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Kligerman: NASCAR is Uncool, Which Makes It So Cool

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“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.

NASCAR America Scan All: Kyle Busch wants to know if he got a one- or two-fingered salute

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“P17; you’re making really good time,” Kyle Busch’s spotter Adam Stevens told Busch as he blasted through the field on his way to winning a third consecutive race in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.

“Was that a two-fingered or a one-fingered salute,” Busch replied about his experience in traffic.

“The 42 dove-bombed us a little bit, but the 41’s the one that got us,” Jamie McMurray was told by his spotter.

But McMurray was still upset about an earlier incident when the two were racing for the free pass.

“Jamie’s trying to tear up our car now,” Kyle Larson said after getting run into by his teammate. “I got damage on my left side from him.”

Here are some of the other scanner highlights:

• “We got a penalty,” Rodney Childers told Kevin Harvick. “The wedge wrench went over the wall.”
• “Good, we’re coming from the back,” Harvick replied. “That’s what, three or four weeks in a row? I’m used to it.”
• “That 31’s fighting the hell out of the 78,” Childers reported.
• “I’m sorry about all that,” Larson said after missing pit road twice. “I braked later than I did there. Those two times, I just wheel hopped.”
• “That’s pathetic,” Aric Almirola said. “I don’t know how we can be that good for 200 laps and that bad after that.”

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America: Matt DiBenedetto will pay tribute to Jeff Burton in Southern 500

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For several years, the Southern 500 has given drivers an opportunity to pay tribute to the legends of NASCAR and this year, Matt DiBenedetto will pay homage to Jeff Burton’s No. 99 from the 2000 Cup season.

“You have no clue how excited I am about this one,” Matt DiBenedetto said. “I’ve been wanting to do this one for a while.

“This actually has a back story on it. And this is what got me into NASCAR and into racing. And the first car that I liked – I bought the diecast cars for – this is like really close to my heart.”

“It’s really exciting for me,” Jeff Burton said in a taped interview. “That 2000 paint scheme was really popular with Jeff Burton fans and Exide Racing fans back in the day. A lot of good things happened that year. We won several races that year.”

Burton won four races that year and finished second on five other occasions.

Burton didn’t win the Southern 500 that year, but he came close – finishing second to teammate Mark Martin.

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America: A Matt Kenseth return to Roush Fenway Racing would mean …

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Roush Fenway Racing will make what it is calling a major partner announcement at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and a report states that it will include details on Matt Kenseth returning to drive for the team.

NASCAR on NBC’s Nate Ryan reported Tuesday that Roush Fenway Racing declined comment on SB Nation’s report that Kenseth would run select races for Trevor Bayne beginning May 12 at Kansas Speedway. Ryan reported that multiple principles, including a former Roush Fenway Racing driver will be at Wednesday’s announcement.

Kenseth, who turned 46 in March, won Cup Rookie of the Year honors with Roush Fenway Racing in 2000 and remained there through the 2012 season.

Kenseth left for Joe Gibbs Racing and raced there from 2013-17. He was replaced after last season in the No. 20 car by Erik Jones, leaving Kenseth without a full-time ride for this season.

NASCAR on NBC’s Kyle Petty said on NASCAR America that should the report of Kenseth’s return to Roush Fenway Racing be true, it would provide a nice homecoming.

“He knows the players,’’ Petty said of Kenseth. “He knows everything about the place. He grew up there. He came of age there. He won (a) championship. He won races there. So from all those pieces, it makes sense for a guy like Matt Kenseth to go back there just as it would if Jeff Gordon said I want to go back to Hendrick. It makes perfect sense. But only Matt can answer that question (of why).’’

Ryan noted it is not unusual for teams to put another driver in a car to benchmark that car’s performance.

Bayne is 26th in the points. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner has not finished better than 12th (Texas) this season. Every driver ahead of him in the points has at least one top-10 finish this season.

“Even in a part-time basis, what could he bring?’’ Petty said of Kenseth. “He brings so much. It’s an intangible. I think we saw it when he went to Joe Gibbs Racing. What did he bring there? That team just, all of a sudden, just took off. Was it all Matt Kenseth? No, but it’s part Matt Kenseth, it’s part that knowledge, it’s part that experience, it’s part that desire to run up front, win races and build something and I think Matt felt he had built something that first go around.’’

Kenseth scored the 39th Cup win of his career in November at Phoenix. A week before that win, Kenseth talked to Ryan on the NASCAR on NBC podcast about realizing the end of his career seemed near.

“But like I said, I feel like the way things have gone that for whatever reason — reasons I don’t understand that I think will become really, really clear in the future — that it’s just not meant for me to race next year,” Kenseth said. “I think it’s that simple. Everything lined up this way because I wasn’t going to make the decision myself, so someone made it for me. It’s just not supposed to happen.”

Car owner Joe Gibbs said Tuesday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he would look forward to a return by Kenseth to Cup.

“I’ve got to tell you I would love it,’’ Gibbs said. “What a great guy, a great person, a great representative for the sport and for sponsors and extremely competitive. I would love that, and I hope that is going to be the case. I hope he can be there on a steady basis.

“It would be a thrill for us to have Matt back. I think he’s a real credit to the NASCAR Series and love the family. I think that would be great for us. I hope that’s going to be the case. I hope he gets to run a bunch of races.’’

For more, watch the video above.

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Deontay Wilder named Geico 500 honorary pace car driver

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Talladega SuperSpeedway has a reputation for delivering blows to the competition, so it is only fitting that the honorary pace car driver for the Geico 500 will be a man known to deliver knockouts to his opponents. Reigning World Boxing Council (WBC) World Heavyweight Champion and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native Deontay Wilder will pace the field before the initial green flag Sunday.

Wilder, 32, has a record of 40-0 with 39 of his wins by knockout.

Known as the “Bronze Bomber” because of the 2008 Bronze medal he won in the Beijing Olympics, Wilder found boxing as a way to provide for a daughter diagnosed with spina bifida. He immediately found that he was a natural by scoring a technical knockout over Ethan Cox in November, 2008.

Wilder has held the title since January 2015 after defeating Bermane Stiverne in his only bout that was not decided by a knockout. Wilder scored a unanimous decision and has defended his belt seven times since.