ON NASCAR: One for the Road Warriors

By Cathy Elliott
Cathy Elliott
Cathy Elliott
Anyone who was on the fence about the appeal of road course racing leading up to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Watkins Glen International on August 15 must now have surely cold-shouldered the “road courses are boring” side in favor of the side simply known as “wow.”

Early on, the outlook was cloudy as the race, scheduled to be run on Sunday afternoon, was postponed until Monday morning due to wet weather.

In NASCAR, rain dampens more than the ground; it dampens the general spirit of things. Speedways rely heavily on volunteers and temporary workers to keep event weekends running smoothly, but many of those helpers must return to their “real” jobs on Monday. Fans have the same issue; some of them simply can’t stick around for a Monday race. And the teams lose a critical work day which would normally be spent getting ready for the next stop on the schedule.

In fact, if every NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race is its own perfect storm, where unpredictable events come together to produce a uniquely thunderous show each weekend, this one initially seemed to be simply all wet.

But where unpredictability is concerned, the weather has nothing on NASCAR, and somehow, clearer skies on Monday managed to produce conditions favorable for some of the most positive lightning bolts we’ve seen all season.

First and foremost was Marcos Ambrose’s first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, in his 105th start. The victory gave the Ambrose, a native Australian, admittance into an elite club, as he joined Juan Pablo Montoya, Earl Ross and Mario Andretti as the only international winners in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history.

Any way you look at it, this was a feel-good story. Ambrose left JTG Daugherty to join financially-plagued Richard Petty Motorsports for the 2011 season, and the win went a long way toward solidifying the team and validating his decision. The end of the race was dramatic, as Ambrose passed leader Brad Keselowski on the first lap of a green-white-checkered finish, took the white flag, and then claimed the victory under caution while a major on-track incident was unfolding behind him.

Any win involving Richard Petty is a good win, and Ambrose is one of the most popular guys in the garage. But a great personality doesn’t win races; great driving does. He pulled off both at WGI, and managed not to incur any wrath along the way.

“I think the biggest thing ... to me was how many drivers, how many people inside NASCAR congratulated me, were as joyful of the victory as I was,” he said after the race. “The other drivers out there were fantastic. To be respected by your peers, I think, is the most important to me.”

Some of his competitors weren’t exactly feeling that same joy and respect, however. Greg Biffle and Boris Said, who had made contact earlier in the race, were attempting to make a little more after it ended. The upshot of the whole thing was some post-race shadowboxing, some name-calling – with “scaredy-cat” and “chump” being the nastiest – and a phone call between the two on Tuesday where they worked things out.

Most people don’t advocate fighting, but isn’t always necessarily bad for fans to see the drivers show their emotions. When we see how passionate they are about the sport, that passion can’t help but carry over to us. Plus, if the worst name you can think of to call your adversary is “chump,” how bad can things really be?

Joey Logano didn’t win the race, but he had a good day, posting his second top 10 road course finish of the season. Occasionally I still hear someone say that Logano hasn’t quite lived up to his hype, but apparently he hasn’t been paying much attention. He finished a strong fifth at WGI, then headed off for another race in front of a different kind of audience, filming an episode of the Travel Channel series “Man v. Food Nation.” In case you haven’t seen it, the show has a great premise; all you have to do is eat. And eat. And eat.

Logano said he wasn’t sure exactly what he was going to have to eat (and eat, and eat); he just said he hoped it wasn’t beans. (I think he speaks for all of us with that sentiment.) Turns out it was nearly as bad, something called the “Atomic Bomb,” consisting of a huge burger topped with pulled pork barbeque and accompanied by a large side of fries, all of which had to be consumed in less than 30 minutes. We’ll have to wait until the show airs on October 19 to find out if man conquered food, but we know this much -- at least Joey wasn’t a scaredy-cat.

The WGI race weekend was a high-pressure cell in every conceivable way, and as the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup draws closer and tempers grow shorter, more storms will surely erupt. With five first-time winners so far this year, we could even see another lightning strike.

The weekend did have one significant bright spot. Doppler radar confirmed a bright ray of sunshine, shining directly on the race sponsor. Heluva Good, a company that produces sour cream dips, got an extra 24 hours of exposure out of their investment and had their branding all over a most memorable event.

In fact, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to hear that the company is considering changing its moniker. As far as NASCAR is concerned, Heluva Great fits perfectly.
Cathy Elliott, the former director of public relations for Darlington Raceway, is a syndicated columnist for NASCAR and author of the book “Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR.” (for David M. Kinchen's review on this site:http://archives.huntingtonnews.net/columns/100423-kinchen-columnsbookreview.html). Contact Cathy at.cathyelliott@hotmail.com
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