Friday, November 1, 2013

Connecting the Dots: Five Questions for Texas

Texas Motor Speedway in April. Credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs

“You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” When Steve Jobs said that, I highly doubt he was talking about America’s current state … or NASCAR, for that matter.

Earlier this month, I had to write a speech on why I’m optimistic about America’s future for my Communications class. I was searching for quotes to add to my essay, and that one popped up in a search.

As I thought about how our country could connect the dots, my mind drifted into the NASCAR world.

It has been mentioned that something is wrong, and that something must be fixed. I will admit, I’ve harshly critiqued the sport on multiple occasions, bringing out the negatives. However, it isn’t “broken” forever. There are so many things those within racing’s folds can do to aid its recovery, and reform is already starting to show.

Sometimes, bad things need to be said to kick-start a resolution. That goes for dealing with national issues and problems involving racecars and their drivers.

Connected dots point us to Texas Motor Speedway, which is holding all the racing action this weekend. It’s spurring thoughts of Jeff Gordon, graves and Ford in my head, and I decided to throw them down in this week’s Five Questions column.

How will Kenseth and Johnson race each other this weekend? It’s no secret these two are battling for pride, dignity and, most importantly, a big stinkin’ trophy. Tied at the top of the points, they will definitely be racing around each other, both excelling at this type of track. Should we expect some head games? Yes, mostly because they’ve already been playing said games. Johnson, who is an avid runner, tweeted out last week that he ran 20 miles because he “has a thing with numbers.” This is an obvious allusion to Kenseth’s car number. I don’t know if Kenseth is good at pushing buttons, but he has to start if he wants to get ahead.

Does Gordon ride Martinsville momentum? Last weekend’s win was an amazing breakthrough for Jeff Gordon and his No. 24 team, resurrecting his championship chances. After making The Chase on an asterisk and having a rollercoaster season, the win was a ray of sunshine after a devastating storm. It’s strangle to imagine Gordon suffering from a slump after all the races he’s won, but he was down in a hole. Thankfully, Alan Gustafson gave him a swift kick in the rear and got him going again. Now, there is a legitimate shot at the title, and this crew chief/driver duo can’t give up. They must ride the momentum into Texas, or there is no chance of a fifth championship for the Rainbow Warrior.

Did Harvick dig his own grave at RCR? Kevin Harvick took a flying leap when he went up against Ty Dillon last Saturday in Martinsville, verbally bashing his boss’ grandson after the two scuffled. The next day during the Sprint Cup race, he raced with a sour engine, one he weaned around to finish the race. Many began to speculate that Richard Childress had done something, but that seems to be a bit extreme. Yet, is it possible that Harvick has burnt his bridges three races too early? I believe so. We know his opinion of Austin and Ty Dillon is one some fans and fellow drivers agree with, but did he have to say it on live TV? No. Will Childress let his protective nature over his grandsons overcome his desire for another championship? Has Harvick pushed himself into a corner? We’ll know soon enough.

Where did the Fords go? Chevrolet officially locked up the manufacturer’s championship at Martinsville with Gordon’s win, solidifying their dominance throughout the season. Their closest rival was Toyota, who’s been strong with Kyle Busch and Kenseth in their stable. With Dodge gone, that leaves Ford as the black sheep. The Blue Oval has only seen victory lane a few times this year, the last visit being with Brad Keselowski at Charlotte Motor Speedway. What was thought to be a opportunistic year for Ford has turned out to be lackluster. Let’s hope they fix that before 2014 begins

Why am I optimistic about our sport’s future? Jobs’ quote made me look back at NASCAR’s past and what helped it become the most popular form of racing in the United States. The personalities, the TV coverage, the fans - it all combined to create this glow that attracted outsiders. Now, we have what the sport has become. Drivers’ opinions and tweets are being suppressed. Various news outlets are axing off racing highlights, and the only motorsports-dedicated channel has died. The fans are starting to become more critical than ever, bashing the winners and trash-talking other members of the NASCAR family. Yet, as I said before, you sometimes have to point out the bad to get to the ball rolling. And it isn’t like there aren’t any good things. Our drivers are some of the most philanthropic athletes out there. We have a stunningly talented group of youngsters coming through the ranks. Developments are being made everyday towards safer cars and better racing. So many people put their hearts and souls into this thing, and we sometimes forget that this isn’t just a sport or a business, but it’s also a family. A large, welcoming family that is always expanding and always understanding. Why wouldn’t I be optimistic?

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