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Saturday, March 16, 2013
You might be a NASCAR fan if ...

By David Newton
ESPN.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- You might be a redneck if you speed up your RV to pose in a Dale Earnhardt Jr. jacket for the police camera on Highway 11E near Bristol Motor Speedway.

You might be a redneck if you think the purse for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at BMS is something a burglar might snatch from your wife.

You might be a redneck if you think Tennessee's French Broad River is a resort area off the coast of France.

Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski says it's time for everyone around the sport to quit walking on eggshells.

You might be a redneck if you think the "World's Fastest Half Mile" is the distance between you and the Porta-John.

These don't rival the redneck jokes of Jeff Foxworthy, who was at BMS for Saturday's Nationwide Series race to promote his grit chips -- it's apparently a "redneck's dream" to have your name as a race title. They don't come close to Foxworthy's all-time favorite NASCAR line: "If your son's name is Dale Jr. and your name is not Dale, you might be a redneck."

But these jokes are a reminder that NASCAR could -- and should -- learn from the comedian that it's all right to laugh at yourself from time to time.

You know, not take everything so seriously, as the governing body did when it fined Denny Hamlin $25,000 for being critical of the Gen-6 car.

"He has humility, and that's good," said reigning Cup champion Brad Keselowski, who has won two of the past three Bristol races. "We could use more of that."

Amen. The sport could use some comic relief in a season overshadowed by the horrific crash in the Nationwide Series opener at Daytona International Speedway, a Nationwide driver being suspended for using a racial slur in the presence of an MTV blogger, controversy over the NRA sponsoring a Cup race in Texas and Hamlin's fine that never would have happened if officials weren't so oversensitive to comments about the new car.

The sport could use comic relief to stop fans from being so critical of the racing to the point it has NASCAR and drivers on edge.

"Everybody is on eggshells," said Keselowski, who was called to the chairman's office before the opener for making critical remarks. "Drivers are on eggshells. I think the fans are on egg shells. The media is on eggshells. The sanctioning body is on eggshells.

"You get the collective sense in this sport that everyone is feeling a lot of pressure and if we don't have a perfect week every week, everybody just kind of shakes down in their boots."

Maybe the craziness that often comes with Bristol will make everyone forget the problems the sport faces. Maybe the race will be like it was in August, when tempers flared and the slide move created drama that equaled the excitement of the old bump-and-run.

Remember? Tony Stewart tossed his helmet into the hood of Matt Kenseth's car after they wrecked on Lap 334, then boldly said, "I'm going to run over him every chance I've got from now 'til the end of the year."

Remember? Danica Patrick pitched a finger-pointing tantrum at Regan Smith after Smith wrecked her to spoil a surprising top-20 run.

If they get that on Sunday, the whining and moaning of the first four weeks surely will cease for a while.

But if the race isn't one dramatic moment after another, there's no need to get tied up in knots.

Treat it like a Foxworthy joke.

"NASCAR has always kind of given me a lot of material," Foxworthy said. "I probably will get in trouble, but I kind of like it when you've got a little 'Hee Haw' going on. I mean, like Denny the past couple of weeks. I'm like, 'Go, boy! This makes it fun.'

"Cause sometimes I think we miss a little bit of that. For people who have been around a long time, that's kind of what we've been missing with old No. 3. He kind of knew how to keep the pot stirred a little bit. It gets boring if you don't stir the pot once in a while."

Foxworthy paused.

"Now I'll probably get called into Mike's [NASCAR chairman Mike Helton] office," he joked. "Double-secret probation."

For the record, Foxworthy has no Patrick jokes, although he was sorry to hear she wasn't in the Nationwide race.

"If she was in the race, I was going to say, 'All y'all, start your engines,' " Foxworthy said.

Go ahead, laugh. Have fun with the sport.

Remember, as Foxworthy reminded us, it's still cool to come to a race at Bristol.

"It's cooler in person than I thought it would be, and I thought it would be cool," he said.

It's a shame people are so wound up about everything that they lose sight of that. Everyone should sit back and make up a Foxworthy joke, as Carl Edwards did for me.

"I at one time had more cars that didn't run than did run, so that was one of those things that made me a redneck," Edwards said. "It's pretty funny for [Foxworthy] to be able to poke fun at himself and all of us the way he does.

"Look, if you can't laugh at yourself, it's going to be a miserable life for you."

Much of this season has been made miserable because expectations for the new car were set way too high. Some are putting so much emphasis on the car being the savior and filling the stands again that they forget the great stories -- such as Patrick winning the pole and finishing eighth in the Daytona 500, Edwards ending a 70-race losing streak at Phoenix, and Matt Kenseth getting his first win for Joe Gibbs Racing at Las Vegas.

The sport is on eggshells as many were at Bristol after this race last year. The backlash over the lack of drama after Keselowski led 232 laps forced Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman Bruton Smith to grind the top lane in an attempt to bring back the mayhem.

Edwards I at one time had more cars that didn't run than did run, so that was one of those things that made me a redneck. It's pretty funny for [Jeff Foxworthy] to be able to poke fun at himself and all of us the way he does. Look, if you can't laugh at yourself, it's going to be a miserable life for you.

-- Carl Edwards

It didn't work out quite the way he planned. The grinding was supposed to make the bottom groove dominant and force drivers to use the old bump-and-run to pass. Instead, the high groove became the fastest way around this football-like facility and the slide move was prevalent.

But fans were happy.

Life was good again.

"It's so difficult to get the recipe right," points leader Jimmie Johnson says. "For the longest time, we didn't think the racing was all that good [at Bristol] from a competitor's standpoint. But we had a sold-out event here with a long waiting list.

"They change it, drivers are happy, the track is very racy, but you can't sell out the spring race. Last year's race we were all fighting for one lane which was at the top instead of the bottom. Somebody throws a helmet and it's considered a good race. So I'm not sure racing and entertainment kind of go in the same piece."

Yes it does. That's what makes Bristol one of the most anticipated stops of the season.

But this race shouldn't be the measuring stick by which the new car or the sport is judged.

"I don't think this weekend here in Bristol needs to be a savior at all," said pole winner Kyle Busch, who led both practices on Saturday. "We all just need to go out here and put on a good show and enjoy Bristol for what Bristol is and see what happens Sunday."

Exactly. Stop walking on eggshells.

Find something to laugh about, as Foxworthy did when asked how his grit chips compared to the Earnhardt Jr. chips.

"I didn't know Junior had chips," he said. "We may have to go rasslin' in the infield after this."

Must be a redneck joke in there somewhere.