My Brain in NASCAR: Giving thanks for another great season

“Thankful” is a word we tend to toss around perhaps a little more easily than we should. Obviously, if our mamas raised us right we automatically say “thanks” when someone passes us the salt or bags up our groceries at the Piggly Wiggly, but that’s just common courtesy. There is a world of difference between gratitude and true thankfulness.

I can’t think of another country in the world with a holiday like Thanksgiving. It is a day that Americans have set aside for counting their blessings while simultaneously tossing all thoughts of counting their calories out of the window; after all, reflecting on all the things we have to be thankful for is much more pleasant when accompanied by a slice of pie. Or two slices; some people who shall remain nameless but we’ll just call “Cathy” can’t resist making little piglets out of themselves on Thanksgiving Day.

It should come as news to nearly no one that these are some pretty grim times we’re living in, with major worries about our homes, our jobs, and our safety. Still, I don’t find it trivial in the least to be thankful for the small things, the things that entertain us, make us happy and provide us with a few hours of escapism when we need them most. For millions of Americans, one of those things is NASCAR.

Racing-related blessings are specific to the individual fan; here are few of mine.

What could have been real tragedy turned into a boon for NASCAR in 2012’s very first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, when Juan Pablo Montoya ran into a jet dryer during the Daytona 500 and a big portion of the track burst into flames. The interest of the American viewing public caught fire, too, and understandably so. Most other sports don’t get halted by conflagrations, and as word of the fire increased, so did the TV ratings.

I read somewhere that Brad Keselowski picked up something like 200,000 new Twitter followers during the long red-flag caution resulting from the fire, so a big disaster kind of turned into a win-win situation. And I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say I’m thankful for the fact that no one was seriously hurt.

When I first got interested in NASCAR, around 1990 or so, Dale Earnhardt was the champion. I have enjoyed the sport through the Jeff Gordon era and the Jimmie Johnson era, and although I’m not saying that the Brad Keselowski era has begun, it’s cool to have been given the opportunity to be a small part of something that is constantly evolving and transitioning. It was also nice to see Roger Penske win his first NASCAR championship after being such a major contributor to the sport for so long.

Speaking of Keselowski, I’m always grateful for drivers who aren’t afraid to speak their minds. After winning the championship on Nov. 18 at Homestead Miami Speedway, he remarked that he was excited about the opportunity to meet some “really cool people.

“I’ve always wanted to date a celebrity … not a Kardashian,” he said. Tremors of gratitude that we will not have to witness that pairing reverberated from coast to coast.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. did one of the most intelligent and responsible things I have ever seen a driver do when a voluntary doctor’s visit resulted in a concussion diagnosis and a couple of weeks on the sidelines. I remain impressed and grateful that Junior put his own safety and the safety of his fellow drivers above the pursuit of a championship. He didn’t win the title, but he won an incredible amount of respect.

One again this year I am grateful that Carl Edwards managed not to land on his head, although with no wins in the Cup Series and only one in the Nationwide Series, he had a lot fewer chances.

Thank you, Michael Waltrip Racing for reminding everyone what Brian Vickers can do behind the wheel of a stock car, and thank you, Joe Gibbs Racing for giving Vickers a full-time ride in the Nationwide Series for 2013. This talented young driver deserves another chance to prove his mettle. I am supremely confident that he will not disappoint.

In “Winnie the Pooh,” A.A. Milne wrote that a much more famous Piglet than I will ever be noticed that “although he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.” This year as always, I am appreciative of NASCAR racing itself. It gives us something fast and loud and distracting; it can’t cure what ails us, but it can help us forget and feel a little bit better about things, four or five hundred miles at a time.

How could we not be thankful for that?

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