Since November, my sports world has been almost nothing but success. It all started with my Astros winning the World Series. It has since bled over to my alma mater’s basketball team, the Houston Cougars, beating AAC powerhouses Cincinnati and Wichita State for a 21-5 record and essentially guaranteeing a bid to the tournament. I’ve even gotten to enjoy the Rockets slowly conquering the West. Yesterday however, God sent me a direct message proving this streak is more than just luck but by divined authority. If you are like a majority of the millennial population then there is a good chance you missed the sports spectacle that occurred. Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500, claiming only his second career victory. If you actually keep up with NASCAR then you know how big of a deal this is. If you actually cheer for Austin Dillon then you know how sweet the “I told you so” has been.
When I decided to become more invested in NASCAR four years ago, I chose Austin Dillon as my driver. For any fair-weather NASCAR fan, four years ago a common response would have been, “who?” Another common expression would have been, “why?” Maybe it was the fact that he was from North Carolina, my birth state and the heart of NASCAR. Or maybe it was because of the history RCR (Richard Childress Racing) and the #3 car has on racing. More than likely however, I suspect the main reason I chose to start obnoxiously cheering for AD was because he was a young talent that would eventually become a threat no one else was cheering for. Sure I could have started cheering for Jimmy Johnson or Chase Elliott but where is the fun in joining that cult when instead you could help start a new cult and brag about being a longtime member.
“Oh you just drank the Kool-Aid? Wow, they didn’t even make pink lemonade back in my day.”
I know four years is not a longtime for die hard NASCAR fans but to be fair, the sport has done a pretty great job of completely ignoring my generation. I may be late to the party but I’ll try my best to shotgun a few extras and catch up. When it comes to sports misery however, I have been belligerent my entire life. I have suffered through years of disappointing sports. I cheered for the Panthers during both of their Super Bowls. I willingly chose to cheer for the Lastros when no one else would show up to games. The joke is on them though; a $5 ticket to sit behind the dugout in a nearly empty ballpark is spectacular. Regardless of how terrible the team was, that club was due for something great again and even if it took 30 more years, I could eventually shove my obnoxiously orange Astros hat in everyone else’s face. Thankfully it didn’t take 30 years but even if it takes 30 more, I have earned that pride and that shame. I bought and wore those horrible black and maroon hats and jerseys. I suffered through the NL to AL transition. From here on out, no matter how bad the Astros get, I can always rep that H as World Series champions.
It’s a similar situation with the University of Houston. Surprisingly, it’s the third largest school in Texas with a spectacular sports history ranging from Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler with Phi Slama Jama to golf legends like Fred Couples and Fuzzy Zoeller and even historic Olympian Carl Lewis. Even still, after being left out of the transition from the Southwest Conference to the Big 12, the Coogs have been stuck in the G5 powerhouse territory. No matter their level of success in every sport, the Big 12 Texas schools will never show full acknowledgment, which irritates UH fans even more. It’s like the son that keeps unsuccessfully trying to impress his step-dad. Regardless of knowing his accomplishments are great and that dead-beat father’s approval really doesn’t matter, he won’t give up till he gets it. Essentially, UH athletics needs therapy more than Tony Soprano. After the absurd football, basketball and baseball facility expansions and updates as well as being consistently success in all three sports, it is becoming a lot easier to rep that red UH logo in Austin.
Since Austin Dillon’s first full season of Monster Cup (or Sprint Cup technically) Series racing, AD has gotten progressively better. Starting in the 2014 season, AD has finished 20th, 21st, 14th, and 11th last year, in order. Wearing the red and black 3 shirt to my first Dega race in 2016 received a lot of confusion when they discovered it was for AD and not Earnhardt but watching AD finish 3rd made it worth it. Since his first Monster Cup win last year in Charlotte, he has become an up-and-comer on many NASCAR fan’s radar, but still not a popular name to reference for a chance to win the Daytona 500. According to Vegas, Dillon had a +4000 chance to win the race with only five other racers having less of a chance. Some of the other racers picked by Vegas to have the worst odds of winning were Ryan Newman +5000 who finished 8th, Darrell Wallace Jr. +5000 finished 2nd, and Paul Menard +6600 finished 6th. Essentially, if someone had put all of their money on the bottom 5 drivers Vegas picked not to win, they would currently be the wealthiest NASCAR fan in the world, which probably isn’t a massive feat.
This win for AD might have even given those displaced Dale Earnhardt fans a new car to cheer for. Since Dale Earnhardt Jr. retired last year, Earnhardt fans, which account for a majority of NASCAR fans, have become a little lost. The 20 year anniversary of Dale winning the Daytona 500 and exactly 17 years after he fatally passed away in a crash, AD won in Dale’s #3 car. To make matters even more superstitious, AD thanked a fan for the lucky penny he received before the race which was a significant part of Dale’s Daytona 500 win 20 years prior. Acknowledging all the extreme significance of his win, AD gave a huge shout out to all the Dale Earnhardt fans immediately after winning which was greeted by thunderous applause and cheer.
Some degenerate low-life’s that can’t ever enjoy anything good have started suggesting his win was dirty. This is due to the fact that AD seemed to purposely wreck Almirola on the last lap to take the lead for the win. They make this claim regardless of their infatuation for Dale Earnhardt, The Intimidator. Here’s the deal, it’s the Daytona 500. This is an important fact to remember for a few reasons. 1) Daytona has the second most wrecks of any NASCAR track, only behind Talladega. In this race, 14 drivers crashed out of the 40 that started the race. One of the main reasons for its danger brings us to my next point. 2) Daytona is a plate race. This means the cars have to use restrictor plates that limit the power output which slows the acceleration and top speed. Due to this, drivers are forced to make pushes more often as maneuvers to take the lead. When it is the last lap of the Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing in a plate race, a push is to be expected. AD made his push and Almirola tried to block. You can’t expect AD to back off and willingly take a loss when he is currently pushing to win the race. Almirola made the move to block just a little too late and he suffered the consequences. Both drivers even stated how that is the nature of the race during their interviews and Almirola wasn’t upset about the move at all. Claiming AD doesn’t deserve that win because of a wreck is like claiming the Astros doesn’t deserve their WS win because the league was juicing the balls. Both figured out a way to win the most important event given their rules.
The rest of the NASCAR season will surely be an interesting one for AD fans from here on out. It is definitely a strange sport to host their “Super Bowl” as the first event of the season. Maybe this is a sign he will continue to get wins this season. Or maybe this will be his only win, in which case I will be happy either way. Even if the Astros don’t win the World Series next season, at least they won last year. It will be interesting to see how much longer my sports world remains on fire. The Houston Cougars will determine that will how far they get in the tournament this March. If they somehow make it to the Sweet Sixteen, my world will continue to burn. Regardless, this hot streak for my favorite teams and driver is not something I am use to in my life and it is nice. This must be what people my age growing up in Boston feel like every year. Now I understand why people still choose to live in that cold, horrible accent, clam-smelling cesspool of a city. I’ll just keep letting my sports world burn as I bask in Austin Dillon’s Daytona 500 win and wait for it to inevitably collapse back to reality. Until then, it’s NASCAR season baby.