As the 2011 season has turned three weeks old, feel-good stories have abounded: 20-year-old Trevor Bayne winning the Daytona 500 in just his second start, and for the storied Wood Brothers at that; Jeff Gordon breaking a 66-race winless streak in dramatic fashion after a side-by-side duel with Kyle Busch; the resurgence of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Daytona provided an exciting race marked by everything that makes a restrictor plate race, including a multi-car crash that took out, among others, the series champion; close racing; the draft (though in a slightly different form); and an unexpected winner. Phoenix provided action typical of a 1-mile flat track, with hard-fought battles throughout the field. Ratings are up, optimism is creeping in around the edges.
He wasn’t the winningest driver of his era, nor the most popular. He wasn’t a champion, nor did he make millions upon millions driving a racecar. But sometimes making history comes quietly, and what Wendell Scott did for NASCAR is irreplaceable. Scott, the first African-American driver to race and win on NASCAR’s top circuit, desegregated the sport before we desegregated America. Breaking into the NASCAR ranks in 1961, Scott first raced in the Grand National (now Sprint Cup Series) in 1963, in a car he bought from Ned Jarrett. He didn’t win, but finished 15th in points-not bad for a rookie. And when the 1964 season got underway that December, Scott broke through with a win-still the only win for an African-American in the series.
“Did that really just happen?”
Those were my words (though I’m pretty sure I’m not alone on that) after Sunday’s Daytona 500 which, after a weekend rife with reminders of the past, showed a hint of the future. Trevor Bayne’s win was a feel-good story for a sport that desperately needed one; the rookie besting the title favorite to start the season. It was an exciting race with a storybook ending, at a time the sport badly needed to turn over a new leaf.
But has it?
Well, not so fast. The Daytona 500 is over. There are 35 races to go this year. So now what?
It’s hard to believe that ten years – an entire decade – has come and gone since the day the NASCAR world stood still. That day is etched in the minds of many race fans like it was yesterday: the blue car flashing across the line as the black one spun across the track in turn 4 and came to rest in the infield. It didn’t look that bad, really; certainly not any worse than the wrecks we saw all the time. Definitely not worse than the wild airborne ride that Tony Stewart had taken earlier that day.
But it was worse.
Will it ever end? Following a 2010 season in which the seemingly impossible happened, as Jimmie Johnson won his fifth Cup title in a row, coming to rest dangerously close to the sport’s all-time greats, we’re all left to ask one question: Can he possibly do it again?
A lot of fans are probably hoping to see Johnson’s streak come to an abrupt end this year, and some even go so far as to argue his titles are “bad for NASCAR.” (A ridiculous argument, by the way. NASCAR survived Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt relatively unscathed and it will survive Johnson, too.) But whether Johnson can continue his remarkable streak is up for debate. There is plenty of reason to think that 2011 will be same old, same old. But there is also plenty to think that this time, he won’t. As the new season looms, the title question is already at the forefront. Here are six reasons why Johnson will – and won’t – hoist his sixth straight Cup this year.
For, oh, half a second there, I really thought NASCAR had finally figured it out. Perhaps this one was finally the year when the sanctioning body would realize what folly they had created over the last half-decade, making amends for a long list of grievances from fans, competitors, and media alike. With a revamped points system, NASCAR had a real shot at giving everyone something to care about on Sundays again. But, alas, the powers that be never got their heads far enough out of the sand to see what the real problem was, and as a result, applied another band-aid on a gaping wound hoping only to staunch the bleeding and not to heal the ugly gash underneath.
This time, NASCAR came so close to getting it right. At first glance, the 43-1 points system has gobs of potential, in position to create excitement from the green flag at Daytona until the checkers at Homestead all by itself.
Ask people who the most successful car owner in NASCAR is these days and it’s likely that the name Rick Hendrick will top that list, perhaps followed closely by Jack Roush or Joe Gibbs. And if you’re only taking NASCAR credentials into account, well, that might be correct. But the real elite team owner right now in racing isn’t included within that first-mentioned group, left out despite multiple wins compiled across each of his two Sprint Cup teams. That’s right; the real elite owner in the mix isn’t named Hendrick or Roush or Gibbs, or even Penske.
It’s Chip Ganassi.
There is a report circulating at Homestead-Miami Speedway that has taken many people by surprise. It’s not really earth-shattering, yet it seems to have crept up on the racing public. In fact many people seem to not have heard it at all. There are going to be 43 drivers in the race on Sunday. Yeah, …
I say both teams made the right move. Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer swapped crews a few weeks ago as Harvick needed an edge in his title bid. Following Sunday’s race at Texas, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon swapped crews as well,
You could almost miss it perusing some popular NASCAR websites. It’s kind of innocuous on NASCAR Online with only a small box dedicated to it, buried under a story on the Sprint Cup title race, another on Richard Petty and a third on the destruction at Talladega. The story itself is short, too, outlining a …