My Brain On NASCAR: It’s been a wild ride leading up to Chase

NASCAR has been so much fun to watch this season, but there have been points during which it has almost been more fun to listen to.

For example, I loved a comment I heard Tony Stewart make last week when being interviewed about his famous helmet-throwing incident at Bristol. Most everyone, even Stewart, expected NASCAR to hand down a fine, and most everyone – including Stewart – was surprised when it didn’t happen. “I wish they would just give us a list of what we can say or do without getting fined,” Stewart said. “If we had that, we could make this thing a lot more entertaining.”

Danica Patrick may have gotten her hands on such a list, admitting during a pre-race press conference in Atlanta that even in the heat of the moment, she had done a little self-censoring during her finger-wagging incident, also at Bristol.

“I think what matters is the fans love it,” she said. “I was just glad I didn’t give him the finger, because that’s what I was going to do. And I heard that was a fine. I’m glad I had an epiphany at the last second to point my finger instead of raise the middle one.”

By the way, both Danica’s finger and Tony’s helmet have Twitter accounts.

My favorite kind of throwaway phrase from the Atlanta weekend came from Kasey Kahne. When talking about a piece of vision training equipment his team uses, Kahne described it this way. “You touch it with the tips of your fingers as fast as you can. They light up, so you tap that one; they move all over.”

At last we have learned Hendrick Motorsports’ secret weapon: Whack-A-Mole.

So we have established that drivers say the darndest things, but there is still one triumphant sentence we have yet to hear from NASCAR.

In 1987, The Walt Disney Company premiered a now-famous advertising campaign they called “What’s Next?” The TV commercials featured a celebrity, usually an athlete, who appeared to be answering a question posed by an unseen narrator — “What are you going to do next?”

The answer — “I’m going to Disney World!” — has been a part of the pop culture vernacular of victory ever since.

First spoken by New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms after the Super Bowl a quarter century ago, that one sentence has become synonymous with winning. It has been delivered by celebrities ranging from Tom Brady and Michael Jordan to Santa Claus and David Cook, season eight winner of “American Idol.”

Color me impatient, because it’s only been a couple of decades, give or take, but to date no NASCAR driver has been featured in a “What’s Next?” advertisement. I’m thinking about organizing a grass-roots movement to correct what I’m certain is simply an oversight.

It’s almost too easy to find similarities between NASCAR and the Magic Kingdom. For starters, Disney World is located in Florida. The first and final races of the season are in Florida. NASCAR’s corporate offices are based in Florida. Coincidence?

Some of the attractions at Disney World actually bear an eerie resemblance to tracks hosting the 10 Chase events.

On ‘The Magic Carpets of Aladdin,’ for example, riders rise and fall, pitch forward and back as their conveyances circle the genie’s golden lamp. This attraction also features spitting camels. NASCAR has those. They’re usually found at short tracks like Bristol, or at Martinsville, race number seven in the Chase.

‘Big Thunder Mountain Railroad’ is one of the oldest and most well-respected rides in the park. This is no kiddie coaster. Climb aboard, and you’ll be warned to “hang onto your hats and glasses, ’cause this here’s the wildest ride in the wilderness.”

In NASCAR, we call this Talladega, the fourth Chase event.

By the way, there’s gold in them thar hills. Although in NASCAR’s case, only one of 12 prospectors will ultimately take home the mother lode.

The sweetest ride of all embraces the unique aspects of different cultures — like Chevy, Ford, Dodge and Toyota, for instance — while simultaneously celebrating their similarities. It’s a Small World, after all.

I will concede the point that there is at least one major difference between stock car racing and the Magic Kingdom; there’s nothing even remotely Mickey Mouse about NASCAR.

David Cook went all the way to number one on the 2008 pop music charts with his mega-hit song, “The Time of My Life.” Another American idol will go all the way to number one in November, winning the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship while having the time of his life.

When you get right down to it, I guess these guys don’t have to go to Disney World to experience the wonders of the Magic Kingdom.

They live there.

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