Friday, April 12, 2013

The Redneck Ideal: Five Questions before Texas

Welcome to the Wild Asphalt Circus! 
NASCAR was built on alcohol. Moonshine, to be exact, an illegal product of the Prohibition back in the 1920s. The police started tracking down the makers of the strong stuff, which resulted in car chases. Faster cars were a byproduct of the need to get away, and people began to race.

Now we race to gain glory, not to escape the law. The precious cargo is the driver’s life rather than a case of Mason jars in the backseat. Though its come a long way since then, the roots are visible.

Stereotypically, NASCAR is redneck. Backwoods. Homegrown. Does the foundation support this judgment? Perhaps . . .

This weekend, the National Rifle Association of America is sponsoring the race at Texas -aptly named the NRA 500- and there are hot comments about the deal. Some are saying this is a glaring mistake, bringing the political aspects into it. Others believe that the sport needs to step away from the “hillbilly” visage to gain more fans.

Well, remember that comment about outsiders calling NASCAR redneck? There is nothing wrong with that. It’s the fans’ way of staying true to what made the sport what it is. Naysayers can complain, point fingers, try to say it’s politically incorrect, but sponsors are sponsors - sponsors the sport needs to nurture.

As much as NASCAR has changed, it has also stayed the same. Risk turns into reward; the racing culture dares to be different and gains a dedicated fan base that is in a whole category of its own.

They would rather flaunt the rustic mores than hide them. That’s the most respectable thing in the world.

On that note, I’m questioning what the fans will see deep in the wild and tumultuous heart of Texas.

Will this year’s finish be as staggering as last fall’s ending? Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski made every fan at Texas rise to their feet as they fought and crashed the siding of their vehicles together. The sight was beautiful and revitalizing, yet it left everyone wanting more. So, can the speedway deliver again? It most likely depends on who’s doing the battling. If the right pair gets on each other’s nerves enough, we’ll see some sparks. Which leads to my next question . . .

Who’s the next rivalry? It’s obvious the passion is back in NASCAR and when that overflows, we see pushing, bumping and the throwing of water bottles. There’s a feeling in the air that this just isn't a phase; that competitive fire is here to stay. Who will be the next to duke it out? It’s a solid bet that we’ll figure it out under the lights Saturday night.

Can Stewart-Haas Racing finally get going? Nobody could foresee the terrible start SHR has had this season. The only flash of brilliance they've had is the 12th finish Danica Patrick claimed last weekend at Martinsville. It’s crazy to think that Tony Stewart was the champion two years ago, yet he’s struggling to finish every weekend. What about Ryan Newman? The guy is on the fence, whether or not he’ll have a ride with the team next year since Kevin Harvick is coming in. Patrick is their blossoming rookie who’s shaping up to be a restrictor plate and short track racer, but is that enough to make her an upper-level Cup driver? Stewart-Haas Racing needs to get the drivers, mechanics, gift shop clerks, everyone together and have a huge meeting to figure out where everything is going wrong.

Danica Patrick, two in a row? Speaking of Miss Patrick, that 12th-place finish got a lot of people talking. That’s what happens when you show up to one of the toughest tracks on the circuit and make it your own. However, is succeeding at Texas a reasonable hypothesis? Yes; Texas races like a restrictor plate track, and she’s good at those types of settings. Also, she’s raced there in IndyCar, which could give her an advantage. All she needs is a car, and she could possibly earn a top 15.

Is NASCAR’s message becoming more clear? Newman was held for three laps last weekend by NASCAR because they believed he stopped on track after a spin to intentionally bring out a caution. Then Brad Keselowski lost time on pit road when an official stated his car was outside of the pit box. Whether these calls were correct or not, it was a change from what we've seen. The law is being laid down, and all that is questionable is if this resurgence can please both the fans and the drivers.

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