I got 43 minutes before the day job starts to muse on all things Daytona weekend. Pull up some super dark roast and … go.
Dale June-yer – Dale Earnhardt Jr. won. So there’s that. Insert spasms around the Internets plus momentary brown-outs of Twitter. Dale has legions of fans … “Junior Nation” … so I feel good for them. It's a win that probably launched 12,012 tattoos.
It’s hard not to like Dale, frankly. The guy rarely pisses on other people, especially by race car driver standards. I know Jr. is popular, as evidenced by my not living in a cave, but I haven't studied very closely the origins of said popularity. I think the whole blue-collar guy thing is in there, which, as the son of an auto mechanic, I appreciate a lot. How much of his fandom is due to his late father, Dale Sr., is hard to say.
Dale did a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’ after the win, which I think is also part of the endearment. He represents a kind of throwback to when people were less image-y and more just doing their thang.
I’m tempted to ask (OK, I am actually asking) “why do people like Dale Jr.?” even though I KNOW the second I pose such an innocent question people will read all kinds of stuff into it, like I'm saying he sucks and wondering how anyone could ever like him. Which I'm not saying, but much smaller stuff has touched off a month-long social-media-driven kerfuffle. See "Butt Hurt" below.
SO, if you’re a Junior fan, or have insights into why he has so MANY fans, please comment below. I suppose I could Google it. Here’s one of many many stories along with some video on Dale’s win.
ANYWAY, I’m happy Dale won. Seems like a nice, good-old-boy kind of guy. He has zillions of fans so it’s fun for them.
Return of the 3 … insert relative silence here -- A BIG deal was made by some that a car with Dale Sr.’s number (3) on it was not only back in the race but on the pole for Daytona. Apparently it was SUCH a big deal that conspiracists theorized that it was rigged by NASCAR to get some MONSTER PRESS.
Ah, except I didn’t see any monster press. Maybe I missed it. I get that the 3 has significance to a lot of long-time fans, because it was closely associated with Earnhardt Sr., but Dale Sr. died in a crash on Feb. 18, 2001, so that means a LOT of fans never saw him race at all. I just didn’t think that the Number 3 would drive a crap-ton of headlines and I don’t think it did. There were some, of course, but not a ton.
Austin Dillon, who drove #3 and won the aforementioned pole, finished P9 and had a role in a couple of crashes. Did he “cause” them? Yeah, I’m not going there. You can look at the video and decide for yourself. He played a “material role” in a couple, to use some lawyer speak. Honestly, at a plate track, it's so easy to "cause" a crash that it's just kind of pointless to get all knotted up about it (see "Butt Hurt" below). If you look at it objectively (impossible! for some fans), then you realize going three-wide at 200 mph and not tapping anyone anywhere at any time for 200 laps is an unreasonable expectation.
People gonna get loose. People gonna misjudge. People gonna brain lock. That's just part of the deal on plate tracks. Dillon is too good of a driver and the contact was so slight that it's not fair to say he was just throwing it around out there. Of course ... it's a matter of perspective. If you HATE a driver (like Danica Patrick) and that driver taps someone, then he or she is A MENACE ON THE TRACK. If you like a driver and the same exact thing happens, well it's then magically just one of them racin' deals.
Fox Sports New Box –- Fox unveiled a new way to show the running order during their Speed Weeks coverage: a couple versions of a black boxes with the drivers' names in them. Rather than a ticker-like scroll across the top that has been the norm for racing forever, Fox tried out a stack of boxes that all flipped at once as a way to run down the order. In case you didn’t see it (and since I am too lazy to get a screen capture of it): Imagine a stack of about 10-ish thin black boxes on the right of the screen with one driver's name per box. Cars 1-10 are shown in a vertical stack, then it flips and cars 11 through 20 are shown, etc.
The side box sucked. Yay to Fox for trying something new, but thumbs down on the side box. It took up too much viewing space and didn’t show me stuff I was used to being shown, like how far back everyone was from the leader, etc. Plus it took up too much viewing room. God help people with small or old tube-style TVs, it would take up half the screen. The outcry on The Twitter was super negative.
So, to Fox’s credit, for the Daytona 500 itself Fox moved the boxes up to the top of the screen. Imagine (again, to save me the trouble of a screen grab) three rows of four little boxes up there (or four rows of three, not sure which it was). They did the all-at-once flip thing just like the side box. Yeah, not much better. Especially during a pack race like Daytona where while boxes (for example) 18 through 28 were on the screen, five people changed position within those boxes, so it looked like a flashing Vegas video lottery deal up there.
I found it better than the side box, but still harder to follow than the usual top scroll. Maybe that’s because I was used to looking at the old scrolling ticker (known as “the hat” in the business). The way I used the hat was, if I wanted to know where a driver was, I’d glance at the hat. I usually had some idea of where he or she was in the pack –- front, middle, back. So if I glanced at the hat and P23 was scrolling by, and I knew my driver was up toward the front, I returned to watching the screen for a few seconds and then glanced up at it again when it started to come around to the front of the pack.
Waiting these 10 extra seconds to find out the exact position of my driver was not an inconvenience to me, but I guess it was to others, at least that’s the reason Fox gave for trying the boxes. PLUS, the hat would sometimes give me the intervals back from the leader, so I would know that Jimmie Johnson (for example) was nine seconds back from the leader, and the car behind him was 10.5, so Jimmie was 1.5 seconds ahead of the car behind him. Then I could check the hat off and on and see that Jimmie is within 0.9 seconds of the lead. Catching up! I’m excited! With the boxes that information was NONE OF MY BUSINESS.
So, Fox, go back to the hat. Please. No anger for trying something new (see "Butt Hurt" below), but let’s just admit the box wasn't superior to the hat and try again.
The Festival of Random that is Plate Racing -– Now, I am NOT trying to denigrate the Daytona 500, or Talladega or any other plate race. I SWEAR. Great races. Great places. Great fans. Great events. Great winners. All great great great! OK? Simmer down.
Having said that, the plate race is really, really lotto-like. I think Robin Miller nailed it when he said Daytona and Talladega are “about teamwork, learning the draft and luck. (Driver) talent is a distant fourth.” CAVEAT: if you talk about “talent” to include the engineers and car preparation people on a team, then you move talent up the scale as a factor on two tracks. Driver talents at the plate tracks are more about choosing which line to be in, staying patient, staying within that tiny margin of error (see Ty Dillon above), hitting your marks on pit stops, stretching fuel and other track-position-improving skills. Again, not denigrating them, but throw in the idea of avoiding the inevitable pile ups at plate races and LUCK plays an outsized roll at plate tracks, in my view.
Two ways to look at that: first, luck means almost literally anyone can win, which is exciting for fans and drivers. If you have a car to stay with the draft, you’re in the hunt to win the Daytona 500. You just gotta survive the first two or three wrecks. So, as Danica Patrick said at Kansas last year, as a rookie she looked forward to races like Talladega and Daytona in part for the reason others drivers don't look forward to them: the luck factor means anyone can win.
No luck at Daytona for Danica this year. She got caught up in a crash someone else started (again, no umbrage from me on who "started" the crash. See Ty Dillon above) and finished P40. Danica’s car also had a wicked nose-first hit into a concrete (no SAFER barrier) wall. Scary shit, I gotta tell ya, made more scary if you're a fan of the driver involved. Luckily it wasn't directly nose first, but it was still uncomfortably close to perpendicular. The in-car camera of Danica hitting the wall was pretty unnerving. Insert continuing appreciation for NASCAR car safety feature engineers and builders and safety equipment makers, including HANS device people, here.
Immediately people cried out for SAFER all the way around Daytona. I’d agree that would be preferable, but there isn’t SAFER all the way around Indianapolis Motor Speedway either, so moderate your umbrage, IndyCar fans. (See "Butt Hurt" below.)
Everybody Gettin' All Butt Hurt -- Urban dictionary: Butt Hurt --> "An inappropriately strong negative emotional response from a perceived personal insult." My definition of Butt Hurt is a little broader, people who won't let shit go. Example: Tandem racing. Some people love it and want it back and are all butt hurt about it to the point that the cease on any opportunity to bring it. Personal example: I can get all butt hurt that IndyCar is not racing at tracks like Kansas and Chicagoland. So, I am far from innocent in the butt hurt department.
But I am trying to minimize it. Because we all know people who are all butt hurt over something and they just nurture and cultivate said anger for DECADES. Look no further than "The Split" in open-wheel which happened in 1996 ... nearly EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO. Some people are still hyper butt hurt over The Split. For the Love of Almighty God, can we let The Split GO ... PLEASE?
That's no way to go through life, all ragey over something that happened nearly a couple of decades ago, refusing to let it go. I was totally like that when Danica Patrick first busted into IndyCar. I was the poster-child for BUTT HURT that Danica was getting what I thought my favorite driver Sarah Fisher "deserved." But, you know what? I was an ass.
Danica and especially Sarah herself both showed me that through their actions, which started my transformation back from the dark side and was really a turning point in my whole approach to sports. (Read the story here.) So if a driver screws up in a race and screws your favorite driver, yeah, that's maddening. Yeah, I say bad words. But you gotta let it go. And as Danica has shown repeatedly over her career, refusing to hold on to the rage is the best way to go.
A lot of people take sports too seriously. They personalize everything, become quick to take umbrage, slow to cut slack. Long story short: racing and every other sport isn't curing cancer. It's not solving world hunger or saving people on operating tables or spreading justice.
So if someone says race car drivers aren't athletes or that your driver wouldn't win if she was the only one on the track, it's not a personal insult. It's not even that big of a deal, honestly. Danica's attitude in these situations is a huge part of why I am a big fan of hers. Many others conduct themselves similarly, like my friend Pippa Mann, who just doggedly hangs in there and keeps doing her best even in situations in which I would break down and RAGE against the world, frankly.
So here's the deal: I want my daughters to emulate people like Pippa who stay positive and continue to do their best even though they could get pissy and start venting off about how UNFAIR everything is. So for me, along with being a good race car driver, Pippa and others like her are great role models of how to conduct yourself in times of adversity (which reveals your true character).
That may be a far better lesson for others than if Pippa would win seven Indy 500s. (But feel free to do that, Pippa.) There are many such high-character people out there besides Sarah and Danica (that's right) and Pippa. Many many of the Women of pressdog® conduct themselves in such a fashion when it comes to avoiding Butt Hurt-ness. I'd recommend we all follow their examples.
In life and sports, let the rage-filed say what they want. Stick with your deal. Follow your dream. Relax. DRINK, ye BASTARDS. Move toward the positive (what you enjoy) and away from the negative (what you don't) rather than bathing yourself in the negative just so you can feel the sweet narcotic of venting your butt hurt, a high intensified by the rise of anonymous social media. I'm telling ya, being Butt Hurt about sports will invade your entire life like cancer and turn you into a pissed off "GET OFF MY LAWN" person people try to avoid.
Here ends the sermon.
Hey, time is up. (I lied! I took 90-minutes of work time to write this. My boss [me] is cool with it, though.) Hope you dug the Speed Weeks. Phoenix -– a lottttt different than Daytona -– is next week. Hope springs eternal for fans coming in to every race. Have a Bunny, Kittens, and Baby Seals day.