Friday, June 14, 2013

Stand Up and Race: Five Questions for Michigan

Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images
Racers are born to race. Stock cars, Modifieds, Sprints, Go-Karts, shopping carts in the grocery store aisles, whatever. Their need for speed is never quenched. That passion and determination is what helps propel them into the highest of ranks.

That is something that all drivers share. It links them all together, making them friends. Competitors. Brothers.

Losing one of those brothers makes the structure shake and tremble. It makes them momentarily question if this is good for their families, fans and sanity. All they can do is stand up and race.

Race for the numerous times they’ve driven with death in the passenger seat.

Race for when their cars have flipped, rolled, gotten too close to the wall.

Race for those who can’t race anymore.

As harsh as that seems, it’s the best medicine. It’s what happened after Dale Earnhardt, Dan Wheldon, Ayrton Senna and so many others passed away. It’s what happened after the tragic events at Daytona earlier this year. That is a coping mechanism that will always work.

Times like these are when we all become racers. So we will all race for Jason Leffler. It’s what we do best.

Though this intro has been short, it seems appropriate. But, the questions make up for it. I rant and rave about Jimmie Johnson’s post-race inspection issues, the legacy of famous car numbers and why racing fans rock.

How does a car settle and gain weight during post-race inspection? After Jimmie Johnson’s utter domination Sunday, the party was cut short with post-race inspection woes: the car was too light. However, the officials called John Darby and others in, and they, including Chad Knaus, all talked while the car sat. The car was weighed again, and, this time, it rang in at an acceptable weight. Does that sound legitimate to you? Although arguing about it wouldn’t really change anything, it smells fishy. Hmm.

Does Junior’s history at Michigan say a lot and a little? It’s been one year since Dale Earnhardt Jr. won a race, and that fact has been beaten into everyone’s heads this weekend. Another overwhelming fact is that people want to know if he’ll win Sunday. I am obviously not a psychic, so I can’t tell you the accurate answer. The thing that is certain is that Junior hates this race weekend. Now, you may think that’s crazy, but the main reason this race is hyped up is because it’s been a year since he has gotten a trophy. That’s equivalent to a farmer’s year without rain. It doesn’t say much, but what it says is loud and clear: “Beautiful memories are often surrounded by dark shadows.”

Are the legacies of numbers unfair? Speaking of shadows, threatening ones loom over Austin Dillon and Trevor Bayne. The reputations of their car numbers fuel a question that has been wracking my brain: do we put too much pressure on young drivers with experienced predecessors? We use Dale Earnhardt and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as the standard in this example, and that isn’t fair. Now, an instance like Tony Stewart in the No. 14 is an exception. The AJ Foyt of our time, he didn’t cower so much from the comparisons. Instead, he lived up to them, one-upped the critics. Dillon and Bayne are still young and they don’t have enough traction to do that yet. Maybe someday they’ll outrace the past.

Will the schedule ever be shortened? If NASCAR were to be personified, it would have the mentality of a flippant person in regards to personality. One day cranky and old, the next easygoing and free, NASCAR needs to buckle down and act on some pressing issues. One of them is definitely the length of the schedule; 36 races a season is too many. It draws out the product, commercializes it. Chop some venues down to one race, and you've got yourself a good starting point to solving the ongoing attendance issue.

Why are racing fans the strongest support group? When the news broke that Jason Leffler was involved in a horrific Sprint car accident, the racing community - fans, drivers, writers - banded together to send up prayers and good thoughts. Even when the worst was confirmed, it was evident that we weren’t giving up. Articles, tribute videos and photos were posted to commemorate his life and career. It was easy to see that fans are an amazing driving force, and, no matter the driver, we all remember our own. Something within the high speeds and relatable smiles must enchant us, bind us. It’s mystic and enigmatic, yet I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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