Race Weekend Central

Fan’s View: NASCAR 2011 a Season Filled With Uncertainty… & Fun!

I sat through yet another interminable Pocono race, watched Jeff Gordon add another to his still growing win column, waited an eternity for the top 10 to cross the finish line, yawned, turned off the DVR in the wee hours of the morning and went to bed.

Sounds like the story of a disenchanted NASCAR fan, doesn’t it? That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The 2011 Sprint Cup season has turned out to be one of the best I can remember in quite some time. We’ve been enjoying all the multiple ingredients required of an engrossing year:

• A seasoned veteran has added two more notches to his Hall of Fame-worthy career stats.
• Rookie Trevor Bayne startled everyone with his win in the legendary Wood Bros. machine at Daytona.
• Longtime-in-coming Regan Smith proved that nice guys don’t always finish last.
Kevin Harvick keeps appearing out of the mist to steal the checkered flag (three of ‘em at last count).
• After a lengthy hiatus, we finally saw a backflip in the Cup Series.
• A manufacturer other than Chevy or Toyota is making a serious run at stealing the show, bringing the Cat in the Hat back to the spotlight.
• A certain driver under the moniker of Kyle Busch is either doing the hat dance or pissing off the entire planet — always good entertainment
• We’ve had name calling, fists flying in public and behind closed doors, tickets issued, fines levied and runaway unmanned vehicles.

And above all else, after five long years, while the reigning Champ is still seriously in the race, the conversation around the campfire after the day is done is not all about Jimmie Johnson.

Points race? Uh. At this time in the long season, I can’t say that I actually give a damn. Maybe Carl Edwards climbed back in his No. 99 on Sunday to prevent a DNF appearing next to his name, but was that a points racing decision? Do I care?

Nope. When I’ve got a driver bringing a broken valve up to the booth for some show and tell, the big picture vanishes in appreciation of an enjoyable broadcast.

All this points to one thing; NASCAR has got it going on.

After several years of bemoaning bad management by the powers that be, I have to admit I’m puzzled over my general positive reaction to this year. But you know, I can remember a time when I was equally enamored of a wide variety of storylines in NASCAR, that had little to do with a favorite driver beating down the entire field for years on end. And perhaps time has added to pleasant memories. But once upon a time, many years ago…

The year was 1992. I was relatively new to the “NASCAR can take over your life” world. I had been steadily sucked into the mire through the late ’80s, but ’92 can be pegged as the year true addiction to everything stockcar began.

The three black cars still figured large in weekly tales (Dale Earnhardt in his No. 3, Rusty Wallace drove the Miller Genuine Draft No. 2 and Davey Allison piloted the ubiquitous No. 28). Awesome Bill from Dawsonville enjoyed the adoration of a huge fan club. Kyle Petty ran around the track in a black and neon green Mello Yellow machine, staying up front more than I remember. There was even a guy by the name of Lake Speed — for real!

And amidst all the veterans, new faces, broken engines, twists of fate and oft-displayed incidents of road rage, a small operation run by one Alan Kulwicki managed to steal the show.

I loved the sponsors, the grease, bad hair, difficulty understanding Sterling Marlin and stories told of days gone by as NASCAR bid farewell to their King, Richard Petty.

Even though the sport was still trying to figure out how to drown out the engine noise so we could hear the broadcasters at Bristol and couldn’t think of anything better than to put shots of glowing brakes at Martinsville, it was a time when you were invited in and welcomed to the growing NASCAR family. For the burgeoning cable viewing audience, we had lessons on loose, push, bump stops, drafting, pit-stop techniques and introductions to all the personalities that filled a Cup garage, as they do now.

There was magic in the air that year. Yes, you’ve been told the tale time and again about the championship won in the final laps of the 1992 Hooters 500 at Atlanta. But it takes more than the last laps of a single race to win the attention and devotion of a new fan.

There must be a variety of winners, underdogs, young guns, veterans taking their bow, innovation… a sport ready to change for the better and hold true to what works.

So far, 2011 has pleasantly surprised the masses filled with ennui with no-name stars, come from behind stunners, last-lap drama, familiar faces, small-town winners and nary a mention of same-old-same-old. We have a long way to go before we hoist the Cup in Homestead, but it looks to be a ride filled with fun and intrigue.

It’s not my place to decide how it all came to be, I’ll leave that complicated dissection of the sport to somebody more enamored with numbers. For me, I see months filled with serendipity.

In the interest of watching many more laps with an unknown conclusion at the end, I shall remain, for now, one happy fan.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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