MONTE DUTTON – JUNIOR OPENS A WINDOW
Junior got himself a great race to make his telecasting debut.
“Earnhardt. Dale Earnhardt Jr.” It’s a Southern-friend take on “Bond. James Bond.” Not a vodka martini, “shaken, not stirred,” but in the timeless voice of Harry Caray, “a nice, cold Budweiser!”
Dale Earnhardt Sr. (man, he hated being called Senior) never a met a man he didn’t initially distrust. His son is a citizen of the world, as disarming with a prince as a pauper. Another difference is that Junior is unafraid of being himself, while Senior couldn’t be anyone else.
One race in, and everyone knows Junior. Everyone knew him before. His debut was one of little surprise other than he made the best of it.
Sometimes there isn’t enough room in the booth for an anchor, but deferential Rick Allen gives Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton all the room they want. They have a nice vibe, Earnhardt the free spirit and Burton the voice of experience and reason. Burton seems pleasantly amused with his new mate.
Then was there the race, with two “somewhere between real hard rubs and a barely soft wrecks” on the final lap. It was an honest-to-God battle on the final lap at an intermediate track. Not one car passing another and then pulling away. Two astonishingly talented drivers, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson, one an established star and the other budding, settled it between them.
Next is the rainy-time Daytona, and inevitable pop-up showers notwithstanding, the fruits are ripe for a night of passing and mayhem and mayhem passing.
Figuratively speaking, NASCAR has spent a decade languishing in the Sargasso Sea, inexplicably shooting off fireworks as the water level rose.
Armed with Earnhardt Jr. and restrictor plates, the sport has an opening where, possibly, it can champ at the bit, stanch the bleeding and rise from the ashes.
Who could imagine a time when NASCAR’s chief obstacle was the World Cup?