The best of both worlds

Bayne, Gordon give NASCAR ideal storylines to start year

March 02, 2011|By George Diaz

Short of Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning the Daytona 500 — a scenario that would have prompted Tony Kornheiser and others to scream "Shenanigans!" — NASCAR could not have scripted a better way to start the 2011 season.

A refreshing new face popped out of the cluster of cars to win the Daytona 500.

And a revered old one took a big step toward relevancy the next week in Phoenix.

Trevor Bayne and Jeff Gordon represent a nice link to NASCAR's present and past.

Bayne is among the new generation of rising, marketable stars.

Gordon is the old guard, even though he's not yet 40.

At the very least, they have allowed fans to focus on new storylines beyond the obvious choices — Jimmie Johnson's dominance and Earnhardt Jr.'s doldrums.

Gordon ended a 66-race victory drought with a triumph at Phoenix. His 83rd career victory moves him into a tie with Cale Yarborough for fifth all time.

Another victory will tie him with another legendary pair of racers, Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip.

"I hope we don't have to wait as long to tie Darrell and Bobby as it took us to tie Cale," Gordon said. "Actually, I already have accomplished way more than I thought I ever would in NASCAR.

"It's not about where I rank on a list or who I might be compared to. It's about the desire to win, though, and that desire remains strong in me and in this team."

Gordon and Bayne also share a curious piece of connective tissue.

Bayne grew up idolizing Gordon. He had the posters, the pictures and the Jeff Gordon lunch box to prove it.

Bayne was about 5 when his father took him to a race. He managed to snag a photo-op with Gordon. Bayne was wearing his Jeff Gordon gear to make the Hallmark moment complete.

One neat postscript from last week: After Bayne won the 500, one of the first drivers to congratulate him at Victory Lane was Gordon.

Fans have been taking notice of the neat storylines.

Fox earned a 5.3 rating and an 11 share from Phoenix on Sunday, making it the highest rating of the weekend for any sports event.

Through the two-week window, NASCAR on Fox is averaging a 6.8/15, representing a 13 percent gain over last year's numbers that the Vancounver Winter Olympics affected.

Attendance may be a different story as the weeks progress, especially because of rising gas prices.

But NASCAR should take these feel-good stories and numbers and run with them — all the way to the season finale in Homestead.

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