A Stop on an Old Road

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, May 22, 2017, 11:15 p.m.

I’ve about got the reacquaintance out of the way. Last Saturday and this Thursday have exceeded my Charlotte Motor Speedway budget for handshakes.

By Monte Dutton

Huh. It just occurred me. No one bumped fists. High school athletes bump fists regularly.

The famous line from The Mary Tyler Moore Show comes to mind. It was the slogan of Chuckles the Clown:

A little song. A little dance. A little seltzer down the pants.

I find myself seeking out some and avoiding others. I remember the time, a little over four years ago, when my job was eliminated. Many peers rushed in to offer their encouragement. Others haven’t communicated as much as a word in all the time since. Some probably saw my plight as an unpleasant sign that the same fate might befall them. In the intervening years, it has happened, in many cases, but those people aren’t at the track now. Writing as a way to make a living has become a trip west on the Oregon Trail, and the business is run by Injuns. My dried-up skeleton is a symbol of impending woe.

A few probably don’t give a rat’s ass what became of me. There’s that.

I walked through the garage on Thursday at the end of Monster Cup practice. Many of the drivers retire quickly to their motorcoaches or the lounge in the transporter, or somewhere away from the madding crowd.

Lots of looks said, variously: (1.) “Don’t I know that guy?” (2.) “What’s he doing here?” (3.) “Is he still covering racing, and I just haven’t noticed?” and, of course, (4.) “He’s baaaaack.”

Then there’s the rash of the nicknames people use when they can’t remember a name:

Hey, there, buddy?

How you doin,’ sport?

What’s hap’nin,’ big time?

Hot shot, didn’t you used to be somebody?

Oh, yeah.

Then there are those who are vaguely aware of something about me. They might ask if I’m still playing guitar. When I say yes, they might say, “I heard you was.”

It’s been four and a half years.

Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

Len Wood waved at me, but he was talking to someone who must have been important because they talked and talked. He smiled when he saw me, though.

Ryan Newman (Harold Hinson/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

I chatted with Ryan Newman a little, told him he ought to read my racing novel. I managed to squeeze that in several times. It was pretty easy because people kept asking what I was doing now.

I’m sure a few may have scratched their heads and asked somebody else, “Seems like I recognize that old fat-ass. What’s his name?”

“Well, it ain’t David Poole. Remember him? I think he died.”

That was in 2009. David and I used to keep tabs on how many times people thought he was I, and vice-versa. A heap of people think fat folks look alike.

A while back. (John Clark photo)

There’s so much to learn about those who have advanced since I retreated. The only times I’ve asked Kyle Larson questions were in media conferences. Ryan Blaney? I think the world of his father.

Chase Elliott? I feel like I know him, but I don’t. When I met his father, Bill was a big star. When I met his mother, Cindy was a photographer. I see Chase, from a distance, as a combination of his father’s skill and his mother’s pragmatism. Had Bill understood NASCAR, the media and fans as well in 1985 as his son does now, gosh, he’d probably be in the Hall of Fame. Oh, yeah, he is. Bill was Bill, still is, and his son came along in a different world, the same way Davey followed Bobby, Kyle followed Richard and Junior descended from Senior.

Unlike north and south, and east and west, the twain often meets in NASCAR. Take that, Kipling.

Here’s the column I wrote on Thursday at jeffgluck.com.

Ever since I started writing fiction, fans have asked me to write a novel about stock car racing. I kept it a secret while I was working on it. Now it’s out. Lightning in a Bottle is the story of the next big thing, 18-year-old Barrie Jarman.

(Steven Novak cover design)

Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy Cowboys Come Home, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles, and/or a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs. They’re all signed and reasonably priced. Lightning in a Bottle will be in stock shortly.

Signed copies of Lightning in a Bottle are also available at Emma Jane’s, 105 East Main Street on the Square, Clinton.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

If you’d like me to ship you a signed copy, you can find my address and instructions here. If you want to speed the process up, send me a note and I’ll hook you up with my PayPal account.

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Links to print copies are below.

(Joe Font cover design)

Cowboys Come Home is my brand-new, fresh-off-the-press western, a tale of two World War II veterans of the Pacific who come back home to Texas, intent on resuming their cowboy ways.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.(Melanie Ryon cover design)

Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.

The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.

Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.

Follow me at Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Twitter (@montedutton), Google+ (MonteDuttonWriter) and/or Instagram (Tug50).

 

When Monte Comes Driving Home Again, Hurrah! Hurrah!

(Monte Dutton photo)

Concord, North Carolina, Saturday, May 20, 2017, 3:12 p.m.

I’m back, and it seems relatively normal. Naturally, media parking is farther away. That’s a given.

By Monte Dutton

Almost four and a half years later, I’m back at a speedway, the motor one representing Charlotte. Many years ago, it represented Lowe’s for a while. I’m glad to be back. I rather like this one. I’ve probably put in more work here than any other.

Back in the days before sportswriters became fewer and less important, Charlotte was the workload capital of NASCAR, at least for those of us who worked for newspapers in the general vicinity. May near Concord – the track is officially in Concord, though Harrisburg is right behind the back straight – used to be a time of special editions and the accompanying gnashing of teeth.

Now it’s just a place to renew acquaintances. Next week’s workload will be heavier. Next week’s race will be longer. I am, in fact, writing more than just this tonight during the running of the fabled Winston Select Open Nextel Sprint All-Star Shindig Presented by Monster Energy of America the Beautiful.

Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson (42) lead the field. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

The day is already a success. During the hike in from the badlands, I managed to slip past a man I truly despise without him noticing me, and, of course, the people who can’t stand each other are the ones who most proclaim the opposite, so I’m happy I didn’t have to participate in this farce.

What you been doing with yourself? Space travel. That’s nice. How’s the family? Still nonexistent. Tell your daddy I said hello. It’ll have to wait. He died in 1993.

All in all, though, seeing people I haven’t seen in 54 months – a few, once or twice – has been pleasant. Yes, friends, I used to be Monte Dutton.

Tell the story about you missing the start in Texas. What was that place in Michigan where you used to play your guitar on race weekends? Remember that time we went to Austin and saw Billy Joe Shaver?

The best aspect of the day was that Howard A. Wheeler Jr., better known as “Humpy,” enjoyed a separate, more noteworthy, return. Hey, did you hear? Humpy’s outside. Humpy correlates as positively to Charlotte as its high banks – everyone says the place has humps — and it hasn’t seemed like the same place since he left.

Humpy and I share many views about what NASCAR needs, and I expect my new novel, Lightning in a Bottle, races right down the middle of his front straight. We talked for quite a while, and he left with a copy.

Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, May 21, 2017, 10:43 a.m.

The good old days have returned. This I concluded on the way home.

After I completed my writing – I’ve already “written through” the Competition Plus notes I filed late last night, I hit the road home and, fueled by a vat of truck-stop coffee, my eyes were still wide open when I hit the dirt road to the house at roughly “oh-dark-thirty,” an old David Poole term, which computed to about 2:15 a.m.

The long drive was marred by an unfortunate decision to buy a biscuit pinning together egg, cheese and sausage, all of which were virtually tasteless.

I listened to a lot of bad country music, which translates to what is on the radio, and thought about the racing I had witnessed on monitors in the infield media center.

Kyle Busch (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Joe Gibbs Racing is not on top officially, but his Toyotas did sweep the exhibitions. Kyle Busch’s All-Star victory was his first in a Cup car at the 1.5-mile track residing in the unofficial NASCAR capital. It wasn’t like Busch ever had any problem figuring it out. His victory in Friday’s night Camping World Truck race was his seventh. Throw in the Busch/Nationwide/Xfinity Series, presently the latter, and he’s won 15 times at CMS.

(Getty Images for NASCAR)

The Open is a mere gateway to the varsity on this weekend, but Daniel Suarez, the rookie from Mexico, won it and thus made it historic. It was a better race than the main event.

A triumph in the Open is no clear harbinger of greater success. In the past, it has been won by David Ragan, Sam Hornish Jr., Scott Riggs and the late Dick Trickle. It has also been won by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Burton and Tony Stewart.

It could be Suarez’s springboard. It could be his zenith. Time will tell.

Ever since I started writing fiction, fans have asked me to write a novel about stock car racing. I kept it a secret while I was working on it. Now it’s out. Lightning in a Bottle is the story of the next big thing, 18-year-old Barrie Jarman.

(Steven Novak cover design)

Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy Cowboys Come Home, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles, and/or a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs. They’re all signed and reasonably priced. Lightning in a Bottle will be in stock shortly.

Signed copies of Lightning in a Bottle are also available at Emma Jane’s, 105 East Main Street on the Square, Clinton.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

If you’d like me to ship you a signed copy, you can find my address and instructions here. If you want to speed the process up, send me a note and I’ll hook you up with my PayPal account.

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Links to print copies are below.

(Joe Font cover design)

Cowboys Come Home is my brand-new, fresh-off-the-press western, a tale of two World War II veterans of the Pacific who come back home to Texas, intent on resuming their cowboy ways.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.(Melanie Ryon cover design)

Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.

The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.

Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.

Follow me at Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Twitter (@montedutton), Google+ (MonteDuttonWriter) and/or Instagram (Tug50).

The Dimming of the Stars

Charlotte Motor Speedway. William Byron testing. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, May 19, 2017, 10:01 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

I’m not going to reminisce about past NASCAR all-star memories. Most of them are distant.

I was in the grandstands the first time it was run at night. I’ve told that story before. I’ve told all the stories before. I remember those heady days when The Winston – it’s had many names, no telling what it is now – rivaled the Coca-Cola 600 that followed it. The longest, most grueling test of NASCAR’s Finest followed a slam-bang, thrill-filled extravaganza.

Turns out it’s the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race. It’s Saturday night.

Back in the 1980s and ‘90s, race fans took great pride in their all-star race. The stock car racers all did it for love, but love was even better after a $1 million payday. They didn’t go through the motions the way they did in the all-star matchups of baseball, football, basketball and hockey.

Now, 25 years after I watched Dale Earnhardt, Kyle Petty and Davey Allison wreck each other on the final lap – Allison won, though the concrete walls of the speedway knocked him cold, and the makeshift victory lane was a hospital bed – NASCAR All-Star has gone the way of all the other all-stars.

Chase Elliott (24) racing Kyle Larson in last year’s Sprint Showdown. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Money’s still unimportant. This is apparent because no one talks about it anymore.

The Winston Select Nextel Sprint Monster All-Star Race, combining all the titles from nicotine to caffeine and a heap of talking on the phone in between, has ranged from 70 to 113 laps and from one to five segments. Seven-time champions (Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt) have won it seven times (Johnson 4, Earnhardt 3).

On the other hand, Michael Waltrip won it in 1996 before he ever won a Cup race anywhere else.

The last three years the winners have been Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano. I couldn’t have told you that without the Internet. The most recent I covered was in 2012. The most recent I remember was a year earlier, mainly because the driver who won that race, Carl Edwards, practically destroyed the winning car sliding through the grass when the nose scraped up a metal drain. Or something.

Joey Logano won last year. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

The Winston used to be as addictive as cigarettes, and it wasn’t that much of a coincidence. Tickets were cheap, a lot of free ones were floating around, and the idea was to get people there and send them home wanting more.

The ultimate significance of the All-Star Race is its effect on the sport as it now stands. The game-show format changed racing and was slowly, over three decades, integrated into the conduct of all the races. This is also the root of the race’s problems.

Some drivers are there already. Some race their way in. Some get voted in. It’s as complicated as a presidential election. So is everything else. A man who masters crosswords puzzles isn’t going to get excited about a mere game of checkers anymore.

The easiest way to resuscitate this Monster would be to ease off on the mad science everywhere else.

Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

This is unlikely to happen.

So where does it go from here? More, ahem, innovation?

One segment through the infield? A-racing we will go, a-racing we will go, high-ho, the derry-oh, a racing we will go.

Run the race backwards? Run the race in reverse? Parallel-park on pit road? A wall of flame at the finish line? One segment consisting entirely of pit stops?

The Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race has already stretched all bounds of credulity, civility and civilization, and had all the other races advance into the new territory, accompanied by bureaucrats carrying government regulations.

Where once the race sat at the foot of a mountain, now it is perched on the edge of a cliff.

Ever since I started writing fiction, fans have asked me to write a novel about stock car racing. I kept it a secret while I was working on it. Now it’s out. Lightning in a Bottle is the story of the next big thing, 18-year-old Barrie Jarman.

(Steven Novak cover design)

Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy Cowboys Come Home, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles, and/or a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs. They’re all signed and reasonably priced. Lightning in a Bottle will be in stock shortly.

Signed copies of Lightning in a Bottle are also available at Emma Jane’s, 105 East Main Street on the Square, Clinton.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

If you’d like me to ship you a signed copy, you can find my address and instructions here. If you want to speed the process up, send me a note and I’ll hook you up with my PayPal account.

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Links to print copies are below.

(Joe Font cover design)

Cowboys Come Home is my brand-new, fresh-off-the-press western, a tale of two World War II veterans of the Pacific who come back home to Texas, intent on resuming their cowboy ways.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.(Melanie Ryon cover design)

Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.

The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.

Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.

Follow me at Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Twitter (@montedutton), Google+ (MonteDuttonWriter) and/or Instagram (Tug50).

Charlotte ‘Back in My Day’

Jeff Gordon started racing when I started writing about it. (Christa L. Thomas/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon started racing when I started writing about it. (Christa L. Thomas/HHP photo for Chevy Racing)

Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, October 9, 2015, 11:19 a.m.

When I was a boy, for some reason, races at Charlotte Motor Speedway were not often featured, via tape delay a week later, on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. I listened to them on the radio, and then, on Monday night, WBTV would run a highlights show — 30 minutes or an hour, I forget switch — that I could watch through snowy reception because WBTV wasn’t one of our primary stations here in Clinton.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

I watched Fred Kirby’s cowboy kids show — “Take me back to my boots and my saddle, yo-de-lay-hee, yo-de-lay-hee, aiieeee!” — the same way.

Charlotte’s “truncated trioval” — that was the late Bob Latford’s term — fascinated me. Often the big Mercury Cyclones, Chevrolet Monte Carlos and the Dodge Chargers would touch the grass with their left-side tires and puffs of dust would fly up, even with bad reception. No telling how much I would’ve loved it had there been high-definition, satellite TV.

Charlotte was first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of its countrymen. The facilities were better and cleaner. So were the concessions. Later there would be condominiums overlooking turn one, lights, and drivers with agents, handlers, motorcoaches, and charm-school diplomas.

Charlotte Motor Speedway. (HHP/Garry Eller photo for Chevrolet)
Charlotte Motor Speedway. (HHP/Garry Eller photo for Chevrolet)

Today I often hear people talking about how races at Charlotte are boring. This saddens me because I remember many races, and even more moments, at Charlotte that were, well, self-evidently, obviously, memorable.

Because I remember them now better than what happened two weeks ago.

In the 1980s, I was working as the combination sports editor of the local weekly and sports director of the local AM radio station. Mainly what this meant was that I got up at 5 in the morning to tape a local sports segment that ran “on the hour” all day long and chitchatted on a talk show for a couple hours.

Charlotte was also the most promotion-minded NASCAR track, and its promotions were the most outlandish. No telling what would be in a package from CMS. A crumpled can of Coors after Bill Elliott tangled with Dale Earnhardt in The Winston, for instance.

Bill Elliott. (John Clark photo)
Bill Elliott. (John Clark photo)

Tickets were often included, presumably so that we could give them away to “lucky fans” through the newspaper or radio. We gave away the tickets to the Busch race, but a friend and I drove up to Charlotte one Thursday afternoon and watched qualifying. Nowadays, qualifying crowds often swell well into the hundreds, but, back then, 20,000, maybe 30,000, would watch qualifying. Later, in the 1990s, when I was writing about NASCAR for a living, it might have been more like 40,000 or 50,000.

It was that day, though, that I arrived at the first of what later became “Dutton’s Rules”: The only driver I’d pay to see qualify is Tim Richmond.

Either his pole run was breathtaking, or I got excited a lot easier back in those days. It was undoubtedly a bit of both.

Charlotte's walls weren't Sprint yellow back in 1992. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)
Charlotte’s walls weren’t Sprint yellow back in 1992. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo for Chevrolet)

I watched the 1992 Winston from the fourth-turn grandstands. It was the last one I didn’t cover as a sportswriter, and I’m glad it was. The night was best watched with the people.

I have vivid memories of Jeff Gordon’s first victory in the 1994 Coca-Cola 600, of how young, naïve and emotional he was when he accepted the trophy from North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt. I think of the time Ernie Irvan drove across the grass and wrecked for no apparent reason in The Winston. I remember the night Jamie McMurray, substituting for injured Sterling Marlin, surprised everyone by winning the fall 500-miler.

I remember driving home from the Indianapolis 500 while listening to the end of the 600 on radio somewhere in Kentucky and doing simple math, trying to figure out how in the world Dale Earnhardt managed to take the lead away from Darrell Waltrip with a green-flag pit stop. Earnhardt went from way behind to way ahead, and I couldn’t figure out how it was possible.

I remember when Charlotte ran the World 600 in May and the National 500 in October. I remember listening on the radio when the crash that claimed the life of Fireball Roberts occurred. I was six.

Jamie McMurray (left) with teammate Kyle Larson. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy Racing)
Jamie McMurray (left) with teammate Kyle Larson. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas photo for Chevy Racing)

What many today don’t realize is that NASCAR was always a mainstream sport in the Carolinas. It was the same way it is now nationwide. In fact, it may have been bigger here in the 1960s, ’70s and ‘80s than it is today. It’s more likely that I overestimate the events of my youth, but I remember the first time I saw Charlotte Motor Speedway, and it seemed more impressive at that age, in that time, that it does now.

Back then, I listened to races on the radio, learned about baseball games from box scores and read much more than I saw.

Somehow I remember those times more vividly than, oh, last year.

Or yesterday. When I was young.

(Graphic courtesy of Meredieth Pritchard)
(Graphic courtesy of Meredieth Pritchard)

 

(Joe Font cover design)
(Joe Font cover design)

At one time, I wrote books about NASCAR. Some of them are still available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1

My proudest accomplishments these days are works of fiction. My latest novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, is on sale for $1.99 at Amazon in Kindle edition. http://www.amazon.com/Crazy-Natural-Causes-Monte-Dutton-ebook/dp/B00YI8SWUU/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

 

Home to … This

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Time for a smile from Kevin Harvick. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Time for a smile from Kevin Harvick. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, October 11, 2014, 8:16 p.m.

The day has already been long. I tailgated with friends at the Coastal Carolina-Presbyterian game, won by the No. 3-ranked Chanticleers, 40-28. I got up early to finish seasoning the chili I took to the tailgate. I was over at Bailey Memorial Stadium at about noon. The game was at two. I stayed afterwards. Some of the PC players stopped by our party. It was dusk when I left. I saw the end of Baylor’s come-from-behind win over TCU and Mississippi State’s win over Auburn. The former game ran long, so the Bank of America 500 was about thirty laps old when TV switched to it.

I watched the first half of the game in the stands. I watched the second half from just outside the gates with, among others, Presbyterian basketball coach Gregg Nibert, his wife Peggy, ex-Blue Hose football players Robbie Strickland and John Cann. Then, when it was over, I walked back to the tailgate site, under a shade tree about fifty yards from the stadium.

I doubt I’d have been that close in Waco or Starkville, and if I had, I still wouldn’t have been able to see into the stadium. That’s one advantage of FCS football in the hometown.

Food was plentiful. So was beer. There were Jell-O shots. Lots of food, much of which I never got around to sampling. I brought the rest of the chili home. That will probably get me through Sunday.

Plus, after covering a 71-16 high school game on Friday night, 40-28 seemed really close.

8:51 p.m.

I’m having a hard time getting acclimated. The race is on (and here comes pride up the backstretch …), and I’m still surfing channels looking for football scores and perusing the Twitter feed to catch up on, well, everything. I was fairly oblivious to the outside world while at the Presbyterian game. Come to think of it, I was oblivious to the game I was allegedly watching for part of it.

I’ve always liked the yellow walls at Charlotte Motor Speedway, though. I’m not sure I’ve ever acknowledged that. They give it a distinctive look.

Jeff Gordon's smarts could win this title. (HHP/Garry Eller photo for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon’s smarts could win this title. (HHP/Garry Eller photo for Chevy Racing)

9:54 p.m.

Last night on South Carolina SportsTalk, I predicted Dale Earnhardt. Jr. to win. How silly of me to think his car had a gear shifter that would last.

10:10 p.m.

Talladega is bound to be controversial. Someone is going to wreck someone else, and that someone is going to be the teammate of someone who is desperate to get in the next Chase round, and it won’t matter whether or not it was intentional. That’s how it’s going to look.

Or something else along those lines.

It is an unavoidable consequence of this format, and it will be even more so in the third round.

10:38 p.m.

Doesn’t Kevin Harvick have to win again somewhere? Las Vegas should take bets on how he’s going to manage to lose each week.

Tire trouble? Five to one. Pit road speeding? Four to one. Broken shifter? Twenty-five to one. Ran over a terrapin? Five hundred to one.

11:22 p.m.

Harvick closed the deal. He stayed out after Brian Vickers’ engine failure, which, in retrospect, seems like a no-brainer. Good for them. He should’ve won so many more races this year, but, yet, stands a great chance of winning the championship. He’s a guy who should win a championship.

Mike Helton, NASCAR president (Getty Images for NASCAR).
Mike Helton, NASCAR president (Getty Images for NASCAR).

11:38 a.m.

And now for what everyone who normally makes no mention of NASCAR will be all obsessed about tomorrow. It’s going to read like a plot synopsis of an old-time potboiler.

The Old Neighborhood (2014), action, drama, comedy. Charlotte Motor Speedway isn’t big enough for Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski. When Keselowski takes the law into his own hands, Hamlin enlists the help of Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth to teach Keselowski a lesson. Violence, language.

I expect, sometime soon, we’re going to see Mike Helton in his best Mafia suit, lowering his head dramatically and looking somber.

Thanks for reading my observations about the race. I’d like to invite you to read the blogs at my other site, www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, and don’t forget my novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope.