The sport of automobile racing has always evoked deep feelings within its fans both for the sport and for individual participants within the sport. Over the years, the icons of the sport have always seen a dichotomy amongst the fans. The fans of the big names have always been intensely loyal, and the detractors of the top drivers are equally vehement in their dislike.
Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon and now Jimmie Johnson have all been divisive forces among the NASCAR fanbase over the years. This past weekend’s Nationwide Series race was a microcosm of the love/hate relationship of fans in the NASCAR world.
Kyle Busch was heading towards making another mockery of a race when he was caught back in the pack due to the vagaries of some pit stop strategy. On a restart, Busch made a bold move from the top of the track to the bottom, but his actions caught Brad Keselowski by surprise.
The result was Busch making a move to avoid contact which ended up causing him to contact the infield grass and lose control of his car. The resulting contact with the inside wall knocked Busch out of the race and provided his detractors with a prime opportunity to cheer for the bad luck that befell their antagonist while Busch’s fans were forced to bemoan what might have been.
As the race continued toward its conclusion, it became apparent that fuel strategy was going to play a role in deciding the outcome. One leader after another had to peel off for a splash of gas and the ultimate leader was Keselowski, another driver who has truly developed a love/hate following among the fans. He is especially antagonistic towards the growing legion of Busch backers.
The white flag went into the air and it seemed as though the victory was in Keselowski’s hands but, as he began to set up for turn 1, the right-front tire on his Dodge went flat and he was propelled into the outside wall, ending his hopes for a win, although he was able to continue on for a third-place finish.
The Busch fans who, just 70 laps earlier had their hopes for a win dashed, would now be able to cheer for the failure of their Nationwide nemesis. The pendulum of emotion swung from the bottom to the top for Busch’s fans in the blink of an eye as the end arrived early for Mr. Keselowski.
While Busch and Keselowski embody the divisions between fans of NASCAR, the other driver who gained quite a bit of attention on Saturday embodies even greater dissension, not only among NASCAR fans, but among racing fans in general, open wheel vs. stock car, and fans of female vs. male drivers. Danica Patrick scored the highest finish in history by female driver in a NASCAR national touring series race.
Pit strategy allowed her to have the fuel to make it to the finish and secure a fourth-place finish. Few drivers have come into the sport with such a polarizing effect on the fan base as Patrick has and her continued improvement this season has been fuel for the ongoing fire of debate between her detractors and her supporters. Her naysayers will point out that once again her best result in an auto race was because of fuel strategy, but her supporters can rest assured that she put herself in the position by driving well and earning the finishing spot.
There are a myriad of reasons that people follow automobile racing, but the torrent of human emotions that can be brought forth from a single event is one of the underlying foundations that continues to make it one of the most popular sports in the world. The simple act of going around in circles seems so trivial when viewed in the framework of the rest of the goings on in the world, but all of the pieces involved in making the cars go around, and the joy and excitement that those cars bring out of every fan who sits in the stands and every fan who watches on television are undeniable, whether the feelings evoke love or hate.
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