NASCAR engines roared to life last week, ushering in the 2009 Nextel Cup season with one of the greatest spectacles in all of sport: the Daytona 500.
It's fitting NASCAR is the only sport that opens the season with its biggest and most prestigious event of the year.
After a three-month layoff, fans crave the explosion of news and drama that Speedweek provides, and one race would not be enough to whet the appetite. We needed the shootout, twins and main event to get back up to full speed.
In spite of a disappointing, rain-shortened ending to the week, the drama of Daytona lived up to its billing, with headlines including Jeff Gordon's drought-ending twin win and Dale Earnhardt Junior's part in the big crash of the day in the 500.
Ironically, the man who ended up in victory lane is himself a stark contrast to the flamboyant pageantry of his Daytona backdrop.
When Matt Kenseth won the Winston Cup Championship in 2003, he did it in his signature unflashy style, winning just one race on the schedule. Kenseth methodically trudged through the season with an average finish just over 10th but failed to finish only twice.
He won his title with low-key consistency, the kind that doesn't make for splashy headlines on Monday mornings. He's always seemed more comfortable behind the wheel of the car than in front of the cameras.
That's why he may be the last person marketing gurus would want to win the 500. Kenseth doesn't have the mass appeal of his good friend, Dale Earnhardt Jr., the headline-stealing bad-boy persona of Tony Stewart, or the Hollywood charm of Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson. He's not the guy you'd generally see popping in on Letterman.
But that's also why it's so nice to see a good guy finish first: Kenseth races the right way, respecting the sport, his competitors and the fans.
His team has been one of the more consistent in recent years, finishing no worse than 11th in the season standings since winning the title in '03. He deserves to be part of NASCAR's most prestigious club as a Daytona 500 winner, especially after starting the day 43rd on the grid.
He's earned the friendship and respect of fellow drivers like Earnhardt Jr., who's traded paint with Kenseth since their days in the Busch series. Earnhardt went out of his way to find Kenseth during his post-race network interview to congratulate him.
Kenseth will spend the week making the media rounds as the Daytona 500 winner, the first for team owner Jack Rousch.
Then the Wisconsin native will make a businesslike return to his daily duties as the Nextel Cup points leader with the well-deserved memories of his Daytona Sunday showered in champagne and rain.
Kellie Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.