Tradition. On Sunday, we learned that tradition means something. We learned it is actually worth waiting for its return, though why it took NASCAR a decade to solve the hot, muggy conditions of a day race in early September by simply moving it to the evening still boggles the mind. The Southern 500 was back, back to where and when it belonged, along with throwback paint schemes and other nods to the past. Tradition.
We learned that Ken Squier should be cloned. He is to auto racing what Vin Scully is to baseball, a poet with a microphone who has the gift to paint vivid pictures through prose, to enhance the action we see with our own eyes, to allow us to commune with the best of the sport’s past even as we watch its future unfold before us. One is an 80-year-old legend who we got to hear from again on Sunday night, the other is an 87-year old Dodger icon. We learned that sometimes the best of what is has been with us all along. Tradition.
Jeff Gordon, for one. Seven times he managed to not just survive but to thrive on the track too tough to tame over the course of his career. He finished 16th on Sunday in his event curtain call. Jimmie Johnson, a six-time Cup king and three-time Darlington winner, was 19th. These two eventual Hall of Famers were seen last weekend in the company as such past stars as Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, and Bill Elliott. Terry Labonte was the Grand Marshal. Ned Jarrett was put to work in the broadcast booth, alongside his son Dale. Tradition.
We learned that even though it is possible for 26 drivers to win a race from Daytona in February to Richmond later this month, it seems improbable. Only 11 different pilots have shaken the suds in Victory Lane this season, with the last first-time victor coming in the form of Martin Truex Jr. three months ago. For the second time this season it was Carl Edwards doing the backflip at the finish line, his first at Darlington’s Lady in Black. Once again, the same 16 drivers sitting in a Chase place coming in will be the same when they hit the line at Richmond next Saturday night.
Racing began in Darlington in 1950. Three years later, the Richmond tradition got its start. Potential winless Chasers have won there, including Gordon, Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer. Drivers such as Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne have claimed the prize before, and their only route to the Chase is to do it again this Saturday night. Of the quintet, though, only Bowyer has done so in the past decade. In fact, 19 of the other past 20 Richmond winners have already punched their tickets for this season’s Chase. Unless there is a break in tradition, the 20th should as well.
The 20 Richmond race winners over the past ten years include…
Kyle Busch (4)
Jimmie Johnson (3)
Kevin Harvick (3)
Denny Hamlin (2)
Kurt Busch (2)
Clint Bowyer (2)
Dale Earnhardt Jr.