For so many millions of us, favorite athletes become so much more. Role models for our kids, our communities, ourselves; they’re put on a pedestal of success we can only wish to achieve. Through them, we choose to live our wildest dreams, placed in a fantasy world in which a larger-than-life persona can show us the joys of perfection. Every once in a while, we get lucky in love, and the dream never dies. Our idols leave the sport we love at the top of their game, and we’re allowed to remember the end just the way we want it – like a fairy tale. But more often, the bubble bursts and we find out the truth – that these drivers we worship are human, too, unable to fend off the inevitability of age and time. And that makes it so much harder when you see their careers come crashing down.
Over the last couple of years Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered his own version of an epic drought, as NASCAR’s most famous son hadn’t won a race for more than two whole seasons. While Earnhardt finally got his win — a fuel-mileage triumph at Michigan on June 15th — the streak lasted for a stretch of some 76 races, or 404 days for those so mathematically inclined. It’s fair to say the “Dale Jr. Drought” did not have the financial and societal effects of the Dust Bowl, but for those caught up in both — the workers so graphically depicted in Steinbeck’s tome and Junior Nation — it must have felt, for a while at least, as if it was never going to end. But end both did; and surprisingly enough, in each case the world continued to revolve safely on its axis.
Each week, we’ll go through media reports, interviews, PR, and all our own stuff to find the best quotes from the Sprint Cup race, capturing the story of how the weekend unfolded. It’s the most original commentary you’ll ever find: the truth, coming straight out of the mouths of the drivers, crew members, and the car owners themselves. This week, here’s a sneak peek at what a select few were thinking following the Dodge Challenger 500 at Darlington Raceway.
The Sprint Cup Series was idle this week while the Nationwide Series teams went to Mexico City. Given the huge cost of the trip, should it be the other way around? Is it time for the Cup Series to have a race out of the country?
The last 60 laps then saw Scott Wimmer slowly run down Clint Bowyer, finally making the pass for the lead with 21 laps to go. Wimmer, along with the rest of the race leaders, drove “with an egg under the throttle,” saving fuel to the finish to lock up the win for the No. 29 Chevrolet. Wimmer’s victory was the first for a Nationwide Series regular this season. It was also the Wisconsin driver’s first triumph since July of 2003 at Pikes Peak, as well as his first since aligning with Richard Childress Racing following the 2006 season.
The 2000 edition of the Great American Race wasn’t very good, but come 2001 NASCAR thought they’d developed a solution to ensure good racing at Daytona. A small spoiler called the “taxicab strip” was added to the roof of the Cup cars; NASCAR officials hoped the cars would punch a bigger hole in the air with the strip, allowing for more passing despite the restrictor plates. Whether the strip actually made for better racing is highly debatable; what was of greater importance was how drivers quickly reported the strips made the closing rate on a car ahead frighteningly fast. That led to some dangerous and ultimately tragic racing that unforgettable February afternoon.
The high points of Sterling Marlin’s year came early in the season. Racing with his new team at Ginn Motorsports, he started the season without any owner points. This meant he would have to qualify by speed to get into the race. After qualifying 38th in the Daytona 500, Marlin finished 17th. Throughout the next four races, Marlin continued to qualify by his speed results. He was the only driver outside of the Top 35 in owner points to qualify for all five races. His best finish of the season was 13th, which was in the Dodge Avenger 400 at Darlington.
In this ever increasingly mixed up world, a world where “perception” seems to be valued over “truth,” the entity known as Dale Earnhardt Inc. is in dire need of serious medical attention. Pronto.
What a typical NASCAR vacation: The circuit takes a one-week hiatus from on-track action only to turn up the volume away from it. The Ginn/DEI merger not only shuffled the driver deck and taught prospective owners a thing or two about life in the bigs, it opened a spot in the owner points standings for the Wood Brothers. The recipient of the Lucky Dog in all this chaos, the Woods went from previously finding themselves in a seemingly insurmountable 225-point hole, relying on driver-for-hire Bill Elliott’s past champion’s provisionals (or pure speed) to make the show each week.
Earlier this week in the Frontstretch newsletter, I wrote a brief commentary asking readers to understand the harsh reality of Bobby Ginn’s decision to cut loose the popular veterans Sterling Marlin and Joe Nemechek into the world of NASCAR free agency. While everyone has their varying opinions about what’s gone down in the last week or so, I felt it was necessary for fans to take a step back and consider the difficult position the rookie car owner was placed in. In essence, I made a move to protect Bobby Ginn, protect a man who I felt was painted into a corner and forced to make some difficult decisions. But 24 hours after my plea to the NASCAR community, everything that most people, including myself, thought was true about Ginn’s “restructuring plan” was proved false… with even members of the team itself still digesting a thought process proven to be nothing more than a bad sequence of broken promises.