Weekend of horsepower

Some casual observations while enjoying a weekend full of horsepower.

Billed the fastest, most exciting and exhilarating 2 minutes in all of sports, the 2014 Kentucky Derby did not disappoint.

As those famous words rang out “And down the stretch they come,” California Chrome held off longshot Commanding Curve to win the Run for the Roses, making Art Sherman the oldest trainer to saddle a Kentucky Derby champion in history.

Perhaps the best comment by the 77-year old after this career-making accomplishment was that he planned to celebrate in part by giving his three-decades-old pickup truck a new paint job.

With his Derby payday, he could afford a new one, but this champion’s character is that of another generation, one that celebrates silver wedding anniversaries and old-time memories.

The oldest winning trainer in history may know better than anyone that the 140-year-old Kentucky Derby is an American arena where tradition and technology spectacularly clash. This dichotomy between the ceremonial and the contemporary is as fascinating as the fascinator-style hats worn by so many on race day.

While the never-too-outrageous fashions grace the red carpet, the royalty of the racing world (owners, jockeys, trainers and most of all the horses themselves) celebrate years, and in this case decades of dedication in their traditional 120-second competition.

While bets are electronically placed and millions of dollars won and lost, legends are born and history made among the images of sun-drenched bluegrass and shining coats of thoroughbreds and the timeless sounds of the familiar bugle call.

Meanwhile, in Alabama, NASCAR teams were tuning up for the biggest and fastest race track on their schedule: Talladega. Here is where the big one separates the winners from the did-not-finishers and can make or break a season.

For Denny Hamlin, Talladega was the chance to get back on track. The usually-reliable driver and Daytona runner-up has suffered his share of bad luck in the last two seasons, suffering a broken back during the 2013 campaign and then missing a 2014 date because of a minor eye injury. But Hamlin avoided the big one and a number of other mishaps on Sunday to take the checkered flag and secure a playoff position, one he’s earned by overcoming adversity if nothing else.

While some fans were undoubtedly disappointed that the race finished under caution, the day was not without drama. Brad Keselowski’s daring driving sparked comment and controversy among his fellow competitors. One of the scrapes involved Danica Patrick, though her Stewart-Haas car appeared unscathed.

Although she finished 22nd, Patrick became the first woman to lead laps at Talladega, six in all.

Still, the new win-skewed point system means she’ll have to get to victory lane for a chance at the championship.

A thrilling weekend no matter which horsepower you prefer.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Her column appears on Tuesdays.