Following Friday night's Sprint Showdown at Charlotte, fans from all over were shocked to see a driver who is the epitome of the word "underdog" (or in this case, "underdoge") voted into the Sprint All-Star race on Saturday, as Josh Wise and his Phil Parsons Racing group won the Sprint Fan Vote, per Jay Pennell of FoxSports.com.
Keep in mind that this is the same Wise who missed the show at Phoenix in February and has two top-20 finishes in 79 career starts. In comparison to the other Fan Vote front-runner, Danica Patrick, those results seem paltry in comparison.
However, not every underfunded driver is lacking in skills or the drive to succeed. Wise has had some pretty strong runs this season, especially considering that the No. 98 team has had less to work with than most of the field. In fact, he's been so impressive that he gained the attention of the Reddit.com community, a site that boasts 2.45 million users.
Earlier this year, a 16-year-old fan came up with an idea that brought two of Reddit's larger communities, r/NASCAR and r/Dogecoin, together into a fundraiser to sponsor Wise's team using only Dogecoin, an online cryptocurrency worth a fraction of a cent. The No. 98 Dogecoin Ford took to the high banks at Talladega earlier this month, where Wise finished 20th.
However, Wise's victory isn't without detractors, as several fans online have taken to their keyboards on Facebook, Twitter and NASCAR.com to voice their complaints that those who voted weren't real race fans and that the voting system was broken. A lot of people believe that Wise didn't deserve to be included in the first place.
Wise's inclusion into the All-Star race has deeper implications, though. Anyone who has visited r/NASCAR and r/Dogecoin has probably seen Wise (under the username /u/dogedriver) interacting on a regular basis with other users. And users from both communities were ecstatic to be helping out with the fundraiser. The event managed to bring over a lot of new fans from r/Dogecoin and elsewhere.
These fans weren't only from America, however, as several of those involved came from other locations such as Brazil, England and Italy. All were excited to see what started out as an Internet joke become reality set on the hood of the No. 98 PPR entry. What really stands out is that this campaign has done more to help fan growth than any of the half-cocked ideas from Brian France.
Still, a lot of the older fans speak about the vote with elitist undertones, talking about how ridiculous the whole thing was. Of course, a lot of these people are the "fans" who get upset and in some cases laughed at when they try to explain why they love NASCAR to a non-fan.
The Dogecoin campaign has helped with this problem! It has been taking care of this issue. Taking a look at r/NASCAR, there are several posts from new fans asking questions about what to expect, who to follow and other questions about the sport. Isn't this what NASCAR as a whole wants? This new, surprising growth spurt?
Forget crossover stars. Forget France's umpteenth points-system change. Forget another change to the way races are run. Leave it to a group of "internet geeks" to solve the riddle to bringing in new fans and a new demographic for NASCAR.
To the fans upset about Wise's inclusion into the All-Star race, keep in mind that he works just as hard and has the same competitive fire as the next driver. It doesn't hurt that Wise is also one of the fan-friendliest drivers in the sport.
As NASCAR fans who profess to love the sport, a good way of showing it would be to welcome these new fans with open arms.
You were in their shoes once upon a time.