Sunday, February 10, 2008

Budweiser Shootout! What a ride!

If you are driving down the interstate between the months of November and February and you see people just standing on the overpass watching traffic, chances are they are NASCAR racing fans.

If you have a neighbor who starts a lawnmower engine every Sunday throughout the Winter, he or she may tell you that they are just letting the oil circulate, but chances are, it is a NASCAR fan who is telling you that.

The person you caught painting numbers on the junkers in your auto salvage yard is a NASCAR fan.

And, if you were sitting in a bar watching the SuperBowl, and a guy asked you, "Who's playing?" that was probably me.

And yes, I am a NASCAR fan.

When the major sports series with the shortest off season goes on break, for a NASCAR fan that is the longest three months in ones life. Happily that three months has come to an end.

Was the much anticipated Budweiser Shootout worth the wait?

Final practice for the Shootout, Friday afternoon, certainly added to the level of anticipation. Newspapers and television broadcasters carried the story of the altercation between Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch to every household in the nation. NASCAR couldn't have paid for such publicity, but the more immediate effect was that the adreneline level of millions of race fans rose drastically at the news. Kurt Busch fans were certain that Stewart had done something to make their driver angry, and cheering him on for "showing Tony Stewart that the other drivers are tired of his crap."

Meanwhile Smoke fans were celebrating. We like our driver because of his passion, and when that passion shows, we love it. This morning there was a headline on a fellow Smoke fan's page that read, "Tony Stewart got in trouble already. That's our Smoke!"

We celebrate his passion because we know that it means that he is ready to win races and championships.

For all that, this morning's news indicated that we would not see a continuation of the battle that began Friday. The new Smoke, who we love as much as we love the old Smoke had this to say about his rival:

Stewart said Busch's fender-slamming wasn't a big deal.
``What Kurt did coming onto pit road ... I've done a lot worse than what he did, so I'm not going to throw stones,'' Stewart said in a statement. ``Kurt's emotion and desire and passion to win are much like mine. The easiest way for us to go out and do what we do is just agree to disagree and go on from there.
``The best thing to do is to go on and move forward and not let this linger between the two of us. We've met in the NASCAR trailer twice now and we're both past it and we're hoping that the media will respect that fact, too, and let us move on from it.''
Stewart called Busch a ``great driver.''
``He got here for a reason -- it's because he's got talent,'' he said in a TV interview. ``That passion is what makes us all as good as we are. That's part of racing. That's what happens. It's no different than going to any Saturday night short track. We both got our cars fixed for tonight and we're ready to go.''

Although that put an end to thoughts we might see more retaliation during the race, that is actually a good thing, because now we knew that it would be a clean race.

And it was a clean race. The new cars were wiggling all over the place and that in itself was nail-biting because of the proximity of the cars. But to our satisfaction, the cars could actually close on the cars in front of them without as much reliance on drafting partners as the older cars had. This meant that there was real wheel to wheel racing, even with restricter plates. There were plenty of lead changes and a lot of good racing throughout the pack. It was reminiscent of the pre-restricter plate races where the slingshot maneuver could be used to its full advantage.
So, the wiggling added to the thrill, as did the lead changes. We will remain interested in the wiggling attribute next week, as we see how it effects the racing when the tire runs are longer.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr fans once again proved that they were the majority of all the NASCAR fans, as their cheers could clearly be heard above the roar of the engines. Junior Nation will ensure another upsurge of NASCAR popularity this year with their interest and enthusiasm for their driver, because, if there really are 75 million NASCAR fans, 49 million of them are Jr. fans. This is bound to influence more markets and new fans.

The Formula N (CoT) car proved to be racier than we would have thought, considering what we saw from it last year. It seems there is more great racing to come as the engineers and crew chiefs from each team get it figured out. The talented drivers who can adapt to the way it drives can also promise us a great season.

So, was the Budweiser Shootout worth the wait? In my opinion, you bet it was!

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