The Daytona 500 is this weekend. That's one of the more important of the Cars Going Around In A Circle contests they have on this planet. We don't understand NASCAR, obviously, but we suspect some of you do, so we've asked Jay Busbee, of Sports Gone South, to explain to us why we should care about all this stock car business.
Here's all you need to know about this weekend's Daytona 500, the race that kicks off the 2008 NASCAR season: everything's a competition. Everything.
The obvious battle is between the drivers on the track, but you've also got competing models of cars (Ford, Chevy, Dodge, and now Toyota), racing teams (the Dream Team-esque Hendrick Motorsports, the nobody-respects-us Joe Gibbs Racing squad, and more), sponsors (far too many to name), nationalities (American vs. them foreign open-wheel racing vets), and on and on. Everything's a battle; the prerace buildup has included the "Budweiser Shootout" and the "Gatorade Duels." (The "LifetimeTV Bitchslap" is scheduled for next year.)
So it's no wonder NASCAR fans spend a significant percentage of their lives drunk. You'd drink, too, if you had to keep up with this many rooting interests.
NASCAR stokes this competitive frenzy, with an ability to manipulate storylines and manufacture controversy that leaves both ESPN and third-world warlords drooling with envy. Here are some of the key plot threads unspooling at Daytona:
• Dale Earnhardt Junior's new home. Junior spent most of last season in an ugly fight with his stepmother for control of the racing company that bears his father's name, and ended up losing. So he jumped over to Hendrick Motorsports, where he'll race alongside Jimmie Johnson (two-time defending champion) and metrosexual (for NASCAR, anyway) Jeff Gordon. Imagine the media slobbering that would go on if Brett Favre joined the Patriots, and you'll have an idea of what's happening here. Junior's already won two preliminary events, leading NASCAR conspiracy theorists—a term that's almost a redundancy—to scream that the fix is in.
• The rise of Toyota. NASCAR has opened the door to non-U.S. auto manufacturers to race, and there are suspicions that NASCAR is artificially shaping races to ensure that the Toyota grabs its fair share of visibility. Naturally, this has led the xenophobic contingent of the fanbase to pine for the good ol' days, when races were just American cars made overseas, instead of foreign cars made here in America.
• Step aside, Gramps. NASCAR's unique in that it lets its aged competitors still try out for a slot on the main stage instead of just shuffling them off to chuckle in overstuffed pregame studios. But watching Sterling Marlin and Bill Elliott try to race with the younger cats still gives you that same queasy feeling like when a clearly-in-decline Michael Jordan was getting smoked by the likes of Allen Iverson. Still, one old codger, Dale Jarrett, actually made the Daytona field of 43 this year. Look for him to clog up the track as he putters along, leaning forward over his steering wheel and squinting to see if this is his turn.
• Act up, and NASCAR will kill you. Whatever NASCAR does to keep its drivers in line, Scientology-style, it's working. Consider the little dustup last Friday between cranky dork Kurt Busch and split-personality sociopath Tony Stewart. Stewart's car bumped Busch's on the track, Busch tried to mow down Stewart along pit road, and then—allegedly—Stewart punched Busch in the face during a closed-door meeting with NASCAR officials. Whatever they were told after that, both of them turned meeker than lambs, and it wasn't as a result of the announced meager six-race probation.
Daytona is billed as the "Super Bowl of NASCAR," and Fox, predictably enough, is padding its coverage with hours of prerace fluff and in-race gimmickry. And, like this year's Super Bowl, it's probably going to be a hell of a race even without network and NASCAR goosing.
The Daytona proper starts at 3:30 and will run until after 7. But if the idea of that many domestic beers, fried pickle dogs, and southern accents scares you, tune in for the last half-hour. If nothing else, you can gape at the insanely hot drivers' wives. Plus, there's a damn good chance you'll see a serious wreck, and who doesn't love watching car wrecks? Terrorists, that's who.
And in closing, I wanna thank Deadspin and Yahoo! Sports for getting me here and making this dream a reality. We did it, y'all! WHOOOOOO!!!!!
Jay Busbee is the current editor of Yahoo! Sports' NASCAR blog From the Marbles. He also created and edits the Atlanta sports site Right Down Peachtree and the southern sports site Sports Gone South, hitting the rare triple-dork blog trifecta.