In a very good but short segment today on the pre-race edition of NASCAR Now, ESPN's Ed Hinton suggested that "the NASCAR that we fell in love with is back."
He pointed out that "while the front of the field may look the same with Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, and Jimmie Johnson, its the back of the field where all the movers and shakers are." Who is is referring to is namely Jeremy Mayfield and Scott Riggs as part of nostalgic upstart teams that successfully qualified for America's greatest race.
Many people may not exactly be cheering for Riggs or Mayfield who qualified impressively at 17th and 18th respectively but they should. If you can discount Jeremy Mayfield's past, one that includes arguments with team ownership mainly Ray Evernham, ruining a good thing he had going with Penske racing, getting kicked out of Bill Davis Racing, and finally an alleged relationship he had with a female developmental driver, there is one reason to cheer for him and that is because now as team owner, he's racing on his own, with no more than twelve employees against the larger teams, the Yankees of NASCAR, most notably the Gibbs, Hendricks, Roushes, and Childresses.
These four teams comprised the entire field in the race for the Chase last year and I see that as a problem. The Chase should be comprised of as many teams as possible so that success stories and underdogs can be created for interesting and varying storylines. Mayfield, a two time Chase contender certainly could play the part only this time how intriguing would that be?
Both Riggs' and Mayfield's teams will pick up $250,000 in guaranteed money for making the race and hopefully some much needed points in order to stay in the top 35 per NASCAR qualifying rules in order to be guaranteed races. Both drivers noted in separate interviews with Marty Smith and Michelle Manske that they are realistic and hoping for top 25 finishes so they can move on to California next week in good standing. Here's hoping they do just that.
Riggs' as sole driver for the brand new Tommy Baldwin Racing, named after his owner and crew chief, is a reminder of the days of old when you raced with what you came with to the track and teams consisted of no more than two drivers, not the four horse mega stables we see today. Based on a shoestring budget with only ten employees at the track this weekend, everything must go as smoothly as it can in order for this weekend to be considered a success.
NASCAR simply got too big for its britches and the economy should be a testament to how far the sport really has fallen and who the real fans are who are able to make it out to the tracks this year despite the obstacles. There are those out there myself included, who predicted something like this when NASCAR abandoned its roots by kicking historic tracks such as Rockingham and North Wilkesboro Speedway aside all in the name of progress namely Hollywood venues in Southern California or unnecessary Northern tracks in new markets like Kansas, ChicagoLand, and the flirtation with New York City, Dever, and Seattle only to see them all unsurprisingly, fall flat.
We've heard the lip service from NASCAR's most corporate lap dog CEO Brian France, who when he's not busy "modernizing tradition" by destroying it, he's out trying to sell the BS that is NASCAR's return to its roots" campaign of 2008. For further evidence of how far NASCAR has fallen, note that the starting field for today's Super Bowl of Racing will be absent a member of the Petty family for the first time in forty-three years. That is a shame but reality in today's corporate driven, soap-opera-esque NA$CAR.
I've called the economy the great equalizer before, and with drivers like Riggs and Mayfield allowed to race and by earning their spots today, they create an unique storyline that was missing and is sorely welcomed as a reminder of this 2008 promise.
While I expect someone like Mark Martin or Bobby Labonte to win today, how great would it be for someone like Riggs or Mayfield to have a solid day? It sure would beat having to suffer through another robotic corporate interview from the likes of Jimmie Johnson who along with the rest of his Hollywood stable I affectionately refer to as Hollywood Motorsports as a play off their acronym HMS for their team Hendrick Motorsports, nothing would make me feel better than to see a lesser known name like Mayfield, Allmendinger, or Riggs slap that smug look off of his face by either running them into the wall, spinning them into the grass at a critical time, or I don't know, winning the race right out from under them.
Let's see if NASCAR keeps it meanwhile cheering for these drivers' success alongside the rest of us common folk.