Monday, July 17, 2006

The Manly sport of Stock Car Racing

So, I struggled whether to post this here or in Media Grouch. After all, I write a lot of psorts stuff in Media Grouch. Sports is media. But sports is also manly (well, synchronized swimming aside) and so it deserves a manly treatment. In the end I desided that stock car racing was the most manly of all sports, and so it belongs on this blog.

"More power."

"God's Unspoken name is 'Vroom.'"

"Our Mother of Blessed Acceleration, don't fail me now!"

So my question is this: is Jeff Gordon the new Dale Earnhardt? Dale Earnhardt Jr. (whose colors I wear on Sundays) is certainly not. For awhile he was dominating plate races the way his dad did, but he has yet to win the championship, and he's slipped a bit in the last two years. He's always been just average at non-plate racing, and when he lost his edge at plate tracks he became an average driver.

Gordon has slipped a bit too. He's not the domniant force he once was. Other racers are a much better bet to win on any given sunday, and he is barely in the top ten (only the top ten drivers in the last ten races get to compete for the championship). Why should he be the new Earnhardt and not Tony Stewart (already a two time winner) or Kurt Bush (a punk who pushes people around who won two years ago) or even Kevin Harvick (who has Earnhardt's old team and sponsor)?

Well, for two reasons. One, while Gordon has slipped he's still got more championships--four--than any other active driver, and if it hadn't been for the change in the points system, which rewards luck over consistency, he would have won his fifth three years ago. Two, he is one win away from tying Earnhardt for career wins.

But it's more than that. In his win last week he spun out Matt Kenseth on his way to the victory. Kenseth, the champion that first year under the new system when Jeff would have won under the old rules, had the best car all day, but he was fading and Gordon was closing, and the 17 wiggled a bit going into a turn and Jeff got under him and spun him around. Kenseth insists it was intentional. Jeff insists it wasn't. It didn't look intentional from outside--Kenseth defintely slowed down into the turn for some reason. Doesn't matter. When Jeff pushed Rusty Wallace out of the way a couple years ago there was no question it was intentional. I once saw Earnhardt put his own son into the wall to win an exhibition race. There was a reason they called him "the intimidator." And now for good or ill that mantle is falling to Gordon. The only other person it might apply to in the sanitized world of the new NASCAR is Bush, who has won the championship and who knocks people out of the way all the time. But Bush is a punk who hasn't done much since he switched teams. Gordon is still winningest (active) and the most hated driver in NASCAR--another trait he shares with Earnhardt, who wore that mantle until young punk Gordon came along.

Now it might be that Kurt Bush is the new Jeff Gordon. I'll buy that....


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