My Brain on NASCAR: Junior finally scratches 4-year itch

It takes a lot to draw people’s attention from a PGA major golf tournament, but Michigan International Speedway did just that on Father’s Day.

Just when I had given up all hope in the possibility of time travel, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has taken me back to the future … but not too far.

It’s hard to believe that 14 years have passed since Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battled it out mano-a-mano in the chase to break Roger Maris’ home run record. The contest kept Americans on the edges of their seats for weeks in 1998. Folks who wouldn’t even consider watching a baseball game on a normal day kept up with the race.

We all knew it was going to happen eventually, but when?

The ensuing scandals notwithstanding, I will always remember it as a truly exciting time to be a sports fan. It was literally mesmerizing.

The NASCAR world has been seeing something similar recently, thanks to Earnhardt. Great finishes and what’s looking like a guaranteed spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup simply wasn’t enough for us. Only a win would do.

We all knew it was going to happen eventually, but when?

After four long years and a 143-race losing streak, we got our answer, as Earnhardt dominated the race at Michigan on June 17 and cruised to the win.

Victory Lane was even more crowded than usual, as drivers, crew members and even owners of other teams headed over to congratulate Junior on the win.

“When people are happy for you, they want to see you do good,” he said. “That’s the way I feel about people; I want to see good people do good things, and I want to see people that I think are good people have success and be happy.”

I like that attitude, and it really does have a carryover effect. I don’t know a single person who wasn’t happy to see Junior finally break that drought, regardless of who “their” driver is, and I don’t see anything on the horizon threatening to tarnish his achievement in any way. No skullduggery was involved. No corking of the No. 88 Chevy has been reported. It was undoubtedly the greatest NASCAR moment of the season so far, and one that we will remember for a very long time.

* The negative response to Joey Logano’s win at Pocono Raceway on June 10 is a real puzzler.

Thanks to what we’ll nicely call a “nudge” in the closing laps of the race, the youngster snuck past perennial fan favorite Mark Martin and cruised to the win, only the second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory of his career. Many fans felt the move was too aggressive.

What’s the deal? Haven’t those same fans been decrying the paucity of wreck-induced caution flags this season? Haven’t the races been described as boring?

If someone other than Logano had made the move, the reaction would not have been the same. We all know that a race car driver will knock his own grandmother out of the way if she is standing between him and the checkered flag.

But for some reason, the masses have never really embraced Joey Logano. This is unfortunate, because although he has fallen victim to early hype and never really achieved that expected level of success, the fact remains that he is a talented young driver who is currently fighting to hang onto his job, and is one of the faces of NASCAR’s future. We should support him.

Mark Martin, on the other hand, is in the twilight of his active racing career and has to retire sometime. But please don’t tell him I said that; I don’t think he knows.

* The next race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is schedule is the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway on Sunday, June 24. Kurt Busch is the defending champion.

Driver standings after Michigan: 1. Matt Kenseth 2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3. Greg Biffle 4. Jimmie Johnson 5. Denny Hamlin 6. Kevin Harvick 7. Martin Truex Jr. 8. Tony Stewart 9. Clint Bowyer 10. Brad Keselowski.

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