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Restrictor Plate THIS!

Today In Auto Racing...

A Well-Timed Visit To The Paperclip

This weekend, while the claims jumpers take a nap the Cupsters and truckers head to Martinsville, home of the two dollar nuclear hot dog and by the time the race is over two dozen nuclear meltdown-suffering drivers.

It is good that after a stretch of days filled with bad news NASCAR finds itself at Martinsville. Its quirks and lengthy history are the perfect salve with which to soothe the wounds of loss. One can easy get lost in the history of this little track that stubbornly refuses to admit its size, instead thinking of itself as a superspeedway. Which it would be... if it was twice as long and twice as wide and had tons more banking. None of which, thankfully, is the case.

Martinsville is a grumpy old grouch, one that does not suffer fools lightly as they make heavy contact with its walls. It teases you into thinking you can mash the gas while running down its absolutely flat straightaways, but then throws a curve at you in the shape of U-turns that leaves brakes abusers choking on their own brake dust while those with a better feel of the proper balance between accelerator and brake pedal ease on by. Yet at the same time, Martinsville's absence of length demands a short track mentality, one where it is far better to give the occasional love tap than receive. To do well at Martinsville, one must adeptly use a sledgehammer to delicately dust fine china. Or a grandfathers clock, if you please.

Favorites? The usual suspects. That said, while a win would be surprising do not be surprised if Danica Patrick runs very well. For whatever reason, Martinsville suits her driving style. A top ten finish is not beyond the realm of possibility for the GoDaddy girl.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone.

And Now For Something Completely Unwatchable

With all the dark news permeating NASCAR the past few days, something light would be most welcome.

In looking for such, it occurred to me I had yet to view the Smoke IS The Bandit with Mobil 1 videos that as of late have oft been discussed around the NASCAR social media campfire. So, I sat down and watched.

With deep therapy I might recover in a few weeks.

I recall once upon a time quietly watching a science fiction film (name available upon request). And watching. And watching. And watching. And wondering why I was watching, as it was quite dreadful. This state of being remained constant until approximately ten minutes before the film's conclusion when I said to myself, "Oh, this is supposed to be a satire, isn't it." At which time the film's wretchedness became even more painfully obvious, for in all of entertainment there is nothing more dreadful than failed satire. Nothing.

You can deliberately make a film, or video, or whatever you want to call it so awful it becomes terrific comedy; something to laugh at rather than with. This is not an easy accomplishment. You can with far greater ease make a film, or video, or whatever you want to call it unintentionally bad to where every second spent watching it is immediately resented as having your lifespan shortened by said amount with zero reward for your suffering. Then there is the third category, in which you attempt to deliberately make a film, or video, or whatever you want to call it so awful it becomes terrific comedy... but instead, create a piece of work so atrocious it sinks to such great depths of drek Mystery Science Theater 3000 could not salvage the thing. Sadly, such is the case with Smoke IS The Bandit with Mobil 1.

Exactly why it was decided a mini-remake of Smokey and The Bandit was an idea worth pursuing remains a mystery, above and beyond the obvious play on Stewart's nickname. By this measure, Ryan Newman should either star in a remake of The Rocketeer or duet with William Shatner on Elton John's "Rocket Man." while Kevin Harvick records "Don't Worry Be Happy." And so on. But I digress; back to the video at hand.

It is not so much a case of all participants being bad actors. Which they are. It is a case of putrid material desperately trying to be funny, endlessly milking a running joke about quoting lines from Smokey and The Bandit that isn't amusing the first time and grows ever more irritating with every repetitive repetition. No one could save this horribly executed horrible idea. No one.

Lest one conclude I am taking an obviously lighthearted romp way too seriously, rest assured this is not the case. I speak from frustration over what could have been as compared to what has been done. Stewart is very, very funny, something he has demonstrated many times over in different commercials and interviews. Surely something more worthy of this fact; something actually humorous could have been created. Instead, we have been subjected to eight plus minutes that seems like eight hundred plus hours of people who aren't actors to begin with stuck with material the Monty Python troupe in their prime could not have saved..

Humor in NASCAR has been growing by leaps and bounds over the years,particularly in the advertising realm. Smoke IS The Bandit with Mobil 1 may singlehandedly reverse this trend. It is little wonder why the creators of this abomination have disabled comments on YouTube. If I had done something this awful, I would not want to have anyone able to comment directly about it either.

PS: You have been warned:

We've Got An X-File Here

Good grief. Where to start?

The puzzling news about Denny Hamlin's condition that forced him out of racing at Auto Club this past Sunday may need Mulder and Scully to unravel. How do you misdiagnose a piece of metal in the eye as a sinus infection? Glad he's okay, but that is too weird to take strictly at face value.

This has been a brutal few days in the racing family. Niokoa Johnson and Lynda Petty passing away, and yesterday Shawna Robinson announcing she has breast cancer. Our prayers are with you, Shawna. Beat this thing.

Somewhat lost in all the news this past weekend was NASCAR mentioning it's talking to the car manufacturers about reducing the horsepower for next year's Cup cars. Thrown about are the usual reasons brought up over such discussions - improving engine life, other changes that a horsepower reduction would necessitate - but it's well nigh impossible to shake the idea a primary mover behind the move is admitting without announcing that Goodyear is incapable of building a tire able to handle the Gen-6 car's load and speed.

Missed it amid the sorrow yesterday, so a belated happy birthday to Danica Patrick.

Speaking of Danica, she paid a visit to Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA in Los Angeles today:

Good on her.

PS: Had to:

A Reluctant Goodbye to Mrs. The King

Now reunited with her grandson Adam.

More Stats Than You Can Shake A (Hot Dog On A) Stick At

I apologize for not having enough time to get a post together today. In lieu thereof, some stats and facts about this weekend's jaunt at the nuclear hot dog... er. Martinsville, courtesy of NASCAR Media.

Statistical Advance: Analyzing the STP 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 24, 2014) – Below is a look at some of the top statistical performers at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia going into the STP 500 on March 30.


Clint Bowyer (No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota)
  • Four top fives, 10 top 10s
  • Average finish of 12.6
  • Average Running Position of 12.5, sixth-best
  • Driver Rating of 93.8, seventh-best
  • Average Green Flag Speed of 91.182 mph, seventh-fastest
  • 5,803 Laps in the Top 15 (72.2%), eighth-most
  • 512 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), sixth-most

Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota)
  • Eight top fives, nine top 10s
  • Average finish of 16.0
  • Average Running Position of 13.2, seventh-best
  • Driver Rating of 97.0, sixth-best
  • 402 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
  • Average Green Flag Speed of 91.292 mph, fourth-fastest
  • 6,323 Laps in the Top 15 (70.0%), fifth-most
  • 578 Quality Passes, fourth-most

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet)
  • 10 top fives, 15 top 10s
  • Average finish of 13.2
  • Average Running Position of 11.0, fourth-best
  • Driver Rating of 98.9, fourth-best
  • 455 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most
  • Series-high 1,042 Green Flag Passes
  • Average Green Flag Speed of 91.288 mph, fifth-fastest
  • 6,963 Laps in the Top 15 (77.1%), third-most
  • 619 Quality Passes, third-most

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet)
  • Eight wins, 27 top fives, 34 top 10s; seven poles
  • Average finish of 6.8
  • Average Running Position of 6.2, second-best
  • Driver Rating of 121.1, second-best
  • Series-high 1,029 Fastest Laps Run
  • 857 Green Flag Passes, 11th-most
  • Average Green Flag Speed of 91.640 mph, second-fastest
  • 8,167 Laps in the Top 15 (90.4%), second-most
  • Series-high 660 Quality Passes

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota)
  • Four wins, nine top fives, 13 top 10s; three poles
  • Average finish of 8.1
  • Average Running Position of 8.8, third-best
  • Driver Rating of 111.4, third-best
  • 572 Fastest Laps Run, third-most
  • Average Green Flag Speed of 91.421 mph, third-fastest
  • 6,609 Laps in the Top 15 (82.3%), fourth-most
  • 560 Quality Passes, fifth-most

Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet)
  • One win, three top fives, 11 top 10s
  • Average finish of 16.2
  • Average Running Position of 13.8, ninth-best
  • Driver Rating of 92.9, eighth-best
  • 220 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-most
  • 869 Green Flag Passes, 10th-most
  • Average Green Flag Speed of 91.074 mph, eighth-fastest
  • 5,947 Laps in the Top 15 (65.8%), seventh-most
  • 510 Quality Passes, eighth-most

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet)
  • Eight wins, 17 top fives, 21 top 10s; three poles
  • Average finish of 5.3
  • Series-best Average Running Position of 5.8
  • Series-best Driver Rating of 124.0
  • 954 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
  • Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 91.652 mph
  • Series-high 8,333 Laps in the Top 15 (92.2%)
  • 647 Quality Passes, second-most

Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford)
  • One top five, five top 10s
  • Average finish of 10.4
  • Average Running Position of 13.5, eighth-best
  • Driver Rating of 89.2, ninth-best
  • Average Green Flag Speed of 91.071 mph, ninth-fastest

Jamie McMurray (No. 1 McDonald's Chevrolet)
  • One top five, 12 top 10s; one pole
  • Average finish of 16.2
  • Average Running Position of 15.9, 12th-best
  • Driver Rating of 84.2, 12th-best
  • 854 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most
  • Average Green Flag Speed of 90.964 mph, 11th-fastest
  • 4,817 Laps in the Top 15 (53.3%), 12th-most
  • 386 Quality Passes, 12th-most

Ryan Newman (No. 31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet)
  • One win, seven top fives, 11 top 10s; three poles
  • Average finish of 15.3
  • Average Running Position of 15.2, 11th-best
  • Driver Rating of 87.4, 11th-best
  • 142 Fastest Laps Run, 12th-most
  • 938 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most
  • 5,058 Laps in the Top 15 (56.0%), 10th-most
  • 478 Quality Passes, ninth-most

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Code 3 Associates/Mobil 1 Chevrolet)
  • Three wins, nine top fives, 15 top 10s; three poles
  • Average finish of 13.8
  • Average Running Position of 11.1, fifth-best
  • Driver Rating of 98.5, fifth-best
  • 376 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most
  • Average Green Flag Speed of 91.200 mph, sixth-fastest
  • 6,113 Laps in the Top 15 (71.6%), sixth-most
  • 417 Quality Passes, 11th-most

Martinsville Speedway Data
Season Race #: 6 of 36 (03-30-14)
Track Size: 0.526-mile
Banking/Turn 1 & 2: 12 degrees
Banking/Turn 3 & 4: 12 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 0 degrees
Banking/Backstretch: 0 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 800 feet
Backstretch Length: 800 feet
Race Length: 500 laps / 263 miles

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Martinsville
Jimmie Johnson     124.0
Jeff Gordon     121.1
Denny Hamlin     111.4
Dale Earnhardt Jr.     98.9
Tony Stewart     98.5
Kyle Busch     97.0
Clint Bowyer     93.8
Kevin Harvick     92.9
Brad Keselowski     89.2
Ryan Newman     87.4
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (18 total) among active drivers at Martinsville Speedway.

Qualifying/Race Data
2013 Coors Light Pole winner:
Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet
98.400 mph, 19.244 secs. 04-05-13

2013 race winner:
Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet
72.066 mph, (03:38:58), 04-07-13

Track qualifying record:
Denny Hamlin, Toyota
99.595 mph, 19.013 secs. 10-25-13

Track race record:
Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet
82.223 mph, (3:11:55), 09-22-96

Martinsville Speedway:
  • Opened in September 1947 by H. Clay Earles, Martinsville, originally a dirt track, is one of the oldest continuously-operating race tracks in the United States.
  • The first NASCAR-sanctioned race at Martinsville was on July 4, 1948.
  • The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was Sept. 25, 1949.
  • The track was paved in 1955.
  • The first 500-lap event at Martinsville was in 1956.
  • Concrete corners were added atop asphalt in 1976.
  • There have been 130 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway, one in the inaugural year and two races per year since 1950.
  • 593 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville; 374 in more than one.
  • NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty has the all-time most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Martinsville with 67 starts; Jeff Gordon has the most among active drivers with 42.
  • Curtis Turner won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Martinsville Speedway in 1949.
  • 57 drivers have Coors Light poles at Martinsville, led by NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip with eight; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with seven.
  • 12 drivers have won two or more consecutive Coors Light poles at Martinsville Speedway. Four of the 12 have won three consecutive poles at Martinsville: Glen Wood (Fall of 1959 and 1960 sweep); Darrell Waltrip (1979 sweep and spring 1980); Mark Martin (fall of 1990 and 1991 sweep); Jeff Gordon (2003 sweep and spring 2004).
  • Youngest Martinsville pole winner: Ricky Rudd (4/26/1981 – 24 years, 7 months, 14 days).
  • Oldest Martinsville pole winner: Morgan Shepherd (4/26/1987 – 45 years, 6 months, 14 days).
  • 47 different drivers have won at Martinsville Speedway, led by Richard Petty with 15; Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon lead the series among active drivers with eight wins each.
  • 23 drivers have multiple wins at Martinsville Speedway only four active drivers have multiple wins: Jimmie Johnson (eight), Jeff Gordon (eight), Denny Hamlin (four) and Tony Stewart (three).
  • Hendrick Motorsports leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in wins at Martinsville Speedway with 21. 
  • 21 of 130 races (16.1%) at Martinsville Speedway have been won from the Coors Light pole; seven of those 21 wins came from active drivers: Tony Stewart (2000), Jeff Gordon (2003 twice), Jimmie Johnson (2008, 2012, spring 2013) and Denny Hamlin (2010).
  • The Coors Light pole is the most proficient starting spot in the field at Martinsville producing more wins (21) than any other starting position.
  • 36 of the 130 (27.6%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway have been won from the front row: 21 from the pole and 15 from second-place.
  • 95 of the 130 (73%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Martinsville Speedway have been won from a top-10 starting position.
  • Five of the 130 (3.8%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.
  • The deepest in the field that a race winner has started was 36th, by Kurt Busch in the fall of 2002.
  • Youngest Martinsville winner: Richard Petty (04/10/1960 – 22 years, 9 months, 8 days).
  • Oldest Martinsville winner: Harry Gant (09/22/1991 – 51 years, 8 months, 12 days).
  • NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt leads the series in runner-up finishes at Martinsville Speedway with seven; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with four, followed by his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson with three. 
  • Richard Petty leads the series in top-five finishes at Martinsville Speedway with 30; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 27, followed by Jimmie Johnson with 17.
  • Richard Petty leads the series in top-10 finishes at Martinsville Speedway with 37; Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 34, followed by Jimmie Johnson (21).
  • Jeff Gordon leads active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Martinsville Speedway with a 7.238. Ryan Newman is the only other active driver with an average starting position at Martinsville in the top-10 (9.417).
  • Three active drivers have a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series average finish in the top-10 at Martinsville: Jimmie Johnson (5.333), Jeff Gordon (6.833) and Denny Hamlin (8.125).
  • There have been five NSCS green-white-checkered finishes at Martinsville Speedway: fall 2007 (500/506), fall 2008 (500/504), fall 2009 (500/501), spring 2010 (500/508), and spring 2012 (500/515).
  • Jeff Gordon has participated in the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Martinsville Speedway without a DNF (42).
  • Tony Stewart (4/18/1999) and Scott Riggs (4/10/2005) won their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light poles at Martinsville Speedway. 
  • Mike Bliss (09/27/1998), Travis Kvapil (10/24/2004), Michael McDowell (3/30/2008) and Scott Speed (10/19/2008) made their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career starts at Martinsville Speedway.
  • 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have posted consecutive wins at Martinsville Speedway. Fred Lorenzen won four NSCS races straight (the most) from the fall of 1963 through the spring of 1965. 
  • All 10 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers who have won at Martinsville Speedway participated in at least two or more races before visiting Victory Lane. Tony Stewart won at Martinsville with the fewest previous appearances (three).
  • Ryan Newman competed at Martinsville Speedway 20 times before winning in the spring of 2012; the longest span of any the 10 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners.
  • Four drivers have made 10 or more attempts before their first win at Martinsville Speedway: Mark Martin (12); Bobby Labonte (18), Kevin Harvick (19) and Ryan Newman (20).
  • Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Martinsville Speedway is the 4/1/2007 race won by Jimmie Johnson with a MOV of 0.065 second.
  • Danica Patrick is the only female driver to compete at Martinsville Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Where The Rubber Meets The Road Whether It's Supposed To Or Not

It's a tad difficult to summarize today's Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway. There were so many different elements in the hot mess that singling anything out is challenging. That said, one overriding observation must be made:

Goodyear, you've got some 'splainin' to do.

Apparently no one within Akron's city limits has heard of, let alone understands, the difference between tire wear and tire load. In racing, you want tire wear. You want the tires soft enough so they do wear, as this means the tires, at least at the beginning of a run, have grip. This is a good thing. Otherwise, you have the scenario of tires lasting forever and races seemingly lasting the same length due to everyone being unable to do anything vaguely resembling passing one another because they're sliding sideways when they'd much rather be skedaddling straight ahead. Why? The tire is too hard.

Tire load, however, is a whole 'nuther story. In the wonderful and sometimes wacky world of auto racing, you expect a tire to be capable of handing its prescribed load; i.e., the amount of weight and stress to which it will be subjected during a race. Fair enough, methinks.

Now, bear in mind that the only unknown in NASCAR is how anyone directly involved with the sport cannot know everything on the mechanical side of things that goes into the sport. Everything on the car is tested, measured, examined, analyzed and recorded. Everything.

Now, along with everyone else Goodyear knows the differences between this year's car and last year's car. They know the cars are faster. They know the cars are carrying more downforce. They know teams can be, therefore will be, using far more aggressive setups. They know every track's characteristics. Therefore, it stands to reason Goodyear would take a good look at what tires it brings to each race and beef them up accordingly, ¿no te parece? Naah. Let's bring the exact same tire we used last year! BRILLIANT! What could possibly go wrong?

As all witnessed, no matter how Goodyear and/or NASCAR and/or even some drivers alibied, plenty. Races should be decided on the basis of driving ability, strategy, best use of equipment, car building ability... you know, stuff like that. Yes, it's racing and weird things happen. You are going to get oddball parts failures and such. But when car after car after car after car after car suffers the exact same tire failure, spare us the inanity of insisting it's all the car setup and/or track's fault.

It is not the teams or any track's responsibility to build a tire that can go more than twenty laps before turning into shredded wheat. It is Goodyear's responsibility to build a tire that meets the needs dictated by this year's car and the tracks as they are. Period. Failure to do so rests entirely on them. Period.

As to the race itself, while it didn't quite have the fun factor that permeated the Nationwide race, it had its moments. Certainly before his turn on the Goodyear glopout ride Jimmie Johnson was smoking the field, but there were very few moments when someone wasn't racing someone else (or several someone else's) for position. The green-white-I'd like to thank my sponsor was a scramble and a half, with Kyle Busch managing to seize order out of chaos that amply demonstrated the drivers collective skill in going helter skelter without everyone hitting everyone else. All in all, it could have been a really good show. But, thanks to Goodyear, the race became almost an afterthought. Nice going, gang.

On to the nuclear hot dog... er, Martinsville.

PS: Speaking of things that come from Akron...

Hideous, Terrible Truth

I'll get to discussing today's Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in the next post. First things first.

It was a simple note on Twitter yesterday following the Nationwide race:

And suddenly the jokes about who wears the firesuit in the family; the excitement over a terrific ending to the Nationwide race in which Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson put on a masterful show with Larson eventually claiming the win, faded into insignificance.

Today was a long one on the track for Harvick as the tire issues that beset so many ruined his day as well. It doubtless seemed far longer:

Yet this, too, pales.

It was a simple photo on a proud father's Facebook page; his fifteen year old daughter Niokoa Johnson posing in front of the race car he had brought together for her:

It was in this car, on the second lap of a time trial at a local dirt track, when something went wrong. Very, very wrong. It is reported that in all likelihood the throttle became stuck. Niokoa Johnson crashed hard into the turn two wall yesterday evening. She died this afternoon.

There is always the temptation when such things happen to wax stoic about the dangers of auto racing and/or the sacrifices inherent in a public lifestyle requiring great amounts of travel not conducive to lugging small children about. One could also go for gooey sentimentality or maudlin, mawkish mush in an attempt to elicit emotional responses. But really, are either called for or in any fashion acceptable? No.

Instead, contemplate the private anguish publicly shared: a mother unable to protect or immediately be with her injured son; every parent's unspeakable nightmare of seeing their child die before their eyes. Only those who have been there could possibly understand. The rest of us are best advised to provide quiet support and prayer, moved to silence in the face of painful reality and priorities suddenly sorted into their proper order by hideous, terrible truth.

New Kid In Victory Lane... Er, Town

Oh great, they said.

Go to Dullywood... um, Auto Club right after Bristol, they said. Look, Kyle Busch is entered, they said. He always whips up in Nationwide here, they said. Time to reignite the debate about Cup drivers in Nationwide, they said. It'll be the only interesting thing that'll happen all day, they said. Okay, let's hold our noses and get this stinker over with, they said.

They said wrong.

Today's Nationwide race at Auto Club was one of the best races you could hope to see at any track. No one ran away and hid from the field. No one stunk up the show. Instead, after the usual suspects - Busch, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick - kept things interesting up front throughout, we were treated to a race ending multi-lap spectacular in which Busch and Harvick did all thing possible to snag a win, diving and ducking and running different lines and trying every trick in the book to catch...

... no, not each other. Although that was a part of the equation.

No, they were trying to catch Kyle Larson.

They couldn't.

Larson won his first Nationwide race by taking a page straight out of David Pearson's book. Hang around near the front while remaining unobtrusive. Then, near the end, play the "hey where did he come from" card, from that point forward making moves both subtle and stunning as one executes the exact maneuvers needed to keep opponents at bay.

The closing laps were things of beauty, boasting action as hot and heavy as any short track could hope to host. Larson, Busch and Harvick danced around and seemingly through each other, running every line imaginable and a few no one had previously seen as Larson battled to hold his lead while Busch and Harvick battled with equal ferocity to take it away. It is no accident that Busch and Harvick were grinning from ear to ear afterwards. They had been having serious fun, and despite not needing to make room for a trophy were in possession of something perhaps even more valuable: being part of showing why at its peak NASCAR provides as awesome a slice of sports thrills as it gets.

And what of Larson? He has been labeled one to watch for some time, and today demonstrated to one and all why this has been the case. He is aggressive without being reckless, smooth without being submissive. Larson has the innate feel only the truly great drivers possess of knowing where and when to put the car. He is adept at short tracks, speedways and superspeedways. Larson is the real deal, and today served notice he is someone with whom all other drivers must contend at all future races.

There's a new kid in town wearing three things: red, khaki... and a Gatorade shower in Victory Lane. Now, what was everyone bemoaning?

The Kids Are Alright... When They Listen, That Is

In other words, never. (I kid, I kid... a little.)

My sister, who lives in North Carolina yet remains immune to NASCAR's charms, recently postulated on her Facebook page a strong distain for presently celebrated youthful performers when compared to, say, Kevin Bacon:

Now, bear in mind my sister is of the unshakable belief popular music has been on a steady decline since the Dave Clark Five broke up. But I love her anyway. Anyway, tying this into NASCAR...

It takes little to get the little ones hooked on NASCAR. It's loud, it's fast, the cars are brightly colored, and people get to run into each other and/or assorted solid objects without being yelled at by their parents. (Try explaining a crew chief or team owner chewing out their driver over running into something or someone to a six year old. Probably not going to work well.) There are always at least a few baby-faced drivers to which the small fry can relate, and given how the sports isn't exactly populated with prospective NBA players it is easier for those on the short side of things to find someone of somewhat similar stature on which to latch. Which makes it all the more puzzling as to why my sister hasn't gotten into NASCAR. But I digress.

There is also the girl factor. As much as the naysayers love to say nay about Danica, there is no question her presence sparks interest among the fairer sex's youthful members who are still too young for crushes on any given male driver. I recall shopping at a Target shortly before Cars 2 was released, the store boasting a massive display of toys and such for the movie. Two girls were carefully picking through the assorted Lightning McQueens and Maters et al, one of them expressing with a fair amount of frustration to the other, "Aren't there any girl cars?" Hopefully they found a Holly Shiftwell. A more melancholy example is a story the late and deeply missed motorsports blogger Marc Borland related about how his two young daughters tolerated rather than shared their father's racing passion... right up until the first time he was writing a post involving Danica. His daughters spotted her picture on his computer monitor and immediately started peppering him with questions about who was that and can we see her race. From that day forward, they were right there with their dad watching at least the IndyCar series. In summary, don't disrespect Danica's influence on bringing in new young fans who otherwise would pay no attention to NASCAR.

It is far more often the case than not that once a rugrat catches NASCAR fever, it spreads beyond any initial infatuation and/or relatability factor(s). They both learn and learn to appreciate the sport's history; the drivers, tracks and races that have gone into the book of legend. They can't wait to hear the stories. They know every driver in every series. They devour every story and watch every show. They can't wait for race day. They become fans of the sport itself, and they never let go.

Unlike pop music, in NASCAR the kids far more often than not catch the vision.

PS: One can at least hope the kids figure out music eventually...