My Brain on NASCAR: Path to victory lane a drive-through window?

I am starting to think we have become a nation of fast-food sports fans.

One of the racing-related things I often do to amuse myself is take a very informal poll on Tuesday or Wednesday of each week. This consists of me engaging in random conversations with people that I know follow racing, and suddenly asking, “Hey, do you remember who won the NASCAR race last weekend?”

You would be surprised by the number of people who have no clue what the answer is, unless their particular driver of choice went to Victory Lane.

Then I’ll follow up with, “Well, do you remember who won the Daytona 500 this year?”

Cue the chirping cricket choir on that one.

I’m having trouble with this, because I can’t figure out what triggers our NASCAR memory centers. These same people know who won the Super Bowl several months ago. They know which team was shown cutting down the nets at this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament final as the always-spectacular “One Shining Moment” played in the background. On Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, they will be able to tell me in a split second who won The Masters.

But on that same day, will they be able to tell me who won the April 14 race at Texas Motor Speedway? Unless that driver is Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Danica Patrick, I seriously doubt it.

I’m puzzled because in many critical categories, NASCAR is kicking the proverbial asphalt. The composition of the traditional “Big Four” sports — the NFL, , NBA, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League — has experienced a shakeup in recent years. NASCAR has put a pretty definitive body check on hockey, basically knocking it down to fifth place in popularity.

These days, most people who sort of know what they’re talking about would rank NASCAR the second-highest of the new “Big Four,” based on things like average event attendance, merchandise sales, TV ratings and, in this brave new technological world of ours, on social media interaction. NASCAR rules Twitter.

The “too many NASCAR races” argument doesn’t hold water when you consider the 162-game MLB schedule or the 82-game regular season schedule of the NBA, and that doesn’t even include the playoffs for either sport. Granted, the racing season is long, but fans are only committing to a single NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race each week. How many hours of TV does an avid Chicago Cubs fan watch each week, I wonder? A whole lot more than four.

The issue seems to be not what we see, but what we remember. You might not be able to tell me who won the race at California Speedway earlier this season, but I’m betting you know that contact between Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano resulted in a fractured spine and a minimum of six weeks out of the car for Hamlin.

Same thing with the Phoenix International Raceway event at the end of last season. Who won? Don’t remember. Who engaged in a well-publicized tangle that has carried over into the current season? Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer, of course; how could anyone forget THAT?

I suspect our athletic taste buds have become desensitized, only sitting up and paying attention when something dramatic happens, in the same way your palate reacts to a jalapeno pepper after a steady diet of oatmeal.

In NASCAR, as in nutrition, it is important to appreciate the steady-yet-tasty diet that keeps those wheels rolling on a consistent basis. A jolt of something different is a good thing, but too much of it could result in a nasty case of indigestion. Even the magnificent McRib is available for a limited time only; just something to think about.

By the way, Jimmie Johnson won the Daytona 500 this year. He also won last weekend’s race … just in case anybody asks.

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