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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Focused On Renewed Devotion?

The beginning of this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship has some fans in NASCAR Nation already pondering the promise and potential of 2013.

As Brad Keselowski wheeled his Miller Lite Dodge into Victory Lane at Joliet last weekend to celebrate his fourth win of the year, it’s very likely that several car owners, crew chiefs, drivers, and fans already looking forward to next season. Such is the plight of the underdog/also-ran – the team (and its fan base) whose mantra is, “Wait until next year!” This kind of hopeful thinking goes for Brian France, too.

The Fickle Force of Fate

Three points. Three positions on the race track.

Failing to earn three additional points kept Kyle Busch from making this year’s edition of The Chase for the Sprint Cup. Someone, working somewhere in the NASCAR main office (and at M&M/Mars) is probably lamenting the fact that one of sports’ most volatile and controversial figures will spend the next ten weekends watching the season championship go (yet again) to another driver.

This is a rough time of year for athletes. If you’re a football player, your talents are being assessed under the media’s microscope – and every idiot with a pizza stained t-shirt managing a fantasy team. For every player who looks good, there’s another who looks great; for every possible playoff contender, there’s an already-forming line of teams buying tickets for the S.S. Better Luck Next Year.

Professor Of Speed: The Last Lap Of A Long Season

Labor Day is always a melancholy holiday for me. It’s not because the weekend marks a symbolic end to summer, nor is it because it marks the beginning of a new school year (the moans of children are often difficult to hear over the cheers of their parents). What makes Labor Day so depressing to me is the fact that this was the time of year when Virginia Howell – my mother and one of the most dedicated NASCAR fans I ever knew – died from lung cancer at the age of 69.

I’ve written at length over the years about the role both of my parents played in my life-long relationship with NASCAR, but it was my mother who taught me about the meaningful (and sometimes quite complicated) nature of the driver/sponsor/fan triumvirate. Her loyalties were legendary within my family, and the example she set went on to inspire others once they discovered this thing called stock car racing.

The Importance of Being Ambrose

The on-track accomplishments of Marcos Ambrose over the past month have been nothing short of inspiring. While always considered a threat to win on road courses (which he did in a wild, dirt-throwing, metal-bending show of last-lap fireworks at Watkins Glen a few weeks ago), Ambrose is also proving to be a worthy contender on other kinds of racetracks, as well. His recent back-to-back, fifth-place finishes at Michigan and Bristol demonstrated his talents on both superspeedways and short tracks – finishes that had him in-the-mix with Sprint Cup notables such as Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

A Mindful Mind Full

It’s back-to-school time, which means it’s also make-the-Chase time, too. The postseason format for stock car racing has now become synonymous with the start of autumn. Once the checkered flag flies at Richmond, the final ten Sprint Cup races take their place in the media spotlight alongside college football, early season games in the NFL, and late season games in major league baseball. That’s precisely what Brian France intended when he explained what the “Chase for the Championship” was hopefully going to accomplish back in January of 2004. Here we are, eight years later, and France’s vision seems to have come true. The Chase, roller coaster TV ratings aside seems to have earned its recognition among the other “mainstream” sports of fall.

Professor Of Speed: Good Finishes Make A Good Start

So there I was … pretty much finished with NASCAR, when …. Wham! There’s Kyle Busch slipping and sliding, and there’s Brad Keselowski running through the grass, and there’s Marcos Ambrose beating and banging his way to a .571 second margin of victory in the Finger Lakes 355 at Watkins Glen. It took just a moment for the final lap of that race to become etched in NASCAR folklore; all the radio announcers said so, as did the television commentators. The newspaper/internet writers who covered the event echoed the same fact when their stories were posted.

What a difference an exciting finish makes.

Professor Of Speed: Weathering The Storms

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My telephone rang on Sunday afternoon. The caller? My 82-year-old father, who lives about forty miles northwest of Pocono Raceway. He mentioned that rain had been passing through the area all morning, causing the start of the Sprint Cup race to be delayed because of heavy downpours. I could hear audio of the Pennsylvania 400 in the background as my dad gave me a quick synopsis of the event thus far. At my house in northern Michigan, about 750 miles away, we were recovering from _Star Wars_ Night at the local ballpark and more focused on the busy week that lay ahead than events at The Tricky Triangle.

Professor Of Speed: Making The News

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Last Sunday’s running of the 19th Annual Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard (whew!) was supposed to be one of the 2012 Cup schedule’s major events. Not only was the race touted for its combining of a historic past (it’s Indy!) with present-day excitement (it’s Hendrick Motorsports!), but the weekend also resonated with controversy (what was in AJ’s “B” sample? The same thing as in his “A” sample, apparently). The anticipation leading up to last week’s event at IMS promised fans all the thrills for which NASCAR has become famous.

What this meant was that it was the perfect time to grab some snacks, some cold drinks, plop in front of the television, and watch the Olympics.

The Junk In The Trunk

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What is the value of a memory? What is the price of history? Does owning a part of history enable us to actually experience of a special event? These may be little more than hypothetical questions, but recent events in the news have helped to stir such thinking.

The front page headline at the top of the newspaper last week said it all: “Baseball Cards Found in Attic May be Worth Millions”.

This teaser drew readers to a story written by John Seewer of the Associated Press about a “soot-covered cardboard box” found by Karl Kissner and his cousin in the attic of their late grandfather’s home in Defiance, Ohio – a small town not far from the city of Toledo, and also the hometown of Indy 500 winner/NASCAR driver Sam Hornish, Jr.

Professor Of Speed: The Numbers Game

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With the recent successes (give or take a couple rules violations) of 22-year old Austin Dillon in the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series, NASCAR fans are getting used to seeing a familiar number back in victory lane. The sport went nearly a decade since any race car bearing the No. 3 rolled into the winner’s circle anywhere. It was Austin Dillon who put the legendary number back in the spotlight with a K&N Pro Series East win at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in April of 2008. Until that event, the No. 3 hadn’t crossed the finish line first since Dale Earnhardt did so in dramatic fashion at Talladega Superspeedway during the fall race in 2000.

A Little Light NASCAR Housekeeping

As the onslaught of summer approaches in advance of Independence Day, and as the kids require much more time and energy (of which they have a lot. As for me? Not so much….), I thought it would be a good time to clean off what used to be my desk and make sense of NASCAR as we reach the halfway point of the season.

And what an odd trip it’s been thus far. From monsoons and jet dryer explosions to driver suspensions and the return of the Prodigal Son to victory lane, the 2012 Sprint Cup season has offered its share of thrills and chills –-or has it been more green than yellow, or more parading than passing?. It depends on your frame of mind, I guess.

Practicing NASCAR For Father’s Day

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By now, we’ve all seen, heard, read, celebrated, contemplated, and analyzed the relevance of last weekend’s Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway. Having Dale Earnhardt, Jr. break his four-year winless streak with a victory in the Quicken Loans 400 – and on Father’s Day, no less – brought balance, goodness, and honor back to the universe. While men wept, women swooned, and children danced in the streets, NASCAR Nation could catch its collective deep breath and rest easy in the fact that all was once again right in our troubled world. After four years of frustration, Earnhardt’s 5.393-second victory over reigning Cup champion Tony Stewart turned muttered rumbles of “You’ll see…” into shouts of “Told you so!”

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