Junior 'Loved' Race on Sunday
Need a reason to get excited about this year's NASCAR season? Well, if the season-opening Daytona 500 didn't rev your heartbeat to another level, then Sunday's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway has to at least have you eager about what's coming around the corner next.
With the win, Jimmie Johnson tied Dale Earnhardt with 76 career wins, something the six-time champion was well aware of as he stuck three fingers out his window during a post-race victory lap. And while Johnson's tribute and poignant comments about Senior following the race were certainly moving, it was the comments made by the sport's most popular driver (13 years running), Dale Earnhardt Jr., that should stoke race fans about what's to come this season.
I loved it. Fans probably thought it was a boring race, man, but we were sliding around, driving the hell out of them cars. I had a blast!
First off, Junior "loved" the race. It was his boyish excitement that should have NASCAR fans grinning from eartoear today. The most well-liked pilot in the sport was having a ball out on the track. As far as it being a boring race, well there's not a lot to be unhappy about from the racing product on the track.
As Junior mentioned and FOX did a great job of pointing out in its broadcast, the drivers were fighting that steering wheel on every turn. And while there weren't an abundance of cautions to reset the field, this race was about tire wear and fast pit stops, not a water bottle bringing out the yellow.
I had some good races there on the track - with the 2, the 18, and a bunch of guys. Man, it was so much fun.
There it is again: fun. If the drivers are having a good time then it stands to believe that it's going to make for better racing. Earnhardt had several great door-to-door racing battles during the day, including the aforementioned races with Brad Keselowski and defending Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch. Fans got a taste for this kind of racing at Kentucky Speedway and Darlington Raceway last season, but now the new low downforce package is proving it just might lead to one of the most entertaining NASCAR seasons in recent memory.
I post pictures online all the time. These old pictures of the 80's and 90's and people go 'oh man, that's when racing was racing. That's when it was good.' Well, that's what they saw today.
This has been a constant criticism of race fans over the last decade or so. Sunday's race at Atlanta, however, had that old school feel that fans have been craving. Long stretches of green flag racing that traditionalists can compare to the days of Earnhardt Sr., Bill Elliott, and Bobby Allison.
Of the 330 laps run on Sunday, 317 were run under green. All 39 drivers in the field were still running at the end of the race, while 12 drivers were still running on the lead lap. That's pretty awesome. To have every driver in the field - whether they have a legitimate chance of winning or not - still on the track for the final overtime restart is pretty darn cool. The days of starting and parking are truly a thing of the past. And when I say past, I mean 2000's past, not the 80's and 90's past.
Look, there's no pleasing everyone. That's the beauty of all sports. You watch a football game that ends 7-3 or a hockey game that ends 2-1, and you have fans clamoring for more offense. But on the other side of the coin, there are fans excited for the battles of a low-scoring, hard-fought game. That's what it was on Sunday. Drivers battled the track, the tires, and each other in a grueling, demanding race that brought out the best in NASCAR's top pilots.
Junior didn't win on Sunday. But thanks to his passionate, emotional and honest comments, NASCAR and its fans most certainly did.