Some general observations after the first six weeks of NASCAR racing: they've seen fire and they've seen rain
n The 2012 season has been wild and crazy, from the weather-plagued-and-fire-delayed Daytona 500, to the rain-shortened Fontana race, to the last-laps drama at Martinsville. Some of what has happened is a testament to why fans love NASCAR. Some of it can be frustrating, especially if a favorite ends up back in the pack.
Through the first six races, we've witnessed five different winners; defending champion Tony Stewart is the only driver with two trips to Victory Lane this season. Brad Keselowski won back-to-back at Bristol, even after NASCAR added extra timing lines in the pits. (Keselowski's victory last August was criticized because his pit position gave him a jump start.)
n No first-time winners have crossed the finish line first yet this year, and that's one of the things that makes last weekend's race so interesting.
With just a few laps to go, a contentious caution flag waved when leaders Jimmy Johnson and Jeff Gordon were spun out of the way. Clint Bowyer had gone three-wide with the Hendrick superstars, but post-race blame was also directed at David Reutimann whose engine conked out after he failed to pit with a broken part. The wreck resulted in a green-white-checkered finish.
AJ Allmendinger battled to pass Ryan Newman, and had the chance to bump the leader out of the way to pick up his first-ever Sprint Cup victory. Who would have blamed him? Rubbing is racing, and it wouldn't have taken much more than a rub to gain the advantage over his competitor. But Allmendinger decided against it, and took second place, with no regrets. The list of drivers who would have pulled the bump-and-go is long and distinguished, Dale Earnhardt,?Sr. at the head of the pack. Still, AJ must have earned respect from his fellow drivers and some fans for racing Newman clean.
n Perhaps the luckiest dog over the last few weeks has been Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The winner of last year's "Most Popular Driver Award" has been able to steer clear of the cautions and dodge the raindrops for back-to-back top-three finishes; he stands second overall in the standings, much to the delight of his huge fan base.
n One of the great things about the sport of NASCAR is simply the number of competitors. Races feature 43 drivers behind the wheel and 43 crew chiefs in the pits.
There are even more crew members and owners on hand, not to mention support staff, officials and families. That's hundreds of decision-makers and tons of influence on and around the track, with a wide range of egos, various levels of experience, and many different degrees of conscience. Add to that the things that no one can control like fire, rain, and sunny days, and crazy things can happen.
I wonder what will happen next.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.