The Daytona 500 kicked off the 2008 Sprint Cup series this past Sunday and naturally I watched. Despite the fact I am not a huge NASCAR fan - or really just a marginal fan - I have not missed the Great American Race for some time now.
What is odd about Daytona, it is sort of the Super Bowl of stock car racing and it is the first race of the season. And a long season it is...we'll go most every other Sunday all the way through Homestead on Nov. 16. We get off on March 23 for Easter (isn't that a little early for Easter?), April 20 (pothead break? 4/20?) and July 19. Other than that, it is straight racing all throughout the spring and summer.
What bothers me about the new NASCAR are the changes. I know one thing I don't like is the lack of dramatic crashes. Now, that's just a casual fan talking - but most people watch for this reason whether real fans like it or not. Restricter plate racing is so safe, that watching the marathons on the superspeedways really is rather boring except for the first few laps and the final laps. The in-between is filler, at least for me.
Another thing that made me want to put my fist through the wall is Fox's Gopher Cam. While the angle was pretty cool on a couple of occasions, they had this ridiculous animated gopher, which obviously was family-friendly. However, seeing Darrell Waltrip, a veteran of the sport have to goof around with some silly television executive's mandate was sad.
In addition, NASCAR is starting to be full of pretty boys. Whatever happened to the perceived dumb, good ole' Southern boys? Suddenly, everyone is cleaned up and they're preening before and after the races instead of getting all dirty. When Dale Earnhardt Sr. died, it was definitely the end of the era. Instead of lifers and southern boys like Morgan Shepherd, Mark Martin (although he still races), the Intimidator, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, etc. - the current era has pretty boys like Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman (Sunday's winner) and Carl Edwards. If you've seen the Claritin commercial with Edwards, you'll know what I mean. He looks like a Lacrosse player and not a stock car racer. Sickening.
That's why I cheer for Tony Stewart. While he is an Indiana boy and speaks English rather fluently and cleanly with no southern drawl, he is a throwback. He cuts people off, fights with fellow racers and has a generally poor disposition. That's what I like in my racers. While I don't condone tooling around in a Toyota which is what he is sporting these days, I like his attitude. He is from the old school and there are very few of him left in today's NASCAR.