I experienced Cheers and Tears this week in NASCAR.
To Team 48. Jimmie won at Bristol for back to back wins, his sixteenth consecutive season in which he's won multiple races. His 82nd win....next on the list to be overtaken is Cale Yarborough. Cale was Jimmie's favorite NASCAR driver when he was a kid. I think he'd have been astounded if anyone had ever told him that someday he'd match his hero in wins.
To Bristol Motor Speedway which put on a hell of a show. I think this was my favorite race so far this year. There was lots of passing and dramatic moves all over the track. A bottom groove and eventually a top groove, though not much in the middle, allowed drivers to pass over or under if they had the car and the cohones to do it.
To Kyle Larson who is the most exciting driver on the track right now. He goes where no one else will go. He was at the top at Bristol trying to get the second groove to come in while others only watched, figuring they would tiptoe up behind him if it looked safe. He makes moves no one else is gutty enough to make. In his first couple of years, that got him in trouble sometimes but he's grown more confident in what is possible and what isn't by now. He has started this season with a bang and I hope he can keep it up because it is fun to watch.
For Dale Junior's retirement. That is the main news in NASCAR this week. We've been through this a lot lately. Jeff's gone; Tony is gone; Carl is gone; the Biff is gone. But, of course, Junior is in a class by himself. He is the face and voice of NASCAR, 14 times in a row he's been our most popular driver.
Dale Senior was before my time so I never could relate to the heartbreak so many fans felt when they lost him. I could see it but I didn't really feel it but I've been around the sport long enough now that each leavetaking hits me personally.
The positive thing is that some of our favorite drivers will continue to be the backbone of the sport, including Junior. Jeff is there every week during the Fox-sponsored portion of the series to explain what is going on on the track (and he is part-owner of the 48 car). Tony is there as an owner at Stewart-Haas, building his team and encouraging and counseling his drivers. And Junior will also remain involved in NASCAR for a long time to come, both as an owner in the Xfinity series and a general spokesman for NASCAR. One of his main interests is to develop the young talent of the future. The old boys, including Hendrick, Roush, Penske, Childress, will someday retire themselves. Just as we counted on the Jeffs and Jimmies and Tonys and Dales to draw interest to the track, we will need them more than ever to keep the foundation strong to the next generation.
And so it goes - a perpetual motion machine made even more so by the family orientation of NASCAR - Bill to Chase, Childress to Dillon, Dale Senior to Dale Junior, Dave to Ryan, then add in the newbies that come from out of nowhere - the Kyle Larson and Erik Jones.... I wonder if we'll be watching a Busch and a Gordon and a Harvick competing 20 years from now?
And, naturally, the mystery question is who will take over the 88 car? I've heard rumors of Carl Edwards coming back but somehow I don't see Carl fitting into the Hendrick persona. He's not enough of a company man, I don't think. My personal preference would be to bring in one of the young ones. Would Hendrick stoop to stealing Larson from Ganassi? Would Larson stoop to bailing on the man who gave him his chance? Maybe they'll go with Alex Bowman who took Junior's place while he was off with his concussion and did a fine job.
Well, it will be interesting to see, won't it?
Jr's retirement shocked me and also gave me a sense of "I knew it."
Honestly, had Jr not gotten those two concussions, he may have had a longer career. But for what it stands, it is indeed a sad moment in the sport. Despite never really reaching some stats of his father, he also surpassed him in several categories as well.
At least he'll be coming back home in one piece, alive and well. Unfortunately, his father isn't there to see his final triumphs. I know for a fact that he'd be proud of NASCAR's most popular driver.
I saw Junior and Jimmie interviewed at the Brickyard 400 once. Very close to the stage. They were both sweet and funny and personable. They laughed and joked and seemed very easy with each other and the audience. I fell in love with both of them then. There is life beyond racing and I'm glad Junior realizes that and didn't push it so far that his health suffered.
I wouldn't hesitate to take Larson if, he was a fit. Somehow I tie Theresa in the Nassi club. As far as stooping low ?, I'll let you draw your on conclusion.
Nice column, Viki.... I too am in the Happiest of Low's !!! enjoy the after racing life, Dale Jr.
Well, I was being a little sarcastic with the "stooping" comment. I'd love to see Kyle L at Hendrick and I think both owners and drivers have a right, even a responsibility, to do what is right for them.