Friday, April 26, 2013

Drinking It In: Five Questions before Richmond


(Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
There isn’t anything as satisfying as watching NASCAR.

It’s as soothing to the soul as chicken noodle soup, a trip back to your hometown, taking a week off work, but nothing can touch the swell of relaxation that goes through the body of a NASCAR fan.

You would think none of this would be calming, yet it has a weird effect, considering what causes it is the utterly consuming roar of stock car engines.

When you stand there, in the center of it all, you can feel the air vibrate around you. The fans around you become frozen. Cars going around, creating a vortex of sparks, burnt rubber and victory. It’s more gratifying than you would expect.

That’s what it’s like at the track. You’re a part of the racing, and the racing is a part of you. It’s that connection you feel that lights you up, makes you scream, brings everything together.

If you’ve never been to an actual race, you need to go as soon as you can.

Because, before you can really drink in the soup, you need to have the bowl within your grasp.

In this week’s Five Questions, I tackle Denny Hamlin’s urge to get back to racing, breakthrough drivers and of course, NASCAR’s behavior as of late. I bring you my inquires.

How crazy will things get under the lights? We’ve gone a few weeks without any on-track incidents, and anxiety is setting in; fans are trembling with built-up vigor. This begs the question of what we’ll see Saturday night. Everyone knows that insanity can result from night racing. Tempers are hot, revenge is cold, and insipid racing is thrown out the window. Can this short track bring us the next rivalry, beat-down, bottle rocket of a battle?

Does Denny Hamlin know what "patience" is? On Wednesday, Denny Hamlin announced that he wasn’t cleared by doctors to race this weekend; his back injury not progressing faster than what he had hoped. This didn’t come as a shock to anyone. It’s disturbing to think that Hamlin isn’t relaxing and following orders. When he’s at the track, shots of him on the pit box make it look like he’s not wearing his brace. All that matters at this time is that he is healing. It’s understandable that he’s pushing the issue; drivers need to drive to survive. However, if he doesn’t calm down and be patient, he could cause more issues that can’t be corrected. Relax, Hamlin. Please.

Who’s due for a breakthrough? When posing this question, three drivers come to mind. All have earned very impressive finishes over the last few races, are in the top 12 in points, and haven’t won (ever or in a while). These drivers - Aric Almirola, Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard - are the top candidates to take on the title of NASCAR’s Official Underdog. Each of them can win at any given track, but it hasn’t happened yet. That’s the anticipation, and that’s the thrilling part. Maybe this weekend will bring answered prayers and glorious victory for one of these dedicated guys.

Can we get some breathing room up in here? It’s getting hot in the NASCAR garage, and it’s not because of the cranked thermostat. Suits - not the fireproof kind - are breathing down the necks of every crew member on every team, suits that are coming down from The Main Office and picking at every single component on these cars. That’s a lot of added pressure nobody in that garage needs. Yes, it’s the president’s, vice president’s and directors’ jobs to make sure everyone is within the rules, but there isn’t any space for comfort or thought collecting. Everyone needs personal space, even in the NASCAR garage.

Will NASCAR’s demeanor harm the racing? Speaking of NASCAR watching every single aspect of the sport nowadays, will this tight leash make the racing less competitive? The sport is in a time of its life where action needs to be high to keep the upscale climb going. With backlash possible with a single misstep, however, the worry lies in if the drivers are going to restrain themselves, whether it be during the race or in the middle of press conferences. NASCAR is unique for the open, relatable feel it radiates, and that should be preserved. If that goes away, that spark it brings disappears also.

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