Now we come down to it: two drivers, three points, one race and a shiny Sprint Cup championship to boot. Perhaps best of all, we will be crowning somebody new come Sunday for the first time in six years. Like dust in the wind, so is the reign of Mr. Five-time.
With all the grumbling that I have done since, oh, about 2008, it won’t be a surprise that I will be happy to welcome somebody other than JJ to the head table in Vegas. But, just how happy? What will a sometimes irascible Smoke bring to NASCAR as its spokesman? Or would we be better served by a grinning Cousin Carl? Such are the choices before us. I realize what we might want for a representative of our sport may not be what we get, but it’s worth wishing for, isn’t it?
Let’s take a look at the areas that have been lacking in the past few year and see if either Stewart or Edwards might prove more… interesting.
While Mr. Knaus has managed to draw a raised eyebrow from the gentlemen in the Oval Office from time to time with his tinkering of the templates, what he says directly to the camera is anything but controversial. Likewise, as the other half of the No. 48 team, Mr. Johnson heeded his classes in answering the media quite well. Yes, he might tend to fall off golf carts in the off-season, but I can’t recall a moment where he looked foolish at the track over his tenure. He has made Mr. Hendrick proud.
Meanwhile, since his arrival in NASCAR Tony has managed to create drama in almost every conceivable manner. In the early going we had anger management issues – off the track and on. There have been pranks, frustration, joy, giggling. I’ve witnessed just about every emotion conceivable play across Smoke’s visage. He has been the host of lots of intrigue over the years. We would not be bored with Tony at the helm.
What about Carl? On first impressions, you can’t help but like his big grin and happy persona. The backflip is really cool – especially after a long, hot race. And there’s his face to face hugging the fans when he should be in victory lane. That has to earn him a few votes come election day. He likes talking to the media and holds his tongue well when stressed. Uh oh. This is beginning to sound a little bit like a clone of Jimmie Johnson. Edwards did add the pretty wife and kid to the roster recently, too.
So, for presenting an honestly interesting face to the public – neither too shiny nor ragged – the nomination goes to Tony Stewart, the proud owner of two Cups already.
Now, for on-track performances. You have to admit that the No. 14’s meteoric rise from the dregs of the Chasers to fighting off the year-round performer in the dwindling weeks of the season recommends Mr. Stewart to the “electric to watch” category. However, despite the vast herd of naysayers in the “consistent” category, you can’t deny that Carl has a flair of his own on the track.
Yes, he’s only got the one mark in the win column this year, but the AFLAC duck has seen more TV exposure this year than almost any other car out there – even Junior’s! He’s just plain been good. Solid pits, smart decisions when it comes time for fuel and a team that has got his back.
This nomination is a sticky wicket for me. I’d really like to go with Tony’s great come-back, for its attention grabbing storyline. But honestly, I do believe in rewarding consistency – especially when we are talking excellence. For racing, and keeping his fenders clean for most of the year, I give the nod to Carl Edwards.
And now for a tie-breaker, which has absolutely nothing to do with at-the-track performances, we have the “Best Sponsor Whore” nomination. Not who can thank the companies that pay the bills without looking at their suit award, but who do I think makes a better PR man appearing on the media that reaches more of NASCAR’s fanbase than any other – television ads.
As the recipient of the Sprint Cup, the winner will be required to appear in a flood of advertisements hocking the best NASCAR has to give. We will be forced to watch these things many, many times a day and 40 more on race day. In short, which one do you want to be stuck with the most?
In the past years, Tony has built a house, been lost in polishing his car and eaten enough burgers to elicit some comments about his ever increasing and decreasing waistline. I usually enjoy the silliness, enough that upon the thousandth viewing there is still some entertainment to be drawn from the moment.
Carl has argued with a cantankerous duck and neatly eaten a stack of Subway sandwiches, all the while maintaining his perfect smile and trademark acrobatics. There are also the plethora of Claritin ads, completely forgettable in their blandness. Quite frankly, for all the polished perfection, there is something lacking in all these ad appearances. An ability to laugh at oneself, perhaps?
Stack those observations up against Johnson’s Mr. Fix-it spots for Lowe’s, and you see the inevitable winner in this category – Tony Stewart.
Tony Stewart wins! We want Tony! We want Tony!
That my friends, is a completely un-scientific approach to crowning a champ. And if you want to know, I’m a bit surprised at the conclusion. I’ve been a vehement anti-Smoke fan in the past, but have always displayed my Edwards colors proudly at the track. But when I think about who I would be proud and excited to see up on that podium for the next year, Tony Stewart’s ever changing and quixotic personality has won me over.
Now I know who I’m cheering for come Sunday afternoon. How about you?
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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