By Will Martin
One more bucket list item can now be taken off the sheet of paper after a fun Sunday afternoon in Ft. Worth with the NASCAR faithful.
Having made two trips to partake in the majesty that is the IRL it was only a matter of time before seeing a NASCAR race in person would come to fruition.
There is a sense of irony here when typing this. You see, I officially moved to the state of the Texas on February 18th 2001.
After four days of driving to relocate I noticed there was a slew of trucks and cars who bore the #3 pennant in honor of Dale Earnhardt who just happened to pass away in a race at Daytona the very day I came south.
The running joke for many years was that I could be a racing jinx to the drivers. Of course the more morbid thought that permeated my mind was how ironic it would be if Dale Jr. happened to win this race earlier today and really complicate the Sprint Cup standings with two weeks left.
Earlier in the morning there was a stiff breeze that blew all day. The afternoon would become cloudier and darker. Waiting in line when I thought I recognized a familiar voice. Sure enough 105.3FM The Fan’s Chris Arnold and the G Bag Nation were right behind me thus began a conversation and a hangout session for close to 90 minutes.
That February 18th date also creeped into the conversation again as that is also a birthday for Gavin Dawson, General at your service. Mike Bacsik, Alex, and Jeff Cavanaugh were also in the mix. Good bunch of guys.
If it were the sights you wanted to see, there were plenty. I saw a gal bend herself in half while swallowing a sword before a volunteer pulled it out. There was midget wrestling. You also had a stall with a horse so small it weighed only 55 pounds. There was a room full of freakshow circus acts. All of it to capture your attention and of course play into the notion of ‘No Limits’ for the fans of race day.
I have run into Chris Arnold for close to eight years at Maverick games. Always a joke to share or a tale to tell. I first met Gavin Dawson back in 2011 during the NBA Draft. Always polite and congenial, we got into a mini-discussion about the irony of today’s date.
‘General, I am a man who relishes irony. Can you imagine how funny it would be if the Cowboys win their game over the Minnesota Vikings (which they did, barely) AND Jimmie Johnson wins at TMS? You know Jerry Jones will want to take credit for one of those wins!’
The General smiled, shrugged and went off into the afternoon. It was then I did a solid hour of walking along pit row to see all the vehicles up close and personal. Everyone was ogling the #88 car all decked out in Camo Gold or something like that. I recognized the Gordon mobile (#24), and the Busch cars. There were come beautifully designed vehicles to be sure. The camera stayed busy.
At 2pm I settled into the stands and let the festivities begin. The ear plugs were a welcome necessity as the roar of the cars was a constant all afternoon. A race of 334 laps (501 miles) was to begin. Exactly who would be the dominant driver/crew/team? I said it all afternoon. With the Cowboys in battle I chose Jimmie Johnson. A few of my friends-mainly Madame X and the Texas 6-were all in favor of Kevin Harvick (#29).
There was a prayer, the Boy Scouts gave the pledge of allegiance, the anthem was performed by the TCU Frogs Marching band, next came the yell of, ‘Gentlemen, start your engines!’ and then it was on…
The afternoon got breezier, cooler, and cloudier with heavy weather. Here were a few first impressions sitting in the stands and getting accustomed to watching a race for the first time. It was mind boggling to see racers reach speeds of 200 mph with drivers in front or on their tail trying to navigate a tight turn.
It was also a bit trippy to see how many race cars hit the brakes and that caused fire to shoot from the vehicle. I was expecting more cautions until it was explained that’s what these cars do in tight spots. Then there was the never ending roar. At first it was deafening and cumbersome. Once you knew what was coming one could adapt and navigate to the noise. Man, was it a constant!
From the outset, it appeared that Jimmie Johnson had a strong Lowe’s Chevrolet vehicle with the #48 car. To be able to lead for 255 laps of the total race and win for a second straight year was impressive enough. To see three cautions go out there at the height of the Sprint and then #48 got into his car and drove past the competition. It was an impressive afternoon by all accounts for all who were at the Speedway.
So what are Jimmie Johnson’s thoughts about how this contest with Matt Kenseth shall play itself out?
“I have been watching a lot of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighting lately, and you’ll fall into a rhythm and think that somebody has got the fight won and it doesn’t end that way,” Johnson said. “That’s how this is going to be. Matt didn’t have maybe the best day and still finished fourth. This thing is going to go to the last lap at Homestead, and it is going to come down to mistakes. I’m very excited about our performance and what we did here. We’ll enjoy this, but there is still two weeks of very hard racing ahead of us.”
In finishing the race ahead of second place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr. by a five second count, Johnson expanded a lead to seven points ahead of Matt Kenseth. Sunday’s race would include 28 lead changes among ten drivers. After Lap 91 Jimmie Johnson got into first place in the race and stayed there for all but 23 laps. The 48 care drove confidently and with nary a care in the world.
The first 91 laps featured 13 lead changes, or 1 per seven laps of driving. Dale Jr. offered the following at the end of the race.
“We want to put forward a good account of ourselves in the Chase because you’re in there for a reason and don’t want to be an also ran,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “So we feel like we’re doing a lot of good work and getting really close to probably breaking through and getting a win. We’ve only got two more opportunities at it, but real pleased with just the speed of the car.”
255 laps led in a race is pretty good but not as impressive as Tony Stewart did when leading 278 of 334 laps when coming to play in Texas back in 2006.
With a crowd as big as 150,000 watching an executive decision was made. This race was so loud, so urgency riddled, and very organized it was a no brainer I would commit to wanting to come back in April when Big Hoss makes its debut in Ft. Worth. That will be a huge story in 2014.
In defeat Dale Earnhardt Jr. put up his 6th top ten finish in ten races, after a race in Chicago placed Dale in a temporary setback mode.
“The Chicago deal is regrettable,’’ Earnhardt Jr. said following the AAA Texas 500. “We’d love to go back and do that over again, but as soon as that happened we really changed our approach and it was more about trying to win a race. Winning a race would really lift all the team’s spirits. You work all season long not to go winless and not to getting to Victory Lane. So I know how much the guys want the win on the team. So that’s what we’re working for now. ‘
My first time at a live NASCAR event was amazing, exciting, and a little intimidating. I saw the dominance of a Jimmie Johnson car getting the win. The same day the Dallas Cowboys won in dramatic fashion!
Jerry Jones: You still do not get the credit!