I’ve been content to watch NASCAR without really rooting for anyone for a few years. I started out as a Mark Martin fan when he was with Roush Racing in the #6 Valvoline Ford, at the same time I rooted for Jeff Burton when he was in the #99 Excide Ford. Eventually both drivers left Roush and moved on to other teams. Their new teams, sponsors, and owners never really caught me and I eventually quit following those drivers. Lately I’ve been kinda sorta rooting for Clint Boywer because he’s a “local” guy. By local I mean he’s from Emporia, Ks, an hour drive from where I sit. I have tried to get on the Carl Edwards bandwagon solely because he’s Roush-Fenway’s lead driver, and Roush Racing is the team I started rooting for when I discovered NASCAR. I would say my Carl Edwards fandom is lukewarm at best.
A new driver has caught eye. But first I would like to tell a story. 1998 was my first full season as a NASCAR fan. I watched everything. I watched RPM2Night. I watched qualifying. I watched the trucks given the chance. I watched the Busch race. I watched the Winston Cup race. I was probably in the 95th percentile of NASCAR dorkness. During September of that year Ricky Rudd was driving on a warm day at Martinsville. The air conditioner went out on the “Tide Ride” and it began to get dangerously hot inside the car. Rudd continued to race even though he was suffering burns on his backside and legs. Rudd took the lead for good on lap 391. I remember him having to give his interview in Victory Lane laying down on a stretcher from heat exhaustion. That’s dedication that’s tough. I became a fan of Ricky Rudd that day even though it was during the twilight of his career. He would win three more races, the last coming in 2002. Rudd retired after the 2007 season.
NASCAR is unique from the other sports I follow in that all of the sports competitors can be seen during the same event. This is why I am content to watch races while not really being a fan of a driver the way I was a fan of Mark Martin in the late 90’s/early 00s. However, a driver has caught my eye and it has as much to do with his toughness as his driving style. On Wednesday August 3rd Brad Keselowski broke his ankle in a crash while testing his car, four days later he won at Pocono. That’s dedication that’s tough. Since then Keselowski has not to finished outside the Top 3 in two races, all on the same broken ankle. That alone wasn’t enough to hook me as a fan. But it was enough for me to quit calling Miller Lite “Rusty Wallace Beer”. I haven’t called it “Brad Keselowski Beer” because it doesn’t have the same ring to it. Guess I’ll call it Miller Lite.
Keselowski has also uttered the words “Kyle Busch is an ass”. I figure I can root for a guy like that. I don’t have any plans to run out buy “Blue Duce” gear, yet. But I think I have someone to root for during Saturday night’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol and The Chase in a few weeks afterward. I might consume some Miller Lite while doing it.