Isn’t it funny- the ironic kind of funny? Think of how winning changes everything, including the narrative of a number of prominent drivers.
Just a year ago, the talking heads were talking about the “R” word (retirement) in relationship to Jeff Gordon. Now with three 2014 wins and a points lead, Big Daddy is suddenly rejuvinated, his back feels great, and they’re talking about the “Drive For Five.”
Just a few seasons ago, hater sites were having a field day with Dale Earnhardt Jr., chronicling every missed pit stop, every stray turn and every argument over his radio. This season, he has multiple wins in a season for the first time in a decade. Now- the “C” word (championship) is being discussed, and as for the talk that “Lil E” is overrated? Ha! To be sure, Earnhardt will never be his father, but he never was, nor did he ever claim to be.
It wasn’t more than over a year ago, Sliced Bread was Burnt Toast. Critics were using the “B” word (bust) when talking about Joey Logano. Now, Logano has two wins on the 2014 campaign, and is seemingly in the running every week. Having Penske power under the hood sure doesn’t hurt, but you have to close the deal, and Kid Joey is doing it.
Speaking of Penske, how about Brad Keselowski? Critics were using the “F” word (not that one, the word “fluke”) in relation to his 2012 Cup championship. Now that he has a trio of wins, Bad Brad is third in points- just ahead of his teammate Logano- and suddenly, the Michigander looks like his championship self.
Not winning changes things too. After seven visits to victory lane in 2013, Matt Kenseth is inside the Chase bubble, but not by much. Needless to say, Tony Stewart is dealing with much bigger issues right now, but putting that aside for a moment, Smoke hadn’t been first to the checkered flag yet- very “un-Tony” like. Even in his truncated 2013 campaign, Stewart had collected a victory before going down with an injury.
The fact of the matter is, if you’ve made to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, you aren’t a racing chump. The sports media and the critics hop on every little trend and magnify it by a factor of five, as if anyone who is struggling has forgotten to drive. It happens in other sports too. Even though his team made the NBA playoffs, Coach Lionel Hollins was shown the door after his Memphis Grizzlies lost a playoff series. Here in my native northwest, Caleb Porter of the MLS Portland Timbers was named Coach of The Year. In 2014, the Timbers are just keeping their heads above water and critics are calling for his head. Enjoy the moment, appreciate your wins, because things turn quickly.
Winning changes everything. Quicker than you can wave that checkered flag, you can go from zero to hero.