Saturday, July 03, 2010

3 Returns to Daytona

A post from my alter ego:

Last night was a big night for the Nationwide Series--the little brother to NASCAR's Sprint Cup elite. Returning to Daytona's superspeedway for the summer race, Nationwide unveiled a new car for the series. What's most striking about these cars is the fact that they actually look like their namesakes, providing at least a hint of justification for the term "stock" car racing. Unlike the cookie-cutter cars in the Sprint series, the new cars in the Nationwide series have incorporated design elements from their on-the-street versions--at least on the front nose design. So the Mustang looks a bit like a Mustang, the Chevy Impala looks like an Impala (I still miss the Monte Carlo). And all those domesticated dads who find themselves behind the wheel of a Camry (remember the emasculating tone of the word "Camry" in American Beauty?) can at least take a little pleasure in seeing it now make its way around Daytona at almost 200 miles an hour.

My favorite design, however, is the Dodge Challenger (my current favorite candidate for "mid-life crisis car"). Check out Michigander Brad Keselowski's lean, mean machine:

But the unveiling of the new car was overwhelmed by a bigger story: as a way to honor Dale Earnhardt's induction into the new NASCAR Hall of Fame, Dale Jr. had agreed to do just one race in the famed, untouchable #3 car (no car has run #3 since Dale Sr. died in the 2001 Daytona 500). And while probably most of us would liked to have seen the #3 in the Intimidator's signature black "Goodwrench" paint scheme, Jr. drove a throwback car decked out in Dale Sr.'s early Wrangler colors. For anyone with even a remote connection to NASCAR nation, it was an emotional scenario. And when Jr.'s #3 car pushed into the lead on the 3rd lap, and the entire grandstand raised their hands with 3 fingers in tribute,'ll have to excuse me.

The script ended with what would be a clich├ęd ending, if it weren't so utterly remarkable: Dale Jr.--who hasn't won a race since 2008, and hasn't won a Nationwide race since 2006--stole the lead with 26 laps remaining. On a late caution, he stayed out when he probably should have got new tires. He was now a sitting duck at the front of the pack in a final, 4-lap drag race to the finish. And with driving skills that surely made Daddy proud, Jr. brought the fabled #3 to the checkered flag for the first time in over a decade.

Perhaps the most beautiful moment was Dale Jr.'s final promise in Victory Lane: "This is it. No more 3 for me."

Even snobby dismissers of NASCAR might enjoy watching the final laps: