It was one of the most anticipated events of the season so far. No, wait – that was the race. But Bristol Motor Speedway has something besides great on-track competition. As of last year, they might just be able to boast the greatest driver introductions in NASCAR.
OK, OK, that’s nothing much when you look at the grand scheme of things. But it’s become somewhat of a mini-tradition already and a heck of a lot of fun to follow along with. Here’s the deal: Bristol, unlike other tracks, allows drivers to select a 15-second clip of a song of their choice for their walk across the stage. In the face of three hours of intense focus and general mayhem, it’s a nice, frivolous way to lighten things up before the green flag.
It’s also fun to see which song each driver picks; and many of them are perfect when considering their current circumstances. For example, Brad Keselowski‘s choice of Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” was one of the best choices for this race (although several people, including some Frontstretch staffers, suggested different versions of songs referring to an unpopular bodily orifice).
Other honorable mentions this time around include Elliott Sadler’s selection of the theme music from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Kurt Busch using the theme from The Dukes of Hazzard. Jeff Burton nailed it with “Welcome to the Jungle,” and Martin Truex Jr. also gets brownie points from sponsor NAPA for using the “NAPA Know-How” commercial jingle (but not so much from anyone else for the 1980s escapee ditty.) That’s a shame, because Michael Waltrip‘s 2009 selection of “Ain’t as Good as I Once Was” may be the best choice of all to date.
Some drivers, however, completely missed the boat altogether. Not that the songs aren’t great on their own, but some of these guys really had a chance to make a statement. There are just songs that seem to fit their personalities better than a custom firesuit… and I’m hoping they’ll put two and two together before August to make better picks.
Consider these possibilities below (and for a list of what the drivers actually used, click here for the full list).
For four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson: Santana’s “Smooth.” That’s the one word that describes Johnson on-track, and also hints at the seemingly unflappable personality that is less of a truth than the driving style. His ability to remain “cold” in the racecar is the reason that Johnson’s team overcomes seemingly impossible situations, often snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. As an alternate choice, he could have always floated a kind of musical “bite me” to his detractors: Queen’s “We are the Champions.” ‘Nuff said.
Johnson’s mentor, Jeff Gordon, was long the young phenom in NASCAR, and I’m reminded of him every time I hear the 1980s movie classic “Man in Motion” from St. Elmo’s Fire. It’s a reminder of a younger, hungrier driver, the one who reached his 50th win faster than Johnson and leads all active drivers in that category. It’s also a reminder that the now 38-year-old is still hungry for a fifth championship and sole possession of third on that all-time list (he’s tied with Johnson, the driver he hired, now).
The teammate of Gordon and Johnson both, perennial Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., looks like he’d love nothing more than to get people off his back lately. So while it’s not exactly a “pump you up” type of song, Five for Fighting’s “Superman” is a reminder to fans that it’s lonely up there on that pedestal – and it’s not fun at all when everybody expects too much. Junior, like the comic book cape-wearing hero (at least he doesn’t wear his underwear on the outside like the Big S), deserves the chance to reclaim his own identity, to be the person he wants to be… not the one the media and fans have created.
For pugnacious Carl Edwards, how about *Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting?” The selection speaks to Edwards’s willingness to take on anyone, anytime, in his quest to knock Johnson off the champion’s podium. The 30-year-old’s mercurial temperament has vexed his teammates and opponents, and he’s made it clear that he will not compromise if he believes he is in the right (which is all the time, apparently). So why not send the message that the competition had better watch their backs when he’s ready to get a little aggressive?
Meanwhile, Mark Martin and gangsta rap go together in my head about as well as Jimmy Spencer and Speedos. Meaning, they don’t. Instead, the ageless Martin is better matched with “Take it to the Limit,” the Eagles classic about giving it your all one more time. That’s what Martin has done in the last two seasons, against drivers half his age. Like the song, this 51-year-old is a timeless classic: Martin would have been great in any era.
And finally, here’s an honorable mention of sorts. While we may not see her in Cup introductions at Bristol in the near future, could there be a better song for Danica Patrick‘s someday Bristol debut than *Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch?” Listen to it sometime, all the way through. It’s all Danica – not just the title.
If music is a window to the soul, then drivers should be taking Bristol’s introductions seriously. Well, maybe not, as Clint Bowyer (hunka hunka burning love though he may be) and Scott Speed (does anyone want to know what goes on in the Love Shack? Really?) showed this time around. But they should choose wisely. Like a well-placed bumper, it’s a statement they can only make at Thunder Valley.
And another thing…
- Seriously, why aren’t people talking, right now, about Johnson being among the best ever to sit behind the wheel of a stock car? Johnson put an exclamation point on his stellar season to date by winning for the first time at Bristol, a track which has caused him consternation for 16 previous races (only three top-five finishes to go with four outside the top 30 entering Sunday). It wasn’t a perfect race car or even a genius crew chief that brought Johnson to the front in the final ten laps: it was his bulldog style and some old-school Bristol driving.
- Speaking of Johnson, this was the only time I can ever recall seeing a one-man food fight in victory lane as Johnson, lacking anything else to throw in his joy, heaved the contents of the Food City props in celebration – a fake loaf of bread and a bunch of faux grapes, among other things. Too funny.
- It was great to see a real Nationwide driver beat the Cup guys at their own game on Saturday. Justin Allgaier‘s win will probably go down on a short list of real Nationwide winners this year, but it’s an important win for the series as well as the driver.
Finally, I’m on vacation next week to make my first foray to Martinsville as a fan. I can’t wait to see the action… but I think I’m scared of the hot dogs….