Dillon’s Pole Win Has NASCAR Nation Wondering
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
There is considerable belief around NACSCAR Nation today that for the second year in a row, the pole position for the Daytona 500 has somehow been gifted to a competitor. That belief is that pole qualifying for the biggest Sprint Cup race of the year is becoming little more than a chance for the series to jack up interest in a sport which has fallen on hard times.
Whether it’s true or not, it is pretty clear that on some level, NASCAR has a credibility crisis on it hands. A crisis that has not been tempered by this winter’s unveiling of a highly admirable transparency campaign against the traditional vagueries of its rules-making and penalization processes.
Social media and the blog world blew up on Sunday and Monday after Austin Dillon won the pole for the 2014 500.
Dillon is a Sprint Cup rookie who is the grandson of Richard Childress. And Childress is the man who owned the car in which Dale Earnhardt Sr. – perhaps the most popular American driver ever – won six of his seven Cup championships.
During those championship runs – and the Man in Black/The Intimidator hoopla which grew around them – Earnhardt drove cars with the No. 3 on them.
After Earnhardt’s fatal crash on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, the No. 3 became a symbol of Earnhardt the man, and also Earnhardt the face of old-school, blue collar stock car racing.
Nominally owned by Childress, the No. 3 has sat in Cup storage for the past 13 seasons.
But in recent years, Childress has allowed Dillon to use the number on his Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series vehicles.
After Childress decided that Dillon was ready to make the jump to Cup, the announcement was made the No. 3 would be on the doors of his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
That announcement was not made quietly. In the two months since, there have been roll-outs, photo ops, blogs, comments, columns and press conferences. Heading into the new year, it made list after list of “stories to watch in 2014″.
During last week’s Speedweeks Media Day at Daytona International Speedway driver after driver was asked about it during pressers. And story after story was turned. In print, on the net and on television.
Speedweeks 2014 had its “talker”. Best of all for the sport, it was a crossover “talker”.
Just like Speedweeks 2013 had its crossover “talker” in Danica Patrick, a personality known more for her looks than her driving abilities.
On qualifying day Sunday, the “talkers” went 2 for 2. Dillon, just as Patrick had done the year before, took to the historic 2.5-mile oval and shot to P1 on the pylon.
The disbelieving couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Dillon and Patrick’s stunning qualifying runs. Nor could they help but notice the benefits that winning the most important pole in stock car racing would yield for NASCAR – a racing series that has gone from red hot to warm enough to touch with bare hands over the last half decade.
Benefits that, in the end, turn extremely financial for a lot of people in the sport.
Cynical sords like “scripted” and “fixed” have colorfully decorated the comment sections on stories about Dillon’s run over the past hours.
And in a way, that is understandable. In times like these, cynicism ranks right behind breathing on the list of human reflexes.
Some of that raceing-brand of cynicism has found its way into the shops and garages.
Rather unintentionally, Richard Petty last week laid bare the relationship between racing and the business of racing when he said, “…the race is secondary, because all the rest of it is buildup, buildup, buildup.” Petty wasn’t criticizing “buildup” at all. In fact, he called it necessary. But that could be even more troublesome for people who watch racing to see racing and not buildup.
Whatever. Sunday’s result has the old-schoolers wondering: Is the fact that the No. 3 is on the 500 pole with a rookie driver who happens to have strong contact with Earnhardt’s legacy and in a car with engines that have been second tier in recent years racing, or is it buildup for a sport that has become reliant on buildup?
The hope here is that all is on the up and up. The strong hope is that a wonderful story also happens to be a true story.
If not, well, perhaps NASCAR should opt to hold an internet vote when it comes to determining the pole winner for the Daytona 500.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments