The Game 7 moment. That one perfect, shining, elusive minute of perfection. It’s got excitement, it’s got hope, it’s got everyone on the edge of their seats. It’s what NASCAR has tried to create with the Chase, the restart rules, the green-white-checkered finishes, the well-timed debris cautions. But it’s hard to capture and impossible to create.
And it happens every single race.
You heard that right. Every. Single. Race. Because the perfect shining moment isn’t when the winner flashes past the flag stand or when someone triggers the crash that changes everything. It’s not the pass or the spin, not the restart or the pit stop. Sometimes a race can have those moments, too, but the best of them all? The one that makes you want to scream out loud, to jump to your feet and roar, the one that never runs out of hope that anything can happen, anything at all? That one happens every week, without fail… right before the green flag flies.
In that second or so, when the cars come off turn 3 slowly, slowly, and the pace car dives to pit road, the engines sound angry, desperate to break free from restraint. The anticipation drags it all out, slowing time to a crawl. And then all hell breaks loose as the green flag waves and time speeds up to normal again. Cars get passed, engines give up, tires fail, someone spins, someone dominates and the story unfolds.
What makes The Moment so special? Well, everything: the color, the sound, the crowd rising as one in anticipation of what’s to come. It all comes together in a couple of heart-stopping seconds. But what really makes that segment of time so achingly perfect is that right then, anything is possible. Anything can happen. The story hasn’t been written yet and you can still believe in a happy ending.
It doesn’t matter right then if your favorite driver drives for the richest team or the poorest. Right then, he or she can do the predicted or the impossible. You can almost taste the champagne sprayed in Victory Lane, feel the exhausted relief of crossing that line first. It can happen. In The Moment, anything can happen.
During the race, the hopes of The Moment are often dashed, particularly for fans of the drivers whose teams aren’t quite at the top of the ladder. Aerodynamics and tires and other drivers happen. Equipment fails. Cars just aren’t fast enough. Mistakes lead to penalties. Debris cautions tighten the action, but it’s a false sense of excitement and everyone knows it. There are gimmicks and disappointments and letdowns.
As the weeks roll on, it’s easy to forget The Moment. It doesn’t translate well on television to begin with, so it’s easy to lose among the hype and the disappointment, the close finishes and the spinning cars. It’s easy to forget that hope is perfect in its simplicity when the complexities of the Chase overshadow everything. It’s easy to lose hope when that favorite driver is struggling. It’s easy to forget what it feels like to savor that hope when that favorite driver is winning left and right.
The powers that be in Daytona and the television booth have, for the most part, forgotten the magic of those seconds when anything can happen. They focus on outcomes and numbers and sensationalism and smoke and mirrors. Maybe they don’t need to dream of what might happen like the fans in the stands do. Maybe they have forgotten how. Maybe they lost perspective in the shadow of change, forgetting that there is beauty in simplicity.
It’s even easy for fans to forget that for those precious seconds, all is right and good. It’s easy to remember the disappointment at the end of the day instead of the excitement of how it began. Resentment for what went wrong blots out the simpler joy of knowing that right now, everything is right.
But the truth is, NASCAR doesn’t need to try so hard to insert that Game 7 moment into every race. The best part of any Game 7 is the anticipation before the first pitch is thrown or the ball is tossed into the air for the jump. It’s the conviction that your team can win and dread that they might not. It’s the feeling that everyone is in it together and while every fan in the stands has a different idea of the perfect outcome, they’re all united in their love of the game and their momentary belief that anything can happen.
NASCAR’s perfect moment — The Moment — is both stunning in its simplicity and deeply complex. It’s something different for everyone — anticipation, thrill, anxiety, abject joy. In The Moment, it doesn’t really matter what else happens in the race, because whatever does cannot possibly match the magic of right now. Because that right now is your time, your driver’s time, every fan’s in the seats time. There is one timeless second in every race where time and circumstances don’t matter; there is only intense hope and passion.
That is what makes the sport worth watching at the end of the day.