Friday, May 17, 2013

Whatever It Is: Five Questions before The All-Star Race

Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Last weekend was a throwback to a different era, one recently converted fans have never experienced. Whether they shied away from the 10 cars on the lead lap or not, it was something we haven’t seen in a long time.

As history repeats itself, some ignore the rich flavor and luster it produces. The All-Star Race is a beautiful example of a chunk of history that must be celebrated.

There is something about a bare-knuckles brawl that throws my mind to the '70s and '80s. Maybe it’s the freedom that comes with a special event. Maybe being underneath the stars has something to do with it. Whatever it is has to be the best thing that has happened in recent memory.

NASCAR is at a state where reverting to the past is a culture-shock and a refresher of who the true drivers actually were; Petty, Earnhardt, Elliott, Waltrip, Allison and countless others make up the Good Ol’ Boys club. Some younger fans don’t understand what those names brought to the sport. Sure, they’ve heard stories, but do they grasp the distant highlights between their fingers? It’s highly doubtful.

Races like Darlington and the All-Star Race bring back poignant moments in the sport’s growth. The Pass in The Grass. Busch vs. Craven. One Hot Night. Tempers flaring, bumpers grinding, checkers waving. It is the epitome of NASCAR, and it should be respected.

Unfortunately, throwback races aren’t the only thing that resurrect the old school flashbacks; sometimes it’s the passing of someone who helped glorify such a style.

It was announced late Thursday afternoon that Dick Trickle died at age 71 due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound. A piece of the past, gone. A well-known character erased.

Trickle won The All-Star Race in 1990, back when it was The Winston Open. He was a short-track racer who had a fondness for cigarettes and coffee. His craving for nicotine mixed with the urge for speed when he would smoke during caution laps.

Though that 1990 win was his only top-level win in NASCAR, he dominated in other series. He collected 1,200 feature wins in his career and led over a million laps, which made him the winningest driver of his time.

When the past and the present collide, it can create unimaginable results. As it’s filtered into our bloodstreams of today, those races and people from long ago are placed on a pedestal made of gold and silver. And rightfully so.

The All-Star Race is in our midst, a throbbing, vibrant center. Who can win $1 million? Or, more importantly, who won’t?

Do the Busch/Kahne run-ins hold any water? Everyone has been talking about the multiple incidents Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne have had with each other. “Kyle turned him!” “Kahne needs to pay him back.” “Everyone shut up!” Whether you believe it or not, it isn’t an accident when the same two drivers get into each other three times. This weekend is the perfect time to debate this topic; a no-points, huge payout race under the lights? Does it set us up to see a bit of retaliation from Kahne? Don’t bet on seeing the No. 18 smack the wall because of the No. 5, but anything can truly happen at the All-Star Race.

Will a Truck Series regular win? You would expect to see a young gun win in a series meant for development. However, a few big names regularly crash the party. Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch are pulling double duty this weekend with Truck entries. Could we see a youngster deliver a K.O. punch to both these Cup competitors and steal the trophy? It would be a nice thing to see, no?

Why are other teams so behind? Lately, it’s been The Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing Show (featuring some other people). Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth are the best drivers right now, racking up wins and top finishes. It’s insane how other drivers aren’t even close to catching these guys. Is it strategy, the new car, a secret? What gives?

Will someone step up? The previous question leads me to wonder: will anyone be able to catch up to those already ahead? We saw David Ragan “slay Goliath” and capture an upset win at Talladega, and everyone buzzed with anticipation for another story of the same kind. The truth is, NASCAR is a point where balance is everything. When something happens, a reaction occurs to settle the score. Ragan won Talladega, yet he wasn’t a blip on the Darlington radar. Team wins race, yet the parts are illegal and there is a penalty. Driver one bashes into driver two’s left rear quarter panel, and driver one gets a mouth full of fist afterwards. The sport is a thriving symbol for karma, whether people approve or not. As of now, nobody is set up to dethrone Kenseth and Johnson from the top of the points standings. Can a revival come Saturday night?

Is the speed limit-less pit road a bad idea? Saturday also includes the Sprint Showdown, the qualifying race for those drivers who haven’t been locked in the show by a win. It’s commonly filled with hot racing and dented sheet metal. However, this year’s format includes a minor detail thrown away: the pit road speed limit. It’s apparently okay for the drivers to zoom out of their stalls without discretion. This makes eyebrows quirk; is this a really good idea? Probably not. Who knows, maybe things will go off without a problem.

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