Friday, July 3, 2015

Stars and Stripes: Five Questions for Daytona

(Credit: Streeter Lecka/NASCAR via Getty Images)
I love this country. Over the past few weeks, however, it’s been the center of many issues.

We live in an era where turning on the news results in a sucker punch to the morale. Riots, escaped convicts and greedy politicians consume our screens and happiness. Living in constant fear of the next worst thing has become the norm, with America always looking over its shoulder.

When did it become this way? How did it become this way?

I’m part of ever-present change thanks to me and my fellow young adults. We amplified the use of technology and radical ideas. We’re the Modern Flower Child generation, and that’s a title we fly with pride.

Over the course of a few years, we’ve challenged people to address hot-button topics, such as same-sex marriage, abortion and wages for female workers. We present our ideas and follow through with hard-to-ignore action. We are revolutionary.

While I don’t agree with everything my generation supports, I’m thrilled to see us make an impact even as we drown in student loans and criticism. All of this wouldn’t be possible without the freeing system known as the United States of America.

Amendments protect our freedoms, and those should be cherished. I’m stunned to see what people in other countries go through with barely any freedoms at all. While people complain and fight everything we’ve worked to build in this land, I struggle to not scream at their statements.

Things could be worse. Much worse.

My heart hurts for this country at this time; when you love something, you want it to flourish and succeed in unimaginable ways. This is a time where we need to nurture what we have instead of destroying it. Starting over from the ground up is more tedious than making a few repairs.

This weekend is the Fourth of July, the day we celebrate our historic breakaway from England. I will fly the colors red, white and blue with a smile on my face. I will watch NASCAR, a sport that embraces this country and its military. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate.

Our country is in a rough patch, but we will push on. And we will be OK.

Various racecars will don the red, white and blue colors this weekend at Daytona International Speedway for the traditional Independence Day stop in Florida. The other important colors are black and white … in a checkered pattern, of course. Let’s dive into Five Questions, where I discuss awards, the Chase and more flags.

And the award goes to …? This Saturday, the recipient of the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence will be announced. The person will be honored during the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Many people don’t highlight this event as often, but there will be a notable increase in interest this year. Up for the award is Steve Byrnes, the beloved FOX Sports broadcaster who passed away from cancer in April, among other nominees. My natural response is that he’ll receive the honor — and for good reason, too. The overwhelming praise aimed at him and his family is tremendous, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the NASCAR community voted to cement his place in history. Just writing this, my heart fills with the pain it felt the day he passed; it was sudden, stunning the entire sport. I miss him, and I know he would want this award to go to someone else—but he is the standard for current and future media members. That fact must be honored, and it most likely will Saturday. You deserve it, Steve.

Who’s in, who’s out? The race to the Chase is heating up, and more cooks are entering the kitchen. Kyle Busch’s remarkable win at Sonoma Raceway made everyone realize how wide open this championship truly is. At this moment, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Paul Menard, Ryan Newman and Aric Almirola are winless and banking on points to get into the final 10 races. If Busch slips into the top-30 in points, one of those drivers gets kicked out. So, who has the best chance to get into the playoffs? McMurray and Kahne stand out because of their consistency, and the wins will soon follow. If we’re talking about making it in solely on points, Almirola pops into my mind. That leaves many spots left, so I’m going to pick a wild card to shake it up. He might head to victory lane this weekend, too. Tony Stewart has been on a personal upswing, gradually becoming more social — especially on Twitter and Periscope. The change hasn’t made it onto the track, but it’s coming. Daytona would be the place to do it, no?

Is a schedule change more complicated than we believe? For the record, the race in Sonoma was everything NASCAR needed. That’s the typical response after road course races, as is this: fans want more twisty tracks on the schedule. Of course, NASCAR reminds us that it isn’t that easy. Is it? While fans criticize the sanctioning body for not adjusting the track list, it’s time to remember that it IS a difficult process. The biggest problems? Weather and money. Here’s an example: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course wants a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. It already has an XFINITY date, so why not go for gold? There’s no way it could financially maintain such an event, considering the changes that would have to be made. Also, if the only available slot was in October, that spells trouble because of the cold Midwestern fall. The spring would be too wet, too. It’s a logistical deal that NASCAR won’t want to mess with until it’s absolutely necessary.

Will NBC’s unique marketing strategy pay off? Who loves throwback races? A lot of people, and NBCSN is playing off that fact to gain attention. This entire week, the channel has shown old races during primetime, ones NBC broadcasted when they covered NASCAR before. It has to be a win-win for the company and the fans, right? Not so fast. These old races may conjure up some nostalgia — and expectations. People who’ve stumbled across the sport and seen these races will assume Sunday night will produce the same action. They’ll be wrong. Long-time fans are reminded of what drew them to racing, and they’ll be angry that it isn’t the same. Basically, these broadcasts could turn all these spectators into angsty teenagers. That’s something no one wants to deal with. However, this is definitely a great approach, one no company has taken before. Maybe this risk could create some sort of reward in the long run.

Can Daytona’s flag trade-in policy spark sport-wide change? After the tragedy in Charleston, NASCAR was the first sport to address the issue of Confederate flags. The official statement said the Confederate flag “would not be used in any official capacity.” This week has brought more news in this regard; all the NASCAR tracks stated they discourage fans’ display of the controversial banner. Fortunately, Daytona has an interesting strategy to nip this in the bud. Fans can trade in their Confederate flags for American flags. Not only is this a great idea but it also ties into the theme of the holiday weekend. This is an idea other tracks can latch onto and put a different twist on. I’ve heard rumblings that a possibility is to trade the flag in for a driver flag; this is also a good response. I hope fans take Daytona up on this, especially this weekend. Fly the stars and stripes for your country — and support NASCAR for creating an innovative solution. 


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