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Politics and NASCAR.....

Politics and NASCAR.....

John McCain, just a good ol' boy.... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Arizona's John McCain, a long-time NASCAR man, will probably show up for Sunday's Phoenix 500. McCain, a popular, folksy sort, usually does.
   And it may be interesting to hear what he has to say, after this week's elections.
   NASCAR and politics is always an interesting study.
   Wonder if there's anything for NASCAR and its promoters and sponsors to learn from this election's curious demographics?
   This election cycle, as far as the stock car racing world played into it, was quite low-keyed, compared to others, such as Ronald Reagan's celebrated Daytona trip...and Bill Clinton's 1992 Darlington visit...and George Bush's Daytona tour....
    Nothing quite like watching Air Force One landing just behind the backstretch at Daytona.
    The NASCAR world's on-and-off fascination with presidential politics probably first came to the fore prominently when Georgia's Jimmy Carter, a long-time fan not just from his Atlanta days but Norfolk, Va., too, invited the stock car gang up to the White House in 1978 for a cookout on the lawn. That was back in a rare 'Democrat' spell for these folks.
    Mostly stock car racing headliners and power brokers are pretty staunch Republicans. Mark Martin, also from Arkansas, even caught a little flack from fellow racers during the Clinton years...

  Tony Stewart and President Obama sharing a laugh at the White House, a trip every NASCAR champion now makes (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    The political thing in NASCAR has waxed and waned over the years.
    Politicians used to use NASCAR insatiably each election cycle.
   Not so much this season, though, for some reason. At least not all that publically.
   However some NASCAR team owners did have some political 'dinners' for Mitt Romney, and Richard Petty offered his iconic visage to a Romney rally just last week.  (Petty's own venture into North Carolina politics a while back didn't pan out so well.)
    Cale Yarborough was once a Democratic county commissioner in his South Carolina home.
   Junior Johnson was once a power, sort of, in North Carolina Democratic politics.
    Jeff Burton is sometimes mentioned as perhaps this sport's best potential candidate for some office, as well spoken and intellectual as he is, whenever he decides to quit driving.

  Michelle Obama at last fall's NASCAR championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Barack Obama has invited NASCAR's playoff contenders to the White House several times during his tenure, and Brad Keselowski or Jimmie Johnson should expect an invite too, after they wind up their title duel. Michelle Obama got a big-league NASCAR invite to last fall's Homestead 400 finale.
    Obama himself still hasn't shown up for a NASCAR race.
    But Mitt Romney made two appearances this season, though rain marred both, Daytona and Richmond.
    And George Bush 43 invited NASCAR's champion to the White House during his tenure, though he surprisingly never made it to a Texas Motor Speedway race while president.
    This election season not sure quite what to make of that once-vaunted 'NASCAR Dads' and 'NASCAR Moms' political demographic though. Not so long ago that was a hot button demographic.
     NASCAR's drivers themselves?
     Not even sure if anyone in the NASCAR media corps has even asked them about this year's deal.
     But then maybe they've just had enough of all the politics out in the NASCAR garage.


   Mitt Romney at Richmond (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Meanwhile out on the track...
     This Jimmie Johnson versus Brad Keselowski championship duel has become downright fascinating.
     Keselowski, despite Johnson's best punches, is refusing to go down for the count.
     And that may start to play on Johnson's head.

    Fans can only hope for a finish like Johnson, Keselowski and Busch put on at Texas. Of course that wild finish only highlighted the fact that the previous three hours was deathly boring. And ESPN's TV ratings showed that too -- down more than 10 percent from last fall's 500. ESPN showed the Texas 500 pulled only a 2.5 rating, down from last fall's anemic 2.8.

   That continues the decline of NASCAR's championship playoff races. Depending on what the full ratings show when released the Texas 500 could be one of the lowest watched chase races so far.  Still, ESPN says it was watched by some 3.9 million viewers.

     Each week, it seems, Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe find something new and unexpected to throw at Johnson and Chad Knaus.
     This weekend?
    Maybe it will be some move over on the 'kinky' backstretch of this recently repaved flat one-mile on the west side of town.
    "During the (April) race, we got some type of second lane working in turns three and four, which was different," Johnson says. 
    "The dogleg -- kink, or whatever it is on the backstraight -- there was a bit of chaos navigating that thing. Guys shooting across the flat, which led to some issues into the real turn three....
    "That is really the thing to be focused on. There might be some crashes caused from that."

   Phoenix, in the warm afternoon sun (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    As hot and heavy as the Johnson-Keselowski thing has turned these past few weeks, particularly since Denny Hamlin bowed out of the chase, most of the guys on the track have seemed to be doing little more than just going through the motions, trying to get to the end of the season.
    Mailing it in.
    As darkness enveloped Texas Motor Speedway Sunday evening some crew men were even grousing about their own drivers running with little fire in the belly.
    Of course as fast as Johnson has been, and as dominating, maybe most rivals figure 'why bother?'

    One man, though, who appears to be working for a fast finish to an otherwise disappointing chase is Jeff Gordon.
    This is a good track for Gordon. But he was one of the big complainers about the tires picked for this new asphalt, one reason for Goodyear's test here two weeks ago.
     "This year has been frustrating at times, but it's also been very rewarding too. With all the adversity we have faced during the year, the never-give-up attitude of this team allowed us to secure a spot in the chase.
     "You have to keep things in perspective and look at the positives. Even though it's not been the year we had hoped for, we have fought hard the entire season. All things considered, I think it's pretty impressive we're battling for a top-five finish in the standings."


   Maybe 'No Limits' is a good logo for this championship battle between Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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