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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Trying to Find Enthusiasm for Deserving Teams…and Failing

There he was again, rubbin’ and bumpin’ his way to the front. Before we knew it, Kasey Kahne led the Food City 500. There was some close racing, more than a few instances where we wondered if he might bend a fender here or there, or even get spun into the wall.

In fact I realized near the end of the race, I’ve seen Kasey Kahne in this position rather a lot lately. Gone are the years where one of the Hendrick cars habitually lived below the top 15 in points, and therefore, out of camera shot. Kahne has joined Gordon, Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. in the heady firmament of successful NASCAR drivers. Thus, he should rank up there in popularity, as part of the most valuable team in the Sprint Cup series, right? My head should be on a swivel every time he makes a good pass.

And yet, as the No. 5 drove to the top of Victory Lane in Bristol and was showered in red, white & blue confetti, I was still talking about the closing laps where Busch, Keselowski and Bowyer were making the race worth watching. Cute Kasey talked to the cameras, radio, hoisted his trophy and I…looked the other way.

Am I always such a fickle fan? Perhaps.

Farther down the finishing order, the No. 51 quietly completed its day and was sitting eighth in owners points. Part-time driver AJ Allmendinger (AJDinger) tweeted, "Really excited for Fontana. Brand new PhoenixRacing51 @TeamChevy chassis. Needs a sponsor on it. Top 10 in points. Great time to sponsor!!!”

Yes, a top 10 car most definitely should have some sponsorship on its side. And then I blinked. How did the No. 51 land so far up in the points standings? When did that happen? Where was I? With four races in the books, the top 15 is usually beginning to shake itself out for the season. What did I miss?

Since Kurt Busch left the James Finch ride last year, I admit to pretty much ignoring it. The ‘Dinger manages to keep it within my general radar, but he’s only driving it now and then. Co-driver Regan Smith could be doing sommersaults and I’d be able to be distracted by a butterfly landing on a flower.

I can’t blame all of my ignorance simply on a short attention span. There’s also what I’m fed by the mass media that often dictates what we talk about and where we look. I don’t recall FOX aiming the camera in ‘Dinger’s direction this year. Or even at Regan Smith. The media is not covering the ups and downs of this once again “also ran team.” Still, being an avid fan, I ought to look past the camera’s eye.

I realize deep down that I—or even any fan—can’t be every driver’s cheerleader. It’s not human. We always have a favorite or three. I may even have a dozen, if I stopped to count. I tend to smile when I hear a new story about them, savor their moments of glory and glare at the one who is responsible for ending my driver’s day early.

But I can’t help feeling I should pay a little more attention to the ones that just don’t interest me, for whatever reason. With Kasey Kahne, after his first few years with Evernham and me perpetually waiting for the “next Jeff Gordon” to appear, I simply gave up. The girly squeal factor didn’t do anything for me. I actually wanted to see results. Kasey simply lived at that mediocre level for so long, my patience petered out.

With the No. 51, it’s a similar story; Finch appeared to be an owner who wanted to be in the big show without the budget or the driver or much of anything else. Once the first layer of paint wore off, I dismissed the team as an out of contention competitor. The car would appear near the lead at the plate tracks only to vanish again in the speedy dry of the cookie cutters. It was just not a storyline worth pursuing and I returned to following the others who have earned my constant adoration.

Now, I am out of kilter. Kahne has been looking an awful lot like a championship caliber driver with a team to back him up, and the varied combination of Smith and Allmendinger has garnered some serious results for the previously ignored No. 51. A pleasant surprise, indeed. Our sport can always use an underdog doing better than it has any right to and it doesn’t hurt to have a new challenger in that top spot ready and able to take out the reigning champ. It’s good! It’s actually great.

However, it’s going to take a little more time, and most likely some kind of controversy to get me back in the stands for these two worthy competitors. What can I say? I just can’t love them all.

Kyle Larson Stat

Series: Nationwide
Track: Bristol
Car: No. 32 Cottonelle Chevrolet
Qualified: 12th
Finished: 2nd
Points Standings: 9th

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