Valentine's Day is the time to celebrate love, so this week flower shops are busy with bouquet orders, candy stores are crammed with buyers of heart-shaped boxes, and restaurants are filling up with reservations.
For race fans, February 14th is the chance to renew our love of adrenaline-filled drivers, high-powered cars and the unending need for speed.
Fittingly, the Daytona 500 goes green on Valentine's Day, and race fans have plenty to be excited about concerning the sport and drivers they love.
This past weekend served to whet our appetite, with the series' most popular driver by far, Dale Earnhardt Junior, earning a spot on the front row, alongside teammate and sentimental favorite, Mark Martin. The over-50 Martin will start from the pole for the first time in his long career after finishing as runner-up for the championship in 2009. The rest of the field will be decided Thursday in the Gatorade Duels.
We also got our first tastes of real Daytona racing over the weekend in the Bud Shootout. The Saturday night special under the lights was packed with excitement, including a green-white-checkered finish and multi-car crash on the final lap. Kevin Harvick was declared the winner for the second straight year.
If that's a sign of things to come this season, race fans should prepare for an exciting ride. Rule changes during the off-season will allow drivers to express a little LESS love on the track, now that they've restored bump-drafting at superspeedways, and will increase the power allowed at Daytona. Drivers may also have a little more leeway to express themselves to one another during disputes on and off the track, which should be interesting and amusing.
The new season brings new hope for Dale Earnhardt Junior and his Hendrick Team. In addition to his huge legion of fans, the sport itself is relying on Junior to have a competitive year, which would greatly help the recession-battered Sprint Cup Series.
The sport could already thank the Earnhardt/Hendrick tandem for the off-season move to bring another huge name to NASCAR. Indy car star, Danica Patrick made her stock car debut during this weekend's ARCA race, finishing sixth. Now she'll run a limited Nationwide Series schedule in JR Motorsports' GoDaddy.com number-7 car this season, beginning with Saturday's race at Daytona. The Patrick factor will likely spur love, hate and debate among drivers and fans, and nothing could be better for racing.
Those are just the beginning of the reasons to get fired up for the 2010 racing season. There are storylines galore, like record-breaking defending champion, Jimmie Johnson, triple-series competitor, Kurt Busch and all of the other colorful characters and revved-up rivalries that are sure to entertain us over the next nine months.
Valentine's Day is a celebration of love, and this Sunday NASCAR fans gladly trade in their roses for the return of racing.
Kellie Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.