I couldn't help but get chills thinking of the possiblities next year's Nextel Cup season will bring with Dale Earnhardt Jr. driving for Hendrick Motorsports. Long considered one of the top drivers on the circuit, Junior will now have the resources to prove it. It's scary to think what he could do with the toys Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have been playing with.
Yet, there lies the paradox...
Let me take you back to my first experience at a NASCAR race. It was the Winston 500 in 1999 at Talladega Superspeedway. I was a novice to the sport, knowing just enough to know who the drivers were, but little about fan support. Jeff Gordon was riding a two-race winning streak, and dominating that day. He would lead more laps than any driver that day. I was on pit row, so I couldn't see the whole track, but at one point, I noticed nearly all of the 200,000 fans stand up and starting cheering. I could actually hear the cheering over the noise of the cars and with head phones on! I naively thought they were excited for Gordon. But what they were all cheering about was Dale Earnhardt had just passed Gordon and would go on to win the race.
A year later, I was in the pits at Texas Motor Speedway when the crowd did nearly the exact same thing. They all stood up in unison and went crazy. This time it was for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who took the lead and would go on to win his first Nextel Cup (Winston Cup then) race.
Jeff Gordon is the anti-Earnhardt. They are opposites. Their fans don't like each other or their racers. So to have them team up is like Al Gore joining forces with George Bush. It's like Lucy allowing Charlie Brown to actually kick the ball. It's crazy!
I don't know how many races Junior will win at Hendrick Motorsports. I don't know how many Gordon and Johnson will let him win. Do you really think Gordon will bump draft Junior to a victory? Heck no! He's going to hang him to dry and go for the win. I would expect nothing less. That's why this is going to be so much fun.