It’s officially the NASCAR offseason, which means we can all make like Dale Earnhardt Jr. – sit back, relax, and enjoy football season.
Well, almost. As exciting as championship weekend was – from Martin Truex Jr. winning his first Cup Series title, to his girlfriend being healthy enough to see it all, to Earnhardt’s last race – there were a lot of things that never made it into any stories.
That doesn’t mean those things weren’t weird or exciting or worth mentioning, though. So without further ado, I present to you the leftovers, the 13 things from championship weekend that didn’t fit anywhere else:
1. We’ve known for months that this would be Earnhardt’s final race, and the crowd that came out to Homestead-Miami Speedway was there as much for him as any championship contenders. The coolest part of it all, though, was when Earnhardt drove down pit road before the race and slapped the hands of every pit crew. That’s respect.
2. Even though Earnhardt wasn’t the winner (or even close, he finished 25th), he still was visible on stage with champion Martin Truex Jr., his good friend. Truex once slept on Earnhardt’s couch when he first moved to North Carolina, so they go way back, and it was cool to see them celebrating with one another.
3. Speaking of Truex ... there are so many cool angles to his story, but one logistical one that never got included: The smoke during his post-victory burnout was absolutely toxic. Neon green pillars, and such a horrible odor. Not that tires smell good, but Truex even told the media he was choking on the smoke from inside the car.
4. This one is cheating, but just a reminder how touching it was that Truex’s longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex was there to share the moment with him.
5. Not all, or even many, NASCAR stereotypes are true, but the one about beer everywhere is. There were even cases of it in the media center on Sunday night.
6. Truex’s favorite? No guarantee, but he was drinking a Michelob Ultra on Sunday.
7. Also staying true to his roots (and reminding us that athletes are normal people), Truex spent part of his media session asking about the Philadelphia Eagles score. They beat the Cowboys 37-9.
8. Kyle Busch was the championship runner-up, and rightfully so he was not pleased. He blamed Joey Logano for getting in his way and wasting too much of his tires on Sunday. Whether that’s true or not, he got guts for complaining after the race.
9. Kyle Larson has had an objectively not-good past few weeks, not even finishing four straight races. So it was encouraging to see him, a young star who was supposed to be competing for the title, finish third and salvage something at the season’s end.
10. Sunday’s Cup Series championship was announced as a sellout, and fo once I buy that. There were fans everywhere, and I hardly remember an empty space in the grandstands. That has as much to do with Earnhardt’s retirement as it does with the the championship.
11. Earnhardt is retired, but his replacement, Charlotte native Will Byron, stuck around to see him off. The torch has officially been passed.
12. Ford, whose cars Earnhardt never drove, had an awesome set of spin-outs on the straightaways to form an 88 in honor of Earnhardt. Again, respect.
13. Last one: Truex told a story after the race about how Darrell Gwynn, a famous drag racer and his personal friend, gave him a lucky rabbit’s foot before Sunday’s race as a goodwill token. If Truex won, Gwynn said, he got to keep it. Truex did, and will, and it’s a fitting next step for the foot, which apparently sat in Gwynn’s trophy case for 27 years.