Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Kligerman: NASCAR is Uncool, Which Makes It So Cool

4 Comments

“I met you. You are not cool.” – Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous”

NASCAR also is not cool.

How do I know this? No sport would be making the monumental news as we saw Monday, if everything was as cool as the backside of Pluto.

These are the signs of something feeling seemingly uncool.

And to be honest  —  I love that.

Many of you will start hitting your screens at this point, sending your misspelled death threats and attempting to throw me out of this sport. The fact is if NASCAR was actually “cool,” none of the 2017 enhancements would have happened (which would delight many of the longtime fans).

Over the last three years alone, we have seen changes in how NASCAR crowns a champion, how the cars are driven, set up and built … and now, how NASCAR conducts the simple matter of a race.

We are no different than the young man leaving middle school who is more interested in some fantasy role-playing game than girls. He enters high school realizing he has very few friends. So he decides to smoke cigarettes, wear a hoodie and buys overpriced sneakers.

Most of the “cool” kids will see through that, so he will remain where he started – uncool.

And that’s good.

The thing is, when you think back to your high school days, the most uncool people go on to do simply the coolest things.

NASCAR can be uncool, but revolutionizing its approach to racing could be the coolest thing yet.

As Hoffman’s character also said in Cameron Crowe’s cult classic about the price of fame and success in 1970s rock and roll: “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”

Which is exactly where NASCAR is as a sport. We are sharing the asocial actions together, witnessing some truly cool times.

Who’s cooler? Kim Kardashian? Or the anonymous man, three whiskeys deep at Pianos on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, playing acoustic sets on Wednesdays with a voice made of gravel and tobacco tar?

Sure, the man is not as “cool” as a reality TV show star on Instagram.

But give him two hours, as you sip on your cocktail or Pabst Blue Ribbon of choice. He will weave you through the ups and downs of a lost soul searching for what Kim Kardashian has. He will lament his past chances and the gig that made him a star for a week.

It’s his mysterious, dark and depressing reality that makes him so uncool.

His set will end, and you’ll walk up and say it was incredible. He’ll toss a glance, say, “Thanks” than go back to his phone to check a text. He’ll fish around his pocket for his Metrocard, look back at you and remind you that you can now find him on iTtunes. Although there have been millions before him in the same position, even he sees a need to change with the times.

He can remain uncool even while striving for a relevance that keeps him earnestly and genuinely appealing.

With Kim Kardashian, her life is supposed to be the coolest, but you know everything about it. We all can figure out what it’s like to be uber-rich, as you can just look at one of the million shows dedicated to their lifestyles. There really isn’t a big difference between partying with Kanye West and your best friends, aside from a possibly nicer setting.

Over time her reign as the coolest thing on the Internet will fade like the gloss on Kanye’s Lamborghini.

But the man at Pianos still will be playing on Wednesdays. And still entertaining.

It’s much the same with NASCAR.

For many years before and after the new millennium, we raced our way into the position of the fastest-growing sport in the land of the free. Many thought when they saw pop-culture stars at a race, that they would all become fans, and NASCAR would be cool.

It didn’t happen, and in my view, we are better for it.

We are not the coolest kids on the block.

We don’t find our stars on Page Six, or splashed in Internet scandals. Our races don’t draw the courtside celebrity appearances often seen at games that strive for the validation of a culture built around reality TV tastemakers such as Kardashian.

But who cares?

We have stars such as Jimmie Johnson, who is as real as any guy you might find sipping a Corona on a summer night in a tropical bar.

He also wields a beard so perfect, scientists will study it to help create lifelike robots. His athleticism, determination and simple grit have made him   a legend.

Or on the younger scale, we have stars who seem to represent the very definition of individuality. Such as Ryan Blaney, whose flowing locks my sister describes as “hot.” He is a Star Wars geek with a growing penchant for New York City who, if asked, could drive his car to Mars.

Or Chris Buescher, who represents the next generation of farmer. Doing your farming (whatever that might entail) while making sure it’s all on Snapchat and Instagram. He found a way to become a rising star by sleeping on a man’s couch.

Even Daniel Suarez, who calmly has carried the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders. Through that, he has found a way to win and become a champion. Now he has a chance at becoming a star that could be a bonafide hero in his home country.

We may have lost the chance at being cool, like the man singing at Pianos.

But the fact is our uncoolness is producing enhancements that 20 years ago would have been described as lunacy. Our stars are more real and interesting than any of the supposed “cool” ones out there.

No matter which way the sport heads, I think it’s going to be an unsterilized, chaotic, glorious, hell of a time.

That’s what makes it so damn cool.

Join me.

For we are not cool.

Many of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s most memorable career moments

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Trying to condense 18 seasons, 603 starts, 26 wins, 149 top-fives, 253 top 10s and 13 poles into one highlight reel is a challenge, indeed.

In light of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s announcement today that he’ll retire at the end of this season as a NASCAR Cup driver, let’s take a walk down memory lane of some of Junior’s most memorable races and accomplishments.

2000 – Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned his first career Cup victory at the same site he earned his first Xfinity win a few years earlier: Texas Motor Speedway. He would earn his second career win several weeks later at Richmond.

2000 – Junior earns his first – and only one to date – NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

2001 – In an emotional celebration, Junior wins the Pepsi 400 at Daytona and dedicates his third career Cup win to his father, who was killed less than five months earlier in the season-opening Daytona 500.

2001 – In the first NASCAR race following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins an emotional and stirring MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400 at Dover International Speedway.

2001 to 2003 – Junior wins four straight Cup races at Talladega Superspeedway, which would become his most prolific track with six overall wins to date there. Here’s his four wins in a row at ‘Dega:

2001 – EA Sports 500 — Junior wins the race and earns a $1 million Winston No Bull 5 bonus.

2002 Aaron’s 400

2002 EA Sports 500 — and the final $1 million Winston No Bull 5 bonus

2003 Aaron’s 499

2004 – Junior earns his first of what would be two Daytona 500 victories. “I’m a Daytona 500 champion. I can’t believe it,” Junior said in Victory Lane.

2010 – Earnhardt wins the Subway Jalapeno 250 Xfinity Series race at Daytona. This race was all the more memorable because Junior drove a retro-looking No. 3 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing that paid homage to his late father, who was sponsored by Wrangler.

2014 – Earnhardt earns what would prove to be the second and final Daytona 500 win of his career, with now-NBC NASCAR analyst Steve Letarte as his crew chief.

2015 – Earnhardt records his most recent Cup win in the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix Raceway (ceremonially renamed Jeff Gordon Raceway for this race). It was also Earnhardt’s third career win at Phoenix.

 

Follow @JerryBonkowski

 

Who are the candidates to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88? Here’s a short list

6 Comments

With Tuesday’s news that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is leaving NASCAR after the 2017 season, Hendrick Motorsports would seem to have multiple internal and external candidates to fill the ride.

Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet would be the top-tier opening for 2018. The car is prepared in the same building as the No. 48 of seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson and is a teammate to Chase Elliott and Kasey Kahne. Since taking over the No. 88 in 2008, Earnhardt has made the playoffs in six of nine seasons, notched nine victories and finished top 10 in points three times (he might have again in 2012 if he hadn’t been sidelined for two races by a concussion).

Some of the decision assuredly will depend on sponsorship (in a statement, Nationwide said it fully supported Earnhardt’s decision and would continue its relationship with the 14-time most popular driver beyond 2017), but here are a few names to consider — starting with two already in the Hendrick fold:

William Byron: Signed to a developmental deal with the team last August, he unquestionably is the future of Hendrick Motorsports along with Elliott.

Byron, 19, showed prodigious talent as a rookie in the Camping World Truck Series with a circuit-leading seven victories (he was robbed of the championship because of a mechanical failure while dominating Phoenix). He is only seven races into his Xfinity career but is a solid second in points with five top 10s and two top fives.

There will be questions about whether it would be rushing too much to promote him to Cup in his third full season in a NASCAR national series, but if he’s the eventual solution, why wait to promote him? Kyle Larson was moved into Cup after only a full season of Xfinity, and his development into the 2017 points leader has proved the pitfalls that surrounded Joey Logano’s entry into Cup as an inexperienced teenager can be avoided.

Alex Bowman: He filled in admirably for an injured Earnhardt with three top 10s in 10 races last year (qualifying on pole position at Phoenix and leading 194 laps). Bowman, who turned 24 today, also ran full time in Cup from 2014-15, so he has nearly 81 starts in the premier series as well as five top fives in 50 Xfinity starts.

Still under contract to Hendrick, his yeoman work on the driving simulator has drawn praise from the organization and its drivers.

But the Tuscon, Ariz., native still doesn’t have a resume that is eye-catching as Byron’s, and his upside might be a more difficult sell to sponsors.

Carl Edwards: Since stepping away from NASCAR in a stunning announcement three months ago, Edwards steadfastly has maintained he isn’t retired. While visiting Atlanta Motor Speedway to help rookie replacement Daniel Suarez with his former No. 19 Toyota, Edwards brought his helmet and firesuit just in case.

He seems open to driving in Cup again, though he is remaining coy about it. Asked by NBC Sports if the No. 88 was an opportunity he would consider, Edwards jokingly replied, “You may have it mixed up. I’m recruiting Dale to drive a tractor!” (He also added he was happy for Earnhardt, and that it would be a great ride for someone.)

With 28 victories in the Cup series and a megawatt smile and sponsor appeal, Edwards’ name figures to come up whenever there is an opening, even if he seems to be enjoying life on his farm in Columbia, Mo. He also was courted by Hendrick about a decade ago (which Jeff Gordon confirmed in 2011 when Edwards was in the midst of re-upping for the last time with Roush Fenway Racing).

–Any other qualified veteran: Hendrick could decide Byron isn’t ready for the No. 88 yet next season but is the answer for 2019.

Would it make sense to consider putting NBCSN analyst Greg Biffle (who has indicated he still would like to race) or another driver with winning credentials (such as David Ragan or Regan Smith, who has Hendrick and JRM ties) in the No. 88 to keep the seat warm for Byron in 2019?

Given that Hendrick waited a year for Kahne to join its ranks, and Stewart-Haas Racing did the same with Clint Bowyer, it isn’t an implausible scenario.

A look at Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s most popular tweets

1 Comment

Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s NASCAR racing career has been long and memorable and will end after the 2017 season.

But his social media career has been short, insightful, news breaking and often times hilarious.

After years of dragging his feet, the 14-time most popular driver joined Twitter on Feb. 24, 2014 after his second Daytona 500 and NASCAR hasn’t been the same.

In hindsight, Earnhardt’s social media use has been a captivating look at the twilight of his racing career, which began with arguably one of the biggest wins of his career.

Here’s a look at Earnhardt’s eight most retweeted tweets.

  1. Feb. 24, 2014 – The morning after his second Daytona 500 win, Earnhardt poses with a statue of his late father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., that is outside Daytona International Speedway. It’s been retweeted 26,629 times.

2.  Feb. 24, 2014 – Just after 2:30 a.m. ET, the NASCAR and Twitter world changed forever when Earnhardt posted his first surprise tweet from Victory Lane after winning his second Daytona 500. It was Earnhardt’s first Cup win since the June 2012 Michigan race and only his second Cup win since 2008. It’s been retweeted 20,026 times.

3. Feb. 18, 2015 – Fourteen years after his father was killed in a crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500, Earnhardt acknowledged the anniversary. It has been retweeted 10,788 times.

4. January 19, 2017 – Earnhardt is an unabashed fan of sports outside of NASCAR, including of the NFL’s Washington Redskins and the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. Earlier this year, Earnhardt couldn’t attend a Hornets’ home game. So he decided to give his tickets to one lucky winner. 7,925 people retweeted his post hoping to win.

5. Feb. 25, 2017 – The day before what would turn out to be his last Daytona 500 start, Earnhardt shared a video that had been posted by the official NASCAR Twitter account. Backed with the song “My Old Man” by the Zac Brown Band, the video is a fond remembrance of his relationship with his father. Roughly 7,600 people shared his sentiment.

6. Dec. 11, 2014 – This tweet takes a little bit more of an explanation. Ten months after joining Twitter, Earnhardt tagged rapper J. Cole in a tweet, mentioning he was “funny” with a hashtag #ShitChangedMyLifeBro. The hashtag is a reference to one of J. Cole’s songs, “Note to Self.” Cole referenced Earnhardt in the song after he saw in an ESPN interview that Earnhardt listened to one of his songs before races. The Twitter interaction led to 7,601 retweets and an ESPN: The Magazine cover story.

7. April 29, 2014 – Two months after joining Twitter, Earnhardt very simply wished his late father a happy birthday. It was retweeted more than 6,800 times.

8. Aug. 10, 2014 – Few personally know the tragedy associated with auto racing more than Dale Earnhardt Jr. On Aug. 9, 2014, sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. was killed when a sprint car driven by Tony Stewart struck the 20-year-old. Ward had approached the racing lane on foot following a crash at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York. The following morning Earnhardt tweeted his condolences to Ward’s family. It was shared 5,579 times.

NASCAR’s preliminary entry lists for Richmond International Raceway

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NASCAR makes its first visit of the year to Richmond International Raceway this weekend as the Cup and Xfinity Series compete on the .75-mile track.

Cup teams will hold the Toyota Owners 400 while Xfinity teams gear up for the ToyotaCares 250.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for both races.

Cup Series – Toyota Owners 400

There are 38 cars on the entry list for the Cup race.

Last year, Carl Edwards won this race with a bump-and-run on teammate Kyle Busch on the final turn. Busch had led 78 laps in the race before Edwards, who led 151 laps, powered his way to the victory.

Denny Hamlin won the fall race from the pole after leading 189 laps.

Click here for the full entry list.

Xfinity Series – ToyotaCares 250

Five Cup drivers are among the 42 cars entered into the race, including: Ty Dillon, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson.

The race is the third Dash 4 Cash race of the year, meaning Cup drivers with five years or more experience are not eligible to compete in the race.

Last year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won this race after leading 128 of 149 laps. Kyle Busch won the fall race after leading 197 of 250 laps.

Click here for the entry list.