Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, January 19, 2018, 10:55 a.m.
NASCAR fans turn their lonely eyes to the young men streaming into the great speed palaces of the land. Some are wondering if it will ever be the same again. No need to wonder.
It won’t be.
It wasn’t the same after Fireball Roberts died. Or Dale Earnhardt. It won’t be the same now that Earnhardt’s son is taking his infectious charm to the television booth, where Jeff Gordon’s already resides. Life on the farm is kind of laidback for Carl Edwards. Like an old soldier, Matt Kenseth has faded away. Tony Stewart hangs out in the garage, so close but yet so far away.
It’s still racing, though. The fans who lived and died with their heroes, ask, “Should I stay, or should I go?” If they love the sport as much as the people in it, they will find new heroes, and if they don’t, a new generation will wander in. Surfers always find a new wave to ride. New generations always find a voice.
It may take a single race, such as Atlanta, in 2005, when Edwards slipped past Jimmie Johnson on the final lap, or a glorious season, such as the one enjoyed by Martin Truex Jr. last year.
It will happen. It has to. Racing, too, has a law of supply and demand. Some gotta win. Some gotta lose. The drivers who left created room for new ones to rise and fill the void.
Christopher Bell. Ryan Blaney. Alex Bowman. Chris Buescher. William Byron. Chase Elliott. Erik Jones. Daniel Suarez. Darrell Wallace Jr. Some others of whom we’ve heard. Some of whom we haven’t. Some have already won. Some have been close. The order is alphabetical because there is no other way to list them. Yet.
In the meantime, familiar faces remain. Truex is defending a title. Johnson is seeking an eighth. Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch yearn for another. Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola are dreaming of a first.
Given the way that NASCAR championships are decided, choosing a favorite for a championship is about the same as choosing which of 18 candidates is going to win a political party’s nomination for president. Races fall about as predictably as primaries and caucuses.
Don’t give up on NASCAR just because Junior’s gone. Hang around for a few races. Something may happen that will grab your interest.
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