Keselowski Comes in from the Cold

This, of course, is under caution. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

This, of course, is under caution. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

[cb_profit_poster sponsor1]Clinton, S.C., Sunday, October 13, 2013, 12:02 p.m.

I just got finished with a nice, long guitar session, the kind where I play songs I haven’t played in so long that I’m about to lose them, some of which are mine, and that’s a little scary.

Ah, but thank goodness there’s football ahead to stimulate me.

It occurs to me that, for the first time, I appreciate night races. During the years when I was at the track, deadline pressure was onerous. As I’ve often said and probably written in this space previously, it wasn’t a matter of writing a good story; it was a matter of managing the slightest semblance of coherence. I often used a crude term about making something stink as little as possible.

Jeff Gordon, undoubtedly well-rested today. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

Jeff Gordon, undoubtedly well-rested today. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

Jeff Gordon, after a night victory, once took us to task: “Don’t you guys like having Sunday off?”

Gordon must have been mildly aware of being pelted with a barrage of mind waves. We don’t have Sundays off. We don’t fly home in a private jet. We either drive all day long or sit in airports for half of it. There’s a day-after column. Ain’t no Sunday off, Champ.

Now I watch every race in the same seat. It’s brown, soft and reclines. Sometimes, when my attention flags, I explore ballgames for a while, knowing that if something unusual (like a lead change) happens, Twitter will burst into flames.

If I had my druthers, last night the cars wouldn’t have been racing at the same time the Boston Red Sox were failing almost completely to get hits. But the quality of the racing, coupled with the futility of the baseball, afforded some quality time watching Johnny Manziel tempting fate and laughing in its face again.

The expression on Kasey Kahne's face tells a second-place story. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

The expression on Kasey Kahne’s face tells a second-place story. (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

If the race had been great, I would’ve felt addled trying to keep up with everything. As it was, I committed a crime I fear was perpetrated by so many as to make any attempt at punishment futile. I waited for the late caution flag and watched the end with attention undivided (other than by Twitter, of course). My pulse quickened when Brad Keselowski outdueled Kasey Kahne for victory in the familiar Quicker Picker Upper.

That debris is NASCAR’s equivalent of a strong cup of black coffee.

When Keselowski, the champion previously consigned to irrelevance, climbed out of his shiny blue Ford, he had a certain Prodigal Son look. Gosh, it was great to have him back. If a driver not in the Chase wins a race in the Chase, it’s kind of like he gets to exist again for a few days.

As for the actual Chase, why, of course, it adjusts itself unavoidably week to week, which doesn’t prevent anyone from acting as if this is a surprise.

Next, of course, is Talladega and all it entails.

This morning, on the radio while sitting at a drive-through on the way to visit my mother, I heard someone say that it’s been a long time since a Chase leader was derailed in the Talladega tumult. Now, that can be taken two ways. The standard way is the “hindsight method,” which is to suggest that what happened recently will continue to happen. It’s also possible to contend that, given the imminent danger of NASCAR’s wildest frontier, the leader is overdue to be derailed there.

The truth is that anything can happen, and citing some line of statistics isn’t necessarily any better than predicting the outcome by tea leaves, Ouija board, or the quatrains of Nostradamus.

Keselowski, like all racers, is passionate, but his is infectious. (John Clark photo)

Keselowski, like all racers, is passionate, but his passion is infectious. (John Clark photo)

Meanwhile, Keselowski, as he noted in recent remarks directed at Kyle Busch, has little to deter him from stirring up the occasional ruckus. It would be better were he an insider, but it was interesting for him to remind us that, by gosh, he’s still the champion until this season finishes winding its merry way through hill, dale, desert and South Florida.

“I don’t look at those things and say, just because you haven’t done or someone else doesn’t want to do it, that it can’t be done,” Keselowski said. “That’s just setting yourself up for failure. The perception is, and rightfully so, that the guys that are in the Chase are the cream of the crop.

“It’s just been kind of one of those years where you say, ‘How much more can they throw at you?’ I think we ran out of things for them to throw at us tonight, with the jack (pit-road mistake), and still find a way to win, so that was very special.”

Is it me, or does it seem like Jimmie Johnson is losing too many races he ought to be winning? (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

Is it me, or does it seem like Jimmie Johnson is losing too many races he ought to be winning? (HHP/Alan Marler photo for Chevrolet)

The sport has a handful of drivers – Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and others, depending on one’s preferences – who bring passion as well as virtuosity to the sport. All drivers have passion. Some inspire it in those around them, and by around them, I mean the grandstands and the TV screen, too, not just the team, or the sponsor or the media. They are drivers who make the sport interesting, partly because of the intensity by which they are beloved and partly because of the intensity by which they are not.

This I’ve learned about fans. One fan’s beacon of integrity is another’s whining weasel. A great spokesman for the sport, in one set of eyes, is a shameless publicity hound in another.

NASCAR is a lot more interesting when Brad Keselowski plays a prominent role.

I’ve done my daily duty. Now I’m going to watch football and maybe play a guitar some more. Or read some more Nelson DeMille.

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About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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