In Lieu of Notable Excitement

Kevin Harvickleads William Byron during the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, February 26, 2018, 9:59 a.m.

Sometimes a race is exciting. Sometimes it’s interesting. Races that are neither exciting nor interesting are rare, not to mention monotonous.

The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 was interesting for a variety of reasons. Thanks to Kevin Harvick’s domination, it wasn’t particularly exciting. As I’m fond of noting, every race cannot be a classic. If so, there would be no need for the term.

By Monte Dutton

That Harvick ran away with it was not unusual. The 42-year-old veteran has won 38 times in a career spanning 612 races over 18 years. He has won twice at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The first was in his second start. The second was in his 612th. Harvick dominated the same race a year earlier, but Brad Keselowski wound up winning it. Harvick, like most of NASCAR’s better drivers, has dominated many races he didn’t wind up winning. It happened to Ryan Blaney a week earlier.

The race flew in the face of most of the items receiving major off-season attention. The rage of NASCAR is the rise of young drivers and the departure of old ones. The top eight Atlanta finishers were drivers with at least eight years of experience. The sensations of the Daytona 500, winner Austin Dillon and runner-up Darrell Wallace, retreated into Atlanta anonymity.

A general consensus over the winter was that Fords would struggle. They seemed stuck in place. Toyota was the top manufacturer in 2017. Chevrolet debuted a new Camaro variation as its Monster Energy Cup model and won the Daytona 500 in its maiden voyage.

Fords dominated the Daytona 500 but did not manage to win it. Just a week later, their drivers finished 1-2-3 — Harvick, Keselowski and Clint Bowyer — and took five of the top 10 spots. The familiar Fusion has been strong.

At Atlanta, a track with time-worn pavement and a premium on fresh tires, Harvick could have been driving a model of his own. For almost the entire race, he was clearly the fastest driver in the fastest car. This may change and probably will next week, even though Las Vegas Motor Speedway is superficially similar.

“This is a place that’s all about grip, and driver’s got to like it,” Greg Zipadelli, Stewart-Haas Racing’s vice president for competition, said afterward. “By no means are we out of the woodwork (Zippy probably meant to say ‘woods’). We’re headed to Vegas, which is a complete opposite type of a race track next week, so we’ll look at where we’re at and judge ourselves again next week.”

Kevin Harvick and his son, Keelan, pose with the winner’s decal in Victory Lane. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Las Vegas has a track similar to Atlanta’s (or Hampton’s) in most respects, but Harvick’s overwhelming victory suggests that “mile-and-a-half track with old pavement” is an informal phylum in the taxonomic classification of such edifices. LVMS doesn’t look as if logging trucks run it on weekdays. “Complete opposite” is a bit of a stretch, but winners are often prone to hyperbole amidst the thrill of being one.

“You know, this is a race track that takes a lot of experience,” Harvick said, “and there’s a lot of things that you have to know about your car and know about the race track to get the car around the race track. This is where experience pays off at these types of race tracks, for sure.”

The standings said, and I quote, “duh.”

Because tires wear out so quickly, most drivers run a high groove through the turns because it requires a lower level of adhesion than skidding controllably along the bottom. It’s faster down there, but Harvick has some mystical knack for conserving his rubber at the same time he theoretically should be grinding it away. It’s not unprecedented for veterans. It’s almost unprecedented for young hotshots who haven’t gotten the benefit of lessons that cannot be adequately learned in simulations. They all know how to go fast. Harvick knows how to stay fast.

Fords dominated. It didn’t rain. Experience ruled. Variety isn’t just the spice of life. It helps when it’s the spice of NASCAR.

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A Really Big Show

(Monte Dutton photos)

Sumter, South Carolina, Saturday, February 24, 2018, 2:37 p.m.

This is my first use of this word in print ever. It was popular thirty years ago. I hated it the way I hate such modern redundant terms as “arguably” (i.e., “perhaps”; I always think to myself, okay, then argue it), and those gaudy sportscasters’ terms, such as “matriculating down the field” (presumably filling out paperwork and enrolling in school as one carries a football), that are misstated and then celebrated and plagiarized for their outlandish inaccuracy.

Manchild.

By Monte Dutton

Zion Williamson is a manchild, perhaps the first I’ve ever seen. He is a man among boys, and soon he will join other men at Duke University, where Mike Krzyzewski will turn mean and others on the team will possess skills comparable to his own. For now, though, the Spartanburg Day School dynamo walks the earth and runs the floor high above the plane of other available mortals.

The Griffins (22-8) won their third consecutive Class 2A boys’ basketball championship, defeating Trinity-Byrnes of Darlington, 74-41. The first-half score was just 30-24, meaning that the second-half score was 44-17. Spartanburg Day has a good bit of talent to surround the human franchise. Williamson and has mates were as good as they needed to be for a half, then as good as they were for another.

My purpose for being at Sumter County Civic Center was the following game, matching the last local team still running and shooting, the Laurens Academy Lady Crusaders (31-1) against the Patrick Henry Lady Patriots (18-5) for the championship of Class A girls. LA won, 48-34, and I had my story.

The reason I arrived early wasn’t to watch Williamson. The reason I arrived early was that I am obsessively punctual. I usually beat the teams to the gym. It was my third drive to Sumter in a span of eight days. I’ve listened to lots of NPR because my car gets better mileage than my truck but doesn’t get satellite radio. I knew Spartanburg Day was playing and that I’d get there about the time its game started, and the crowd would already be there and the traffic wouldn’t be nettlesome. I found a spot behind the scoring table and took notes in the interest of writing this.

I haven’t seen Williamson do anything other than make thunderous dunks on the 11 o’clock news for two years, and this year I saw him put a Duke cap on in front of a live audience and make those who hate the Blue Devils unhappy. The decision surprised no one outside of South Carolina, but those who wear Clemson orange as standard garb were bitterly disappointed for a few minutes until they started thinking about football again. About 2,500 fans showed up for Williamson’s send-off to Durham.

There were no surprises. Williamson was a SCISA Magic Johnson who played every position he wanted to occupy. Sometimes he brought the ball upcourt with him. Sometimes he shot a three, though not with particular success. Inside the lane he was automatic. He didn’t need position to clean rebounds, and sometimes he’d grab one, fire an outlet pass, and walk upcourt while teammates passed the ball around and awaited his arrival or scored without him.

The dunks looked as if they were designed for judges’ cards instead of a scoreboard. Oh. My. God. I think lightning might have struck once, but I definitely heard thunder.

Williamson scored 37 points and grabbed 21 rebounds. The Griffins, possessing a player of national renown, gave him occasional stimulation by taking part in prestigious tournaments against top-flight opposition, but nothing up to now will get him ready for the Atlantic Coast Conference and the National Basketball Association beyond. He won’t carry the next team he joins, but he won’t have to spend entire games dominating, either. Kryzyzewski will expect him to play harder in shorter spurts. If he doesn’t, there’ll be a problem.

All I have to compare with Saturday’s performance was the time I watched, more than two decades ago, Kevin Garnett, then playing for Mauldin, dominate Laurens in a fashion, as best I recall, similar to Williamson against Trinity-Byrnes. Garnett transferred to Farragut Career School in Chicago. The record books will substantiate that Garnett turned out all right.

A scrawny kid from Trinity-Byrnes named Sam Smith spent much of the afternoon trying to guard Williamson. It made me think of Jack and the Beanstalk. Williamson left me in awe. Smith left me in sympathy. His was a plight I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

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Keep on Rolling with the Flow

Brad Keselowski won at Atlanta Motor Speedway last year. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, February 23, 2018, 1:48 p.m.

“See, there are two levels of trouble I can get in. The trouble I can get in with NASCAR and the trouble I can get in with my wife. One is going to cost me a lot financially and the other is going to cost me a lot more financially.” — Brad Keselowski

By Monte Dutton

Keselowski said the above back during the NASCAR Media Tour on January 24. He provides snappy quotes every day. He has his detractors, but he’s got enough strength of conviction to say what he thinks. He knows the consequences. If a man spends all his time saying what people want to hear, or what NASCAR wants them to hear, he won’t please anyone but NASCAR officials, be they image makers, technical officials, or men in suits who watch from glass towers.

The problem with image makers is they like for the images to be the same. This becomes a problem for NASCAR because most fans like a little variety in their heroes, or what’s the use of having them?

Guys like Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, the Busch brothers, and Denny Hamlin have been around long enough to realize they can’t possibly please everybody, and in the age of social media, trying to please everybody can seriously mess with a man’s mind. Some fans are humorous. Some are humorless. It’s a big, old goofy world, as John Prine sings.

Brad Keselowski & Paul Paul Wolfe (John Clark photo)

Last week, when Keselowski provided commentary for Fox’s telecast of the Daytona Xfinity Series race, I thought he made everyone on the broadcast seem better.

What drives me crazy are the people who think you can please everybody. Or that you should. I get tired of people who act like the fan base is somehow monolithic, which means, literally, formed of a single, huge, block of stone.

Some people hate Toyota. Some people don’t. Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t. Almond Joy has nuts. Mounds don’t.

Some people don’t like my tweets because I promote my books. Everyone on social media promotes something, whether it’s their opinions, their politics, their dogs, their kids, their casseroles, or their cars. It’s not too hard to just pass the stuff by.

Sometimes people post, Hey, you forgot to mention so-and-so. No, I didn’t. I just chose not to mention it. Occasionally, I think about posting, Well, sir, I had no way of writing what you thought, so, reluctantly, I just fell back on what I thought. I respect the opinions of others, and I don’t ever “unfriend” anyone because I disagree with them. I unfriend because I’m offended by what they write if it happens to be personal, vulgar, or insulting. Occasionally, someone posts that they won’t want to be Facebook friends with anyone who doesn’t agree with them, although they don’t usually phrase it just that way. If I unfriend them, it’s only because they literally asked for it.

It’s out of control, but it’s just a consequence of outrageous freedom. Freedom has never rung more loudly. Freedom is inherently uncontrollable.

Control is fleeting. Life is like a race car.

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My eighth novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, is being considered for publication in the Amazon KindleScout program. Read all about it, and enjoy a sample, here. If it is selected, you’ll get a free advance download. Time is running out, though. It won’t take but a few minutes.

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Racing Gets Real Now

Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, February 22, 2018, 10:13 a.m.

I hope it doesn’t rain. Weather Nation lists Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway as a sixty percent chance. Experience tells me that may change. The rain may come sooner or later. Sixty percent means 40 percent it won’t rain on Sunday.

There’s still so much we need to know.

By Monte Dutton

Some drivers who are fast at Daytona won’t be fast in Hampton. It happens every year. Plate racing provides opportunity to drivers who will struggle to run in the top fifteen on an intermediate track. Crashes rounded up — and crushed — most of the usual suspects in the Daytona 500. They will return to form. Literally.

Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500. It was a great accomplishment. He prevailed on an intermediate track last year. Daytona makes two victories on two kinds of tracks. It was a hell of an encore. Darrell Wallace Jr. finished second. So far, so good, but he knows Atlanta will provide a test more valid in terms of his hopes for the entire season.

Darrell Wallace Jr. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

“I think the exciting thing about Daytona is unless you’re just coming there just to run at the back of the pack all day and accept a finish, everybody that shows up to Daytona has a shot,” he said in his media conference after the 500. “That’s what Daytona produces, and Talladega, as well. It doesn’t matter who you are. A very low-budget team or a top-dollar team, everybody has a shot to win.

“That’s why we always say when we go to Atlanta: that’s when we really see who’s playing what cards. Just from everything that’s been going on in the off-season, switching over to Chevrolet, the alliance with RCR, they were rebuilding their stages there at the end of the year for their program. We’re heading in there (Atlanta) like we’re going to win that race, but at the same time, we know we also have a lot of things to check off the list.”

Every race has new variables, particularly early in the season. Rules change gradually. Chevrolet has a new Monster Cup model, the Camaro. Chase Elliott has the best Atlanta average finish (6.5), but it’s only based on two races. Erik Jones has the fifth best (14.), but that’s based on a single finish of 14th.

Based on the past history that statistically means something, Jimmie Johnson has five victories and an average finish of 10.105, but the seven-time champion is coming off what, by his standards, was a bad year. The Busch brothers are next in average finish, Kurt with 13.667 and Kyle with 13.722. Brad Keselowski won the race last year. Reigning champion Martin Truex Jr. has never won at Atlanta, but his numbers are decent.

It’s important to watch the Daytona 500 closely because of the individual nuances of that one race. The Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500 is destined to tell us more about the rest of the season, and that’s true every year.

Racing gets back to basics and back to the norm.

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’d be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

My eighth novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, is being considered for publication in the Amazon KindleScout program. Read all about it, and enjoy a sample, here. If it is selected, you’ll get a free advance download. Time is running out, though. It won’t take but a few minutes.

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The Olympics Leaves Me Cold

(Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, February 21, 2018, 10:50 a.m.

The Winter Olympics is big. Or perhaps they are big. I believe Olympics is singular, but I’ve seen it both ways.

It’s (they’re) bigger than I think. I watch them almost subliminally. I write blogs such as this one while it’s on TV, but I don’t pay attention. I fall asleep at night with it on, and my last waking sensation is the swishing sound that accompanies something called curling.

By Monte Dutton

Curlers swish away with some high-tech equivalent of a broom, thus affecting the course of a high-tech equivalent of a rock.

I like the events that are objective better than the ones that are subjective. I prefer the events determined by stopwatches more than the ones determined by judges’ cards. Figure skating is grateful, but I don’t have enough knowledge to tell you why one is better than another, unless, of course, one falls and the other doesn’t. This leads to a phenomenon in which I find myself hoping one falls.

It has changed my viewing patterns. It has increased my reading. I have the Olympics on TV when there is nothing else I want to watch, and since I don’t want to watch the Olympics, I read. I’m really enjoying a mystery called The Case of the Purloined Pyramid. Last night I watched a live Facebook feed of Dale Watson playing honky-tonk country music in Memphis.

I’d probably read more if TCM wasn’t running “31 Days of Oscar,” though I’ve seen most of these classics before. Late Saturday night, I became fascinated with A Passage to India. It kept me up till 2 a.m.

Of the Olympics, many tell me, “There’s more to it than that,” and I reply, “Well, there has to be.”

I like downhill skiing. And ski jumping. And ice hockey. Not enough to have watched much of them, though.

Maybe it’s not cold enough here. Maybe the United States doesn’t win enough medals to please me. Maybe I don’t know. I just can’t muster the interest to watch. Back when I was younger, I might have felt guilty about that.

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’d be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

My eighth novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, is being considered for publication in the Amazon KindleScout program. Read all about it, and enjoy a sample, here. If it is selected, you’ll get a free advance download. Time is running out, though. It won’t take but a few minutes.

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The State of the Art

Racin’ is, in fact, wreckin’. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, February 20, 2018, 10:09 a.m.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series — second year in and I’m still having to think MENCS to put the words in the right order — is off to a rip-roaring start.

By Monte Dutton

There’s nothing unusual about that. It happens every year. The Daytona 500 is a tough act to follow. Austin Dillon won it on the last lap by knocking Aric Almirola out of the way. Some fans raised hell about it, and that’s the purpose of social media. Harry Hogge (Days of Thunder) said, “He didn’t wreck you, Cole. He rubbed you. And rubbin’ is racin’.”

In the past twenty-eight years, wreckin’ has become racin’. Some fans don’t believe it. I saw the amendments to the constitution all day long yesterday. Blockin’ is racin’. Blockin’ ain’t racin’. Wreckin’ ain’t racin’. Wreckin’ is racin’. Anything goes on the last lap. I didn’t read anyone who tweeted “thank the good Lord for a good, safe race.”

It used to be that songs were made of heart and soul and music / But this year you won’t find them on the charts / You know, someone decided to dispose of all that useless beauty / Sad, but that’s the state of the art.

A Texas songwriter named Brian Burns wrote those words. Brian and I have spent some time together at a friend’s festival I used to attend. For all that, I don’t think we’ve ever talked about NASCAR. Those are just the words that occurred to me this morning. I don’t know exactly why.

Aric Almirola’s Ford changed shape at the end. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

I guess it’s just the state of the art. Times change. Tastes change. Racing’s just one area. Music’s another. Or maybe I’m just getting old and can’t give up the past. I’m still interested, though. I’m trying to adapt. A NASCAR driver told me one time, “Man, you just gotta change with the times, or else, you’re gonna get left behind.”

He was right, though I prefer to call it “perspective.”

One man’s rubbin’ is another man’s wreckin’. It just depends on which man it is doing the driving, not to mention the tweeting.

Aric Almirola (Photo by Bob Leverone/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Maybe Dillon meant to swoop down a split second earlier. Maybe he meant his bump to be a nudge. Maybe he meant to turn Almirola’s car around the other way and not directly into the wall. Maybe the cars have gotten so safe now that it’s six one, half dozen another. I’m glad Dillon went for it. I’m glad he didn’t just draft Almirola into victory lane, but if I was a betting man, and the matter was provable, I’d bet that what Dillon said or thought when he glanced into the rear-view mirror was the same as me watching on TV.
Oh, hell.

Austin Dillon (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Winning the Daytona 500 is forever. All that’s more forever is winning the championship. It takes more than a third of one lap to determine that, though various arguments can be made as to whether that requires one race, ten, or 36. It depends on whether the analysis is based on four drivers, sixteen or forty.

A heap more rubbin’, and a heap more wreckin’, and a heap more racin’ lies ahead.

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. If 1/10 of my followers and Facebook friends pledge $1 a month, I’d be set. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

My eighth novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, is being considered for publication in the Amazon KindleScout program. Read all about it, and enjoy a sample, here. If it is selected, you’ll get a free advance download. Time is running out, though. It won’t take but a few minutes.

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Things Change

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, February 19, 2018, 9:29 a.m.

When the Daytona 500 ends, the men and women there to describe it go into what can best be described as an assembly line. They process, decipher, and otherwise attempt to make sense of a steady flow of information. They listen to their recorders, now contained within the small universe of their phones. They monitor media conferences and crank out their assigned stories as information becomes available, and, finally, they leave the track hoping that somewhere in their copy exists some modest amount of insight.

By Monte Dutton

Not being there, I had the luxury of thinking about the events of the 60th Daytona 500. I had the luxury of going live on Facebook to entertain those who joined in with my thoughts and songs in one way, and entertain their questions in another.

Then I slept on the race. This morning the irony awakened me instead of the sunrise.

Exactly seventeen years earlier, Dale Earnhardt’s life ended at Daytona International Speedway. On the final lap of the 43rd Daytona 500, Earnhardt was keeping pursuers at bay while Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were escaping to finish first and second, respectively. The blocking cost Earnhardt his life. A bump from behind sent Earnhardt’s Chevrolet careening into the fourth-turn wall.

On Sunday, another No. 3, driven by Austin Dillon, won NASCAR’s most prestigious race. On the final lap, the Ford driven by Aric Almirola was keeping Dillon at bay. Dillon had committed to a “run” when Almirola moved to blunt his momentum, and his Chevrolet hit Almirola’s Ford on the left side, turning it into the wall.

Dillon won the race. Almirola walked away. As Robert Frost noted, “that has made all the difference.”

In the years between Earnhardt’s fatal crash and Almirola walking away, NASCAR has gotten much safer. The incident was a measure of that progress.

Austin Dillon (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Opportunities to win the Daytona 500 don’t happen often, but Almirola will have others.

“It was the last lap, and we’re all trying to win the Daytona 500,” he said. “It’s the biggest race of the year, and it’s a career-changing race, so we were just racing really aggressively. I put every move I knew to try and stay in the lead and, unfortunately, I just wasn’t able to hold on. He got to my back bumper and was pushing and just hooked me. My heart is broken, but the beauty is we’ll go to Atlanta, and we’ve got an incredible race team here at Stewart-Haas Racing, and we’ll have another shot next week.”

Aric Almirola (file photo)

If a person could experience an earthquake while knowing he or she wouldn’t be injured, it would be the ultimate thrill ride.

One reason why modern restrictor-plate racing is breathtaking on the one hand and crazy on the other is the drivers are all confident, with justification, that they will not be seriously injured. Almirola was right. Earnhardt wasn’t. Dillon bears little remorse. He did what it took to put No. 3 back in victory lane at Daytona.

“The last lap of the Daytona 500, you just don’t lift, actually the last couple laps,” Dillon said.

Racing requires great courage. It doesn’t require great sense. The culture has changed. A man does what it takes. He throws caution to the aero flow.

It’s not as scary as it used to be. Nor is it as risky. Millions of dollars were spent to make the cars safe after NASCAR lost its preeminent figure. They were worth it. The cars were vastly different. Most of what they had in common was a number. Three.

Both went to glory in their way.

If you enjoy my insights about racing and other subjects, make a small pledge of support. Rewards are in place for pledges of $5 or more. Read all about it here.

If you yearn for my writing in larger doses, I’ve written quite a few books. Most are available here.

My eighth novel, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, is being considered for publication in the Amazon KindleScout program. Read all about it, and enjoy a sample, here. If it is selected, you’ll get a free advance download.

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Photographs and Memories

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, February 17, 2018, 1:44 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

From 1993 through 2012, my home away from home was the NASCAR circuit. As the Daytona 500 thunders up on the horizon, it occurred to me that you might enjoy a few funny tales from those two decades of modern gypsiness.

On the NASCAR Media Tour, which used to lend itself more to gypsiness because the gypsies rode to many shops in buses, a unique visit was to Dale Earnhardt Inc., where most of the presentations were usually planned in advance and there were few opportunities for access to the principals that were anywhere close to, uh, close and and personal.

One year, the message circulated that Teresa Earnhardt, the enigmatic and mysterious queen of the palatial manor, would circulate among us. Sure enough, the Intimidator’s widow walked from table to table. The photo above shows yours truly, Jim Pedley of the Kansas City Star, and David Poole of the Charlotte Observer, warily observing Mrs. Earnhardt’s approach.

She walked up and asked me how the food was. I said, “Fine.”

This was the entirety of our media access.

Another time, on the Media Day at Daytona International Speedway that was a bit redundant given that the Media Tour had already occurred, a P.R. rep of Mrs. Earnhardt approached me breathlessly.

“In a few moments,” she said, whispering like unto a golf announcer, “Teresa Earnhardt will be here to make a very, very special announcement.”

She came close to panting and seemed to anticipate that I would hyperventilate.

“Here’s my guess, ma’am,” I said. “Mrs. Earnhardt will not be entertaining questions.”

“Uh, no.”

“Just run along now,” I said.

David Poole and I, posing for a photograph with Robert Earl Keen performing at Texas Motor Speedway behind us.

Poole, whose loss I mourn more than Dale Earnhardt’s, was famously combustible, but he could lower his voice on occasion and do a fair imitation of a loving God. Once Tony Stewart, who from time to time became rankled at having to deal with the media, was ranting about how, when he came to NASCAR, “I didn’t sign up for this.”

Poole listened patiently and then said, “Now, Tony, you can go back to those dirt tracks you love and spend the rest of your life racing there, but with all this wealth and power comes a certain responsibility.”

As luck would have it, the last time to date I chatted with Tony Stewart, someone — Jerry Jordan, I think — took a picture of it.

Tony, whose company I nonetheless enjoyed, was fond of beginning the answer to a question by asking, “To be honest?”

“No,” I said, “I’d prefer that you lie out of your ass any time anybody asks any question.”

That got a double-take, and a flash of his brown eyes turning black as coal, and then a grudging recognition that I had a valid point.

In May of last year, I returned to a NASCAR track for the first time in more than five years. Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, paid a visit to the Charlotte Motor Speedway press box. I saw him when I went to refill my coffee cup, and he said, “It’s great to see you.”

“Thanks,” I said, “but don’t lie.”

He couldn’t keep a straight face. His laughter served the purpose of conceding the point.

From time to time, I’ll devote one of these blogs to yarns that demonstrate how much fun it can be to write about NASCAR for a living. Stay tuned.

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Out and About

Chase Elliott leads the field to the finish line to win Duel 2 at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, February 16, 2018, 8:22 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Last night I was pleasantly surprised by the Can-Am Duel(s) in Daytona Beach. They were in Daytona Beach because there is no city in Florida merely named Daytona, but they were at Daytona because there is a speedway and an international one at that.

Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott, second-generation racers full of vitality and hope, won them. They merely set the lineup for the Daytona 500. No one was banished to NASCAR oblivion. All 40 of the racers made the race, and I thought they’d all race with the politeness and etiquette normally associated with, oh, croquet.

“Would you mind if I passed you to the inside, old chap?”

“Why, by all means, old sport. Good show!”

Ryan Blaney takes the checkered flag in Duel 1. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

I was wrong. They were jolly good shows. The heart of Tim Richmond and the spirit of Davey Allison still waft about in the sea breeze, apparently. These bright young stars haven’t had it home-schooled out of them.

Meanwhile, even as I pined for the invigorating sea air, I sat at home, nursing a cold, sneezing with little advance warning, cranking out bios of county hall of famers, and preparing to watch balls bounce with alarming regularity in two far-flung locales later today. Girls will bounce them in the afternoon, boys at night, and I’ll be typing away furiously as I try in vain to keep up. I’ll probably file the last of the copy and ship a few photos from the official late-night filing home of locally based journalists, McDonald’s, where the coffee is hot and the wi-fi reliable.

The batteries are charged, if not for the soul, then the camera, and once this ordeal is complete, I’ll be able to watch the racing in peace for the weekend.

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What Are They Supposed to Say?

Martin Truex Jr. speaks with the media during the Daytona 500 Media Day. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, February 15, 2018, 8:25 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

This morning I’m perusing the transcripts streaming out of Daytona Beach, Florida, in advance of the Can-Am Duel (that are really duels because they’re dual), and I feel some sympathy for the drivers fielding every question over and over, and occasionally trying to answer one of them a different way.

It’s not easy being on the other side, either. The season is nearly here but not quite. It’s the time when the guy from the Orlando talk-radio station goes booth to booth asking each driver what he thinks of the latest KFC commercials. Not one can afford to tell the truth — “Those infernal spots are the reason I wouldn’t eat KFC if I hadn’t had a bite to eat since the Saved by the Bell marathon started” — because KFC “invests in the sport,” if not the advance of civilization.

Bojangles likes them, though.

Trevor Bayne (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

It was amid such fluff, I’m guessing — I’m reading it while Lieutenant Columbo closes in — that remarks like this occurred.

“I think we’re going to be better than some teams we weren’t better than last year,” Trevor Bayne opined.

Some drivers opted to focus on their weaknesses, while others chose to enhance their strengths. A few thought rules changes would be more different than they were, while others surmised that they were definitely different, being changes and all.

Ty Dillon (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Ty Dillon is writing a blog, but his brother is opting for a podcast.

What is the “new NASCAR” like? “You’re living it, brother. It’s happening right now,” Ty said.

I was afraid of that. They’re just iRacing their way back to iYou.

May the Lord let them race lest I lose my religion.

Bear with me. It’ll get better.

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