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The racing season, even with the successful implementation of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format, still relies heavily on consistency. Strong finishes in the first 26 races can pretty much guarantee a driver will be in the championship battle during the final 10 weeks.
So I must admit to some eye-rolling at times when, at the end of a given race, the second-place finisher was interviewed and came across as being slightly peevish over the fact that he didn't end up just one spot better.
When you’re in this thing for the long haul, working systematically to compile a points total that will ensure your inclusion on the Top 12 list at the end of the year, what’s the problem with second place? What are you complaining about? Second place is pretty good, right?
Wrong. In addition to being disingenuous, this attitude is downright dumb.
This was driven home to me a couple of weeks ago, on one of the most ignominious days of my NASCAR life, when I scored second place nationally in the Buzztime Race Day Trivia game.
I have to tell you in all honesty, this was galling. Second place in Race Day Trivia? Am I not supposed to know my stuff?
Buzztime Trivia, in case you haven’t seen or played it, is a national trivia game network that serves more than 3,000 bars and restaurants in the United States.The questions—usually 15 per game—appear on a television screen, and you answer them at your table on a little box called a Playmaker.
Your log-in name is limited to six letters, and frequent players, sometimes referred to as pointy-headed intellectuals by their nearest and dearest friends, generally either use their actual names, or come up with some sort of goofy acronym. Mine, for example, is UNCSU. (Part of the fun of acronyms is trying to figure out what they mean, so you’re on your own with that one.)
The games are themed, making it fairly understandable why I might consider Race Day Trivia my personal domain of dorkdom. After each game, the top 20 individual winners are broadcast in a “Network Rankings” summary. At any given time, you are going head-to-head with thousands of players all across the country, so if you finish in the Top 20, that’s not too shabby.
Yeah, right. That's the kind of platitude you hear falling from the lips of some girl who regularly punches in at the top of the clock. When the same girl finishes in second place, she sings a slightly different tune.
I guess I could better accept my second-place citizenship had I been playing against the likes of Jeff Gordon (4TIME), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (FANFAV) or somebody like that. But I’m pretty sure neither of those guys was bellied up to the bar at a wing joint, hunched protectively over their trivia boxes, because I happen to know for a fact that both of them were at Texas Motor Speedway on the day in question, preparing to race.
The same thing applies to the NASCAR beat writers, and the TV and radio broadcast professionals. I would expect my brain to be bludgeoned by someone such as the Charlotte Observer’s David Poole, FOX broadcaster Darrell Waltrip or MRN’s Eli Gold, but to be bested by someone calling himself (or herself) “LGTWGT” is a cross I cannot bear.
Perhaps I’m making too much of this, being weighed down as I am by the enormous chip now resting miserably on my shoulder like a second evil head (I’ve even given him a name; I call him CHIP), but I’m thinking LGTWGT could well be an acronym for Lightweight.
So what we have here is a situation where someone named Lightweight, hanging out on a Sunday afternoon at some watering hole in Topeka with a name like Losers Lair, knows more about NASCAR trivia than I do.
Even worse, he (or she) proved it, in front of a national audience.
This is in equal parts unbearable and eye-opening.
Competitors compete. It is more than what they do; it is who they are. The driver in 43rd place on Sunday afternoon is trying just as hard to work his way to the 42nd position as the second-place guy is to pass the leader. The inability to accomplish that is simply unacceptable.
So from this day forward, when I’m listening to the second- through fifth-place finishers being interviewed after the race, I will not shake my head in disgust if they sound more than a little disappointed. Instead, I will nod vigorously in agreement.
While it is an amazing accomplishment to be one in a group of only 43, and truly phenomenal to be one of a mere 12, in the end, there is only one spot on the list which provides total satisfaction.
Dorothy Gale may have gotten it right when she stated “There’s no place like home,” but the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wasn’t racing in Oz back then.
Had that been the case, Dorothy would no doubt have realized what NASCAR’s superstars have always known: There’s no place like first.
Cathy Elliott worked for seven years as the director of public relations for Darlington Raceway. She also writes a monthly column for the NASCAR Insider section of Speedway Illustrated magazine. Contact her at email@example.com.