A Jedi Wins at Poker

Jimmie Johnson (right) congratulates Geico 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr.  (Rusty Jarrett/HHP photo  for Chevy Racing)

Jimmie Johnson (right) congratulates Geico 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Rusty Jarrett/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, May 4, 2015, 11:02 a.m.

It’s okay to like restrictor-plate racing.

Really. It is.

In this age, it’s popular to say fans don’t go to the races to see the wrecks. It’s popular and also untrue. It’s laudable. It’s the same way people claim they want more local news in their paper but wouldn’t read a story about the school board if they were standing in front of a firing squad.

Or the school board.

Monte Dutton

Monte Dutton

As I’ve written many times, and as recently as last week, fans don’t come to see death. They come to see death defied. No track is more defiant than Talladega Superspeedway.

Plus, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won. All it cost fans was the price of admission. Over the weekend, a few bones cracked, lots of metal crumpled, and everyone got what they came for, which was, in many cases, the No. 88 winning and a chance, several times, to say, “God Almighty! I hope everybody’s all right.”

The Geico 500 was survival of the fittest. The fittest was Earnhardt Jr. What could be better than that?

Undoubtedly, these words are going to produce several who will say they absolutely do not want to see wrecks, just a good, clean race, but yet the grandstands were mostly filled, unusual these days, and I’m guessing the television ratings will see a nice, healthy boost. (As it turns out, I was guessing wrong.)

Most sports produce cringes of excitement. It’s not much different from football. Few of those fans claim they hate bone-jarring hits. They hate it when people get hurt, but it’s a distinct possibility.

People were disappointed in the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. Why? Not enough hits, as best I can gather. I haven’t had much interest in boxing since it left Muhammad Ali punch-drunk, but I liked it up until then.

I guess there are hockey fans who don’t like fights. Watch the background on replay, though, and observe them. Not many are shrinking in revulsion. More are watering at the mouth, and a few are foaming.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., triumphant. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Dale Earnhardt Jr., triumphant. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

If anything bewildered me, watching the Geico 500, it was how the racing seemed reversed or, at least, premature. For the first three quarters of the race, the action was two, three, and four wide, and I was wondering, do these drivers know the race has 100 more laps to run?

Then, at the end, they all got in one line, and anyone who didn’t conform to this rather moribund sense of order all seemed to get punished for it, and I was wondering, do these drivers know it’s almost over?

What happened to, well, if you can’t win the race, at least tear up the car?

Oh, they tore up some cars on the last lap, anyway, perhaps as a result of some of those who had taken a chance trying so hard not to be punished for it that … they got punished for it.

Talladega is a great center of the very barbarism that lingers in society and somehow inspires it to advance in the 20-car Draft of Life.

Life is hard, no matter where you go. It’s a tortured path. Tough roe to hoe. Yes. It’s from one of my songs, “The Paved Road,” which has little to do with NASCAR, or at least I wasn’t conscious of it when I wrote it.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. masters the Talladega draft.  (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. masters the Talladega draft. (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

The notion that anyone can win at Talladega and, to a slightly lesser extent, Daytona, is true but not overly enlightening. Inexperienced drivers think it, but, over time, the good ones get a special knack for nuance at a place that seems about as nuanced as an artillery barrage. Some are better than others. Some develop patience at a place that seems about as patient as flailing at a baseball that’s bouncing in the dirt.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is such a driver. His father, the late Dale Earnhardt, was such a driver. Junior once finished first or second in seven consecutive Talladega races, winning five of them, but, then, for slightly over a decade, playing Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi didn’t seem to work … until Sunday, when the Force was essentially a teammate, Jimmie Johnson, covering him in another Starfighter.

Return of the Jedi?

That metaphor wears a little thin. The race fell more like a poker game. They dealt and redealt the cards all afternoon, and, at the end, Earnhardt Jr. got a great hand and could stand pat while everyone else was rummaging through their pockets, discarding cards and drawing others, trying and ultimately failing to stay in the game. It didn’t hurt Earnhardt that most of them mainly bluffed.

The father was coy while performing at his best track. He left a lot unsaid. About the best he’d reveal was a knowing glance.

Earnhardt Jr. summed up his victory perfectly.

“I certainly hope [the victory] was a little bit of me,” he said, “but I know it was a lot race car.

“The car gives you the confidence to make the moves that make you look good. It’s the car really making it happen, but you’ve got to know what to do with it. You’ve got to put [the car] in those situations where it can excel, you know, and it can do the things it’s capable of doing. It doesn’t happen on its own.”

A pit-road penalty cost Jeff Gordon, (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

A pit-road penalty cost Jeff Gordon, (Andrew Coppley/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Drivers like Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart had the boldness, not the help. What happened to them happened on its own, or, rather, their own.

The surprise of the race, rookie Ryan Blaney, didn’t have the help, either. Some will criticize him for just staying in line and behaving, but there was no way drivers who wouldn’t help Stewart or Gordon were going to take a dive of faith with Blaney, who had to be aware that other drivers were treating his Wood Brothers Ford as if it were radioactive all day.

Had the rookie gotten crazy, he likely would have wound up in the mass of spewing smoke and crumpling metal.

Blaney played it right, and the right guy, Earnhardt won, and now everyone can sigh and thank the Lord for a good, safe race.

Thanks for checking out this website from time to time. If you find yourself yearning strangely to read a short story or book review, I’d appreciate your patronage at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and, then, stage three would be for you to actually materially invest in my writing by buying one of my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

Help me get a new novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, published by nominating it here: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1H8P26P38KYW8


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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5 Responses to A Jedi Wins at Poker

  1. Tim Nejman says:

    It was a great 200 mph single file parade for the final 25 laps. So much for the win and in Chase mentality. That was some of the least exciting plate racing in a long time at the conclusion of a race maybe decade ( ironically back when no one could touch DEI). They got poor finishes but I give credit to Carl, Brad, Matt, Tony, and Jeff for trying to making something happen.

  2. Bill B says:

    Wasn’t the new win and your in chase supposed to keep things like this from happening. Let’s look at some of the drivers that finished in the top 20; Menard, Hornish, Wise, Whitt, Yeley, Almirola, Bowman, Allmendinger, DiBenedetto.
    I hate to tell these guys that their chances of making it into the chase on points is slim to none. They need to win. So why were they riding around following Jr in order to get a good points day. None of them are making it into the chase on points. They need to win, yet none of them were willing to take the chance. Someone, please explain that thought process to me.

  3. MarkM says:

    The wrecks are admittedly exciting, but I haven’t watched a race to be excited by the wrecks, (even if only in part), in nearly thirty years, since getting to know a lot of short track racers well, & knowing what it cost them to race back then. From that, it was easy to extrapolate the cost to some of the smaller Cup teams & come to the realization that torn up race cars could ruin a team financially.

    Even in my more callow years, I always preferred good, close competition as opposed to wrecks, especially “The Big One”, & I’m old enough to remember racing at Daytona & Talladega before the plates. Hell, I’m old enough & have followed the sport long enough to remember when the restrictor plate was introduced in 1970, to be replaced by carburetor “sleeves” in 1971, (they bounced back & forth between them for a while, before the plate won out, by the introduction of the small blocks in 1974/75, the plate went away).

    Talledega was the second race I watched this year, after Daytona. Other than maybe the Southern 500, it’ll likely be the last one I watch this year. What went on wasn’t racing, especially at the end. Those damned plates don’t make for “better” racing, never have & never will.

  4. Lucas says:

    I am always sickened if and when Junior wins a plate race, as it should be the happiest day of my life, my health issues should be cured and the world is a better place. Never has so much been written over a win at a plate race by a certain driver. Hmmm, maybe we will feel better every race he is in and the other drivers should just stay home when races are at Talladega or Daytona, who could possibly live up to the hype of the promise of cancer being cured because one guy won a plate race??????????????

  5. Monte says:

    First of all, thanks for writing and for reading what I write.
    I can’t really defend what anyone else writes. It’s pretty rare to have a race where people don’t write about the winner. Each week, I try to pay attention and write what interests me. Another habit writers have is addressing subjects that interest other people. Sometimes we even write stories that we expect an unusually large number of people will read.
    I’m not sure whether or not you make reference to illnesses as an illustration or because you are experiencing some suffering. If it is the latter, I wish for you relief and healing.

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