Mercifully, there was none of that during the Harrah's 500, though there were 10 caution flags flown. Stewart, who started 41st, managed to work his way up 18 spots, finishing 23rd. The maneuvering took some doing, some battling with the other drivers, not to mention his crew chief, who prodded Stewart to push himself, and the car, harder. He did that, smacking into the opposition, banging up the hood, and then stopping in the pit for a quick fix before shooting off again like a man possessed. In a circle. Again. And again.
To tell the truth, racing never made sense to me. A flock of cars rushing around angrily seemed more like an exercise in futility, or stupidity, than a sport. Leave that to the good ol' boys, I thought; I'd rather watch hoops or football or something that doesn't require a fire-retardant suit. Or, for that matter, a liability waiver.
Tony Stewarts car, the first in line below, is sponsored by what large hardware concern?
Jim Murray, legendary L.A. Times columnist whose words were as smooth as they were telling, once went to an event only to bear witness to several fiery wrecks. "Gentlemen, start your coffins" was the now-famous lead to his story that day. It's as poignant and biting now as it was then, because, to a certain degree, it does feel as though NASCAR is enabling unnecessary temerity.
Maybe I still don't quite understand the sport, the affection for sparkplugs and tires and point standings. Maybe I'm still on the outside of the garage staring in through greasy windows.
But the balls, well, the balls would be hard not to understand. Or respect.