Friday, April 17, 2015

Where Do I Go From Here? Five Questions for Bristol

Credit: Daniel Shirey/NASCAR via Getty Images  
Sunday marks my 19th birthday, but I feel closer to 90.
I’ve examined the past 365 days like I usually do when this milestone comes around. I say milestone because of the heartbreaking truth — not everyone gets to celebrate birthdays. This causes me to appreciate the notion of getting older, getting to see another candle adorn the cake. Once I make a wish and blow out the flames, however, the same question echoes in my mind no matter the age.

Where do I go from here?

With reflection comes facts, and I like a lot of mine. I moved 600 miles from my parents to go to college in South Carolina. I maintained a 4.0 GPA my first semester. I covered a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race from a press box. I interviewed Dale Jarrett for my college newspaper.

In a single year.

Some of the things I’ve done still shock me, yet I also feel overwhelming pride. Not many teenagers do things like that. Heck, not a lot of adults do those things.

When I started writing about NASCAR in 2012, I had no idea where it would take me. I also had no idea what obstacles I would encounter. People didn’t want to let a 16-year-old into the world of reporting. They didn’t believe I truly wanted to write about racing. Fortunately, there were people who believed in me, my abilities, and what I want to achieve. The doubters highlight the supporters like shadows in a painting.

When faced with adversity, I’ve learned to take it as a challenge. You don’t think I want to do this? OK, watch me. You believe I should use my “appearance” to further my career? I’m sorry, I’d rather use talent instead.

Throw me to the wolves, and I’ll return leading the pack. I’ve done it so far, haven’t I?

Everyone else in the entire world is going to try to tear you down, so why should you contribute? I say this because someone out there reading this is probably their own biggest critic. Trust me, you’ll meet many of those in your life. Putting yourself down only makes the doubters feel powerful. Confidence is the key to getting where you want to go.

So, where do I go from here?

I’m going to keep writing stories, covering races and making memories, wherever that may take me. I can’t wait to look back a year from now and see what new things I’ve added to my record. All I know for certain is that every year is a blessing and an opportunity. And I don’t plan on wasting it.

Here is this week’s edition of Five Questions, where I talk about Erik Jones, consistency and NASCAR’s future.

Will “The Last Great Coliseum” bring the heat — and the rain? Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the prestigious stops on the schedule; drivers take winning there very seriously because of how difficult it is to master the venue. The same goes for Martinsville Speedway, another short track we’ve already visited this season. Martinsville provided an epic show that kept fans on the edge of their seats. Can Bristol do the same? Oh, you better believe it. Short track racing never gets old. With NASCAR’s track lineup doused in 1.5-milers, there’s a certain beauty in close racing. Will we see someone rattle another driver’s cage? Eh, it’s not likely, but it could happen! The only problem is the waterlogged forecast for Sunday. Sigh.
Did we actually doubt Johnson? Remember when Jimmie Johnson was in that slump about three races ago? The thing about being really good is that it makes everyone notice your mistakes even more. The six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion isn’t perfect, but he’s starting to seem like it yet again. Johnson won Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway and reaffirmed his quest for a seventh title. The question is, why do people think there was ever a slump? I’m tired of people thinking the Hendrick Motorsports front man is “losing his touch” every year. Until he’s consistently getting worse, let’s not talk about it anymore. Is that a deal?

Do top 10s equate to long-term success? Last season was a testament to consistency. Just look at Ryan Newman, who finished second in points without winning a single event. That’s the prime example that every position still matters under the new playoff system. With that fact out there, various drivers have finished all seven races in the top ten. Reigning champion Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano have these finishes down to a science. However, Harvick and Logano already have wins to secure them into Chase contention. That singles Truex out, but he shouldn’t be worried. The Furniture Row Racing driver is on the cusp of a victory, and everyone knows it. Even if he can’t get a win, nothing is stopping him or his team from keeping their consistency. Great things are bound to come from Truex, Logano and Harvick down the road.

Will Jones’ win push the youngster into the big leagues? How about that Erik Jones kid? The Joe Gibbs Racing competitor won his first NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Texas. It’s fitting because his talent is larger than life. That being said, will his success push him towards the Cup side anytime soon? I sure hope not. As many can see with Jeb Burton, going into the top level too soon is like jumping in the deep end of the pool before being weaned off the floaties. Burton was fantastic in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and had a decent following. When the sponsorship money wasn’t there, he decided to head to an available seat in Cup. A move like that has the potential to bruise your career. Jones doesn’t need to worry about that right now. All he has to do is keep digging, and his promotion will come — when the time is right.

Where does NASCAR go from here? ESPN wordsmith Ryan McGee wrote an amazing piece on North Wilkesboro Speedway, one of the sport’s lost treasures. In a mere 20 years, this sport has been through various phases. It’s grown into a monster nobody saw coming. When stories like McGee’s come up, I always wonder what the next 20 years will bring. Where does it go from here? There will always be setbacks and mistakes. That’s what life is about, after all. Despite this, I see great things coming from NASCAR, and one of them is potential. They’re putting a lot of focus on social media, the quality of racing and fan experience. If they do it right, the possibilities are endless. I hope NASCAR seizes them.


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