Sunday, June 04, 2006

Rooting for the Underdog

I was pulling for Jamie McMurray towards the end of today's race, because I'm a sucker for the underdog when it comes to NASCAR.

Now, every fan has their favorite, driver, and probably a couple more that they like pretty well. That same fan also probably has a least favorite driver. This usually involves an irrational hatred of one of the really successful guys at the top right now (See: Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson,) or it's the guy who spun out your favorite driver on the backstretch in that one race back in the day they totally could have won otherwise. (See: Mike Skinner v Bill Elliott, Pepsi 400.)

But most racing sports are much different to watch than other sports. (This goes for anything from track, to speed skating, to Formula 1.) In any given race, there are multiple competitors who can win, and it's entirely possible at the end of the day there may be nobody you'd be rooting for or against left with a shot to win. Still, with a NASCAR race, if you've been sitting there for a couple hours watching the thing, there's not much point switching off the TV, especially if the action is good. So people come up with other systems:

For my parents, if all else fails, it was "Always root for the Ford." On rare occasions when my sister would be watching, she'd just pick the car she thought was prettier. A friend of mine elects to go for the sponsor he prefers. Others go for the proven winner on a hot streak.

I like the underdogs.

I like the driver who's on the verge of losing his ride. I like the second tier team, or the third tier team that somehow wound up at the front. I like the drivers who are too young, too old, running shitty equipment, or who just lost their sponsor. I root for the driver who hasn't won in awhile, who is poised to make the comeback if only he can hold off Jeff Gordon after staying out during the last pit sequence. Maybe it all goes back to that 92 season with Kulwicki's "Underbird" or maybe variety makes racing more fun. I think Robby Gordon's a dick, but now that he's doing the owner/driver thing, I hope by some miracle he'll win on one of the road courses this year.

That's why when it came down to those last few laps in today's race, I wanted Jeff Burton to get it. And when it became obvious his car couldn't manage it, I was screaming for McMurray to hold the lead. It's cool when your guy is up front and dominating, but every single race is at least 43 sumultaneous stories playing out on one track -- and the stories we don't hear every week tend to be the most compelling.

Too bad Kenseth won.

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