intriguing. It’s not just about who gets across the finish line first.”
We stared at the big screen TV while Rusty Wallace’s black No. 2 took on four tires.
“Did he have flat tires?”
I laughed. “Uh, no. They replace them before they go flat.”
Papa grunted, muttered something about the PGA and wandered off. I returned to my race. To learning about push and loose, wedge and rubbers, nerves of steal, and staying out when you only had fumes in the tank. The multitude of complications that beset the teams – all those teams – wove together in a complicated pattern of competition.
It’s something that every new racing fan must come to understand before they can admit to “getting it”. Racing is no simple deal. There are no guarantees for success, or once found, for continued victories. Beyond any other sport I’ve watched, it’s this psychedelic pattern of choices that keeps me watching NASCAR.
I could spend a bit of time making the obvious simplistic explanations of what the stick-and-ball sports are about… but you know those things. A score is a score. It is the only thing that counts, and on any given day, there will be a single victor and one loser.
Not so in NASCAR. On Sunday, that unfortunate wreck for Johnson did something special for us viewers. While his team refabricated a car in a little over an hour, we got a chance to think about all those other possibilities for a while.
Was it Sam Hornish Jr. who managed to cause the wreck again? No. David Reutimann apparently caused the initial contact that loosened Sideways Sam. Gordon’s No. 24 began to fade almost in an instant. Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove hard and looked solid all day, only to be bit by gas mileage at the very end. Can the boy find any luck?
And I was almost ready to be thrilled for Kyle Busch, as he led the field to what appeared to be a historic moment. But no! Those racing gods are not prepared to let him have his glory, yet. With three to go, he just didn’t have enough gas to make it to the end. His brother, pitting only two laps after him, did and his Blue Deuce took the checkered flag.
Instead of heading into the final two races of the season knowing who is going to win the big pile of money, possibilities reign supreme! Just think – think! – of the what-ifs.
73 points out of the lead, what if Martin beat out Johnson? And all that means to this racing veteran who has been denied that Cup so many times before. To his fans. To this sport.
A more unlikely 112 behind, what if Gordon did it? A fifth Cup for his mantle? After a season of frustration and injury.
Perhaps this new interest in the end of our season has been sparked by the misfortune of one team, but there are still 42 others on that track each week. 42 teams capable of surprising this fan with an untold number of twists and turns in this incomplete tale.
Hoping for a complicated finish to our story, I am now looking forward to Phoenix.