I love NASCAR and have for over ten years now. I will never forget the turning point for me. I had watched NASCAR off and on for a few years and if you asked me who my favorite driver was I would say “Jeff Gordon”. Then Dale Earnhardt Jr came along and I just thought he was dreamy. But even then I was not hooked. February 18th, 2001 changed that forever. I watched on TV the wreck that happened in the final turn on the final lap. I heard Darrell Waltrip speak those mesmerizing words, “God I hope Dale is okay”. And later I heard those words spoken that no NASCAR fan wanted to hear, “Dale Earnhardt was the father of four”. “Was” not “is”. He was gone, the biggest figure in the sport had died and I had never taken the time to really watch him drive, to see him in his glory.
I remember watching all the events of the week in awe. I couldn’t get enough of them; I was drawn in my Dale Earnhardt’s death. I tuned in the next week and cried when Dale Jr wrecked on the first lap and cried even more when Steve Park won the rain delayed Rockingham race on Monday afternoon. I probably went through two boxes of tissues that week with all the tears I cried. I was starting to get hooked but was not there yet. Then came July 7th, 2001, a Saturday night race in Daytona, the first time back at the track since Dale’s death. This is the race that changed me forever. I watched in amazement all night as Dale Jr raced through the field. And just when everyone was counting him out, with his restart position after a late race caution. But Dale Jr was determined that night and he had a newly winged angel on his side. When that red number eight car took the checkered flag with Michael Waltrip pushing it, the tears poured and I was hooked forever. Dale Earnhardt Jr overcame so much there that night and I was amazed at how he did it.
Today I still love NASCAR and I still like Dale Earnhardt Jr but the sport is changing and I’m not sure if I like the direction it is taking. There is one reason and one reason only that has me questioning NASCAR’s future, and that reason goes by the name of Danica Patrick. In my opinion she is single-handedly ruining the sport. I know as a female fan I should like the fact that a female driver is turning so many heads and making so much progress, but I don’t. And yes if it was a different female drive I may feel differently but I doubt it. For me what I love best about NASCAR is its tradition. I love the fact that there are a few families that have been around since the start of NASCAR and they continue to be active in the sport in some form. I like the tradition of “Gentleman Start Your Engines”, can’t say that with “her” in the field.
I know times are changing; they have been ever since the death of Dale Earnhardt, but at least after his death the tradition continued. As much as I love NASCAR and its tradition with “her” in the field I have a hard time being the fan I once was. To me the sport will not be the same till she is gone from it, and I don’t know if that is happening anytime soon.
Saturday night was the first of two Richmond Races. Short track Saturday night. Kevin Harvick won the race while Jimmie Johnson added to his points lead. Dale Jr got another top 10. Brian Vickers filling in for Denny Hamlin qualified second but didn’t finish as well. Danica had another rocky race.
This past weekend was a Saturday night race instead of a Sunday afternoon race, and they were in Texas. Kyle Busch won the race getting the Stetson. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had another rough race, the off weekend has not been to good to him. Jimmie Johnson finished in the top ten so he still holds on to the points lead. Danica had another rough week as well. For the most part Texas was a typical race not too much drama. Brian Vickers filled in for the still out Denny Hamlin. Vickers actually had a good race. Well next weeks race in fast approaching and we will have to see what happens next.
Yesterday was the first Martinsville Race of the Season. Cars were bumping and banging off of each other in every turn. I think the only car that did not have had any damage to it was that of the winner, Jimmie Johnson. Johnson led the most laps and won, his eighth career Martinsville win. Dale Earnhardt Jr’s streak ended with his 24th place finish and he lost the points lead. Danica Patrick finished in the top fifteen, for the first time since Daytona. It was the first of the five races Denny Hamlin will have to sit out, Mark Martin drove the FedEx Camry to a top ten finish. There were even some flames, Kyle Busch’s car caught on fire after he lost his breaks. Tempers were flaring too, Harvick turned Vickers around after the checkered flag waved. All in all it was an event filled day at Martinsville.
Sunday afternoon in the hills of Tennessee there was a first Bristol win, a fourth top ten in a row, a fight, and another win for Hendrick Motorsports. Kasey Kahne got his first Bristol victory holding off Kyle Busch. If Busch won that would have been his second of the weekend, he won on Saturday afternoon as well. Dale Earnhardt Jr finished in the top ten, that makes his fourth in a row. Looks like somebody is having a good start. Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin are teammates no more, with Lagano moving to a new team this year, and after the race that was apparent to all. Logano went after Hamlin, Logano blames Hamlin for causing him to crash. Sunday’s victory for Kahne means that in this young season of four races Hendrick Motorsports already has two victories. They are on their way to 300. Johnson had tire problems and finished in the top 25, which caused him to lose the points lead, and Danica Patrick finished in the top 30.
Yesterday under the Vegas sun Matt Kenseth gave himself a Birthday Gift and first win under new car owner Joe Gibbs. Kahne put a last lap charge up but came up short. Johnson finished sixth which means he maintains the points lead that he has had since Daytona 2 weeks ago. Danica struggled all race and finished thirty-third. Next week Bristol.
Sunday afternoon in the desert sun, Carl Edwards ended his 70 race drought. That was the first time in almost 2 full seasons the Sprint Cup has season one of Edwards famous backflips. Johnson finished second to maintain the points lead he gained by winning Daytona last Sunday. Earnhardt Jr finished fourth, leaving him second in the point standings. Danica’s Daytona momentum did not last through Phoenix, she wrecked causing her to finish out of the top twenty-five. On to Vegas next week.
Sunday afternoon was the annual Daytona 500, the kick off race for the NASCAR Season. This year’s race was a history making race. The first woman to sit on the pole and to lead a green flag lap was in Sunday’s race and it was Danica Patrick that did it. All race long she hung around in the top five but some late race shuffling had her finishing the race eighth, a top ten finish at least. All race long the lead when back and forth with many drivers taking their time at the top of the pack. In the end it was a winning day for Hendrick Motorsports, finishing one-two, with Jimmie Johnson winning and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finishing second. It was a good start to the season for both drivers. Could this be the year Johnson gets number six? Or could it be the year that Earnhardt Jr. wins his first. Time, luck, and 35 other races will tell.