As a fan, baseball is a simple game. I cheer for the Red Sox. That’s it. I don’t play fantasy leagues, think that maybe Baltimore is looking pretty good this year or St. Louis recruited an awesome rookie so I’ll send some happy thoughts that way. It’s my team or nothing.
I am not so lucky in having such a singular view regarding NASCAR. Today I’m sitting here wondering why I ever allowed myself to clutter my racing obsession with multiple favorites. This broad minded approach to stock car racing has created havoc. The wild finish to Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville shattered my focus and left me trying to decipher exactly how I am supposed to react.
In a span of 10 minutes I watched Jeff Gordon put a bumper to Jimmie Johnson‘s fender to retake the lead he had so thoroughly proven was his for the day. A dyed-in-the-wool Gordon fan, I bounced up and down as the laps ticked down, listened to the announcers regale me with the 200th win propaganda and prepared to bid farewell to a rather dismal start to the season. The fact Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat in third kind of made for a nice bookend to the day. Life looked rather rosy at the moment.
Then the No. 10 rolled to a complete stop. Some unsavory comments slipped past my lips as my fists beat the sofa into submission. However, besides the thoughts that catalogued the number of strategic options now available to the previously scattered field, my mind uttered one word. “No!” I might have thought it a few times over and over.
I did briefly wonder what had possessed David Reutimann to execute such a hare-brained maneuver, but the idea vanished just as fast. He drew a yellow the same way that drivers across the country call convenient cautions – he stopped. Most of the time no foul is called even as the crowd boos, and if my favorite were in the same spot as Reuti, he very well may pull the same cheap trick.
Then came the finish; the No. 39 did a bump n’ run on my driver (well, not directly, but still! Can you still hear the angst in my voice?), Jeff and Jimmie were taken out by middle-man Clint Bowyer and a general scuffle erupted for position behind the front row skirmish. None of this should have shocked me. Martinsville is a short track. This is how races at this facility end, with shortened fenders and tempers. In fact it usually makes me happy… honest.
And hey! Did you see the ‘Dinger cross the checkers right behind Newman? That, too, elicited a grin for a moment. Junior finished where he ought, strengthening the start to his admittedly very good year. Kenseth, Truex, Hamlin, Stewart, Almirola (?), Keselowski and Bowyer finished out the top 10. Really, any other week I’d be dancing in appreciation at that lineup. It’s just chock full of victory stories!
But I am not happy. I am conflicted, emotionally wrung out and quite possibly tickled pink.
My driver, for who I’ve been cheering for 20 years, lost a race he should have won because, well, it wasn’t his turn to receive fate’s blessing. I can say this after a night of letting the events settle into my brain. The lack of the 200th win is depressing.
Ryan Newman, previously known to me as “my rookie” in his inaugural year, showed some short-track savvy and took what was offered. Smart. ‘Dinger rode Newman’s bumper for the final green-white-checkered and demonstrated why I cheered when he switched to the No. 22. Cool! And above and beyond it all, pit road and victory lane erupted into a cacophony of blame and apologies with the end of the race, truly a beautiful sound to a race fan’s ears.
If I really stop and think about all this, I shouldn’t be upset. I got exactly everything I hope for when NASCAR returns to the short-track circuit. Jeff Gordon dominated the day. I could not predict the finish to the race. More than one team suffered at the hands of another. Fenders were bent and tempers frayed. This was good! Possibly even great.
Still, the best possible outcome for this fan did not play out; my hopes for glory dashed at the last moment in a convincing and brutal fashion. And so the depression will win out this week. I can only hope for a better less complicted outcome in the weeks to come. It would certainly be easier to decipher.
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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