Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Exercise in Self-Indulgence

I've probably created a blog here lately that no one wants to read because it centers around politics and NASCAR and I have a feeling that twain isn't a particularly good meeting place. Not that political junkies can't be NASCAR fans and vice versa but it's probably more likely that most people obsess about one or the other but not both. But blogs tend to be exercises in self-indulgence. Of course, everyone would like to think they get a gazillion hits a day but unless you are one of the biggies, you are probably writing to a limited audience anyway so.....why not please yourself.

Anyway, we're in a limbo state in politics. The election is over and now we're just waiting for Obama to become president, waiting to see what dress Michelle will wear at his swearing in, waiting to see what kind of puppy the Obama family choose, waiting to see who will be in his cabinet (oh, please, don't let it be John Kerry or worse yet, Sam freakin' Nunn!) I could start to warm to Obama if he would be smart enough to give General Wesley Clark an important place in his administration.

But, NASCAR, ah, NASCAR is heading for its championship-crowning week in Homestead, Florida. For my friends who aren't into stock car racing but tolerantly allow me my Jimmie Johnson-mania, he won last week at Phoenix, won in a commanding fashion, dominating the race almost from the start, flying out ahead of his competition. Mom came into the living room with me to watch. She has a bit of a hard time following the action and sometimes gets confused between real time and re-play.
"Are they re-showing an accident that already happened?" she'll ask.
Or...."I'm lost, Jimmie is still ahead, isn't he?"
"Yes," I could answer through most of this race, "he's still ahead."

It was a race with lots of red and yellow flags especially toward the end. A red flag for weather (a downpour in the desert!) and another for an accident that set one burning car on top of another. Cautions for various accidents and debris. Dragging out a race I just wanted to be over, with the checkered flag safely in Jimmie's hand. There was a serious crash on the last lap when Matt Kenseth (deliberately?) turned into A.J. Allmendinger who had caused him to wreck earlier in the race. Lots of ruined cars. It seems like this would infuriate owners who have to pay to rebuild them but they seem to take it in stride as all part of racing.

By winning, Jimmie increased his points lead to 141. There are various scenarios for how he wins the championship but essentially, he has to finish 36th or better in Florida. It is unimaginable that this won't happen. If some catastrophic stroke of bad luck keeps him from it, it means that it just somehow wasn't in the stars for him to win that third title, matching Cale Yarborough, the only other driver ever to three-peat. For me, I can't wait to see that Sprint Cup championship trophy placed in his hands.

The main controversy of the Phoenix race was ABC's decision to cut out on their coverage with about 30 laps left to go to America's Funniest Home Videos. NASCAR fans were livid as well they should be. This was the final race toward their championship, comparable to the Super Bowl or the World Series but ABC decides to go to another program? The fact that it was an inane piece of crap like America's Funniest Home Videos make it even worse. Would ABC have done this if it had been even a mid-season football game....or a baseball game....or a basketball game or even a golf tournament? No way. Ask me, it displayed ABC's contempt for NASCAR fans.

Granted, they transferred the coverage to ESPN II, but not everyone has ESPN. I received a hysterical call from one friend who doesn't have cable. The next day, I heard from another who had tivoed the race to watch later and ended up clueless about the final result. I listen to the NASCAR channel on Sirius a lot and heard all the excuses for ABC. Difficult business decisions...owed those who sponsor AFHV, gave NASCAR fans an option.....blah, blah, blah. I don't buy it. No excuse is good enough. If they want the revenue from the NASCAR contract, they make a commitment to their viewers. Every race must be showed in its entirety, nothing less will do. Shove the fans of America's Funniest Home Videos off onto another channel. Or let them wait. It is sure what CBS does to watchers of Sixty Minutes. How many times has that show been delayed due to a football game running over? The answer is: lots. That's the breaks when you bid to televise live sports. You have your back up plan in place and re-adjust down-schedule. Period.

Meanwhile, back at the Nationwide and Truck Series championship finals. Carl Edwards has pulled within striking distance of Clint Bowyer in Nationwide so it will be a more suspenseful race than on the Cup side. I hope, and predict, that Carl won't make it. Bowyer doesn't have as much flash and hasn't won as many races, over all, as Carl but he's steady and enduring. Clint's run back to fourth place at Phoenix with a mashed and crashed car was as game as anything I've ever seen. That performance alone deserves the championship. Carl is a great racer and has a lot of pizazz but I hope he has to wait until next year to make it pay off for him.

In the truck series, Ron Hornaday, Jr and Johnny Benson will go into the final race only three points apart. Now, that is a drive to the finish. Whichever one of those two gets to the start/finish line first will be champion, regardless of who actually wins the race. I have never got into the truck series much so I'm not especially rooting for either one - may the best man win there.

I think I must not be a "real" NASCAR fan because, judging by what I read on the blogs and hear on the radio, to be so, you must be able to hate as well as love. Supporting your driver often seems to mean despising the competition (one way in which NASCAR isn't so different from politics!). I'm just the opposite. The more I hear and see these guys interviewed and read about them, the more I admire them all. I once thought I didn't like Kurt Busch (although I couldn't have told you why) but in the last few races, he's proven to be a competitor deserving of respect. I once thought I didn't like Kyle Busch (and I still think he has some maturing to do to reach his full potential) but he made a gesture when he matched Sam Ard's record of donating $100,000 toward his Alzeheimer's-ridden predecessor and earned kudos. I think Carl Edwards is a terrific driver and likeable person. Besides being hilarious, Michael Waltrip gives his all to his sport. I've fallen in love with Kyle Busch's off-beat, go-against-the-grain straight talk. I could go on but you get the picture. I just can't get that hate level up there where it should be to be a dues-paying member of NASCAR nation.

A note* Justin Allgeier is my guy of the future. He's from Riverton, Illinois, which happens to be where many of my family are from so that gives us a kind of link. He seems like a really good driver and a great kid so I'll be keeping my eye on his progress and rooting for him. That's how NASCAR fans are born, I guess.