14 from ’14, Day 6: Kevin Harvick, the NASCAR championship, and what doesn’t get written

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 7.55.01 PMContinuing to run through my work from 2014. Back to Florida!

This year’s NASCAR championship was one of the most dramatic in the sport’s history, with four drivers all entering the race with an equal chance to win. Spoiler: it was Kevin Harvick.

Now, here’s a look at how the sausage gets made. Yahoo Sports, being an Internet site, and Internet, which is short for “Instant Terrific Netting” (or something like that, whatever), I have to have a big story ready to go right when the checkered flag waves, when the final putt drops, when the clock ticks down to 0:00, or whenever a damn baseball game ends. I’m then free to run about and see what kinds of stories I can dig up while readers are having their say about whether Harvick is a legit champion. Here’s that article, which is pretty straightforward stuff.

Now, at NASCAR tracks this involves running from one end of pit road to the other, trying to track down three drivers at once, all of whom are headed in opposite directions and none of whom have any interest in talking to anyone except the pilot on their engine-warming private plane. With most sports, you can station yourself in one tunnel or at one doorway and count on catching the relevant figures at one point. At a NASCAR track, there are literally dozens of possible ways to evade interviews. Combine that with the fact that drivers are, you know, DRIVING very large cars as they head in your direction, and it can be a wee bit tricky to get anything decent. (Don’t let Bill Belichick know about this; he’ll have a Humvee take him from every field and run over whatever media member gets in his way.)

Anyway, every so often this kind of lunatic pandemonium results in some great tidbits, and sometimes those great tidbits, all told, don’t quite make for a complete story. So here’s what I observed in the first minutes after the Homestead race ended.

Denny Hamlin was heartbroken. He pulled his FedEx #11 into pit road and clambered out, looking dazed. He had none other than Michael Jordan waiting there to greet him. MJ did a convincing impression of feigning sympathy — he doesn’t know what it’s like to lose a championship, after all — but of all the four championship contenders, Hamlin was the most lost.

Joey Logano walked almost alone through the garage. This was nothing short of astonishing, considering the fact that an hour earlier, he’d been one of the four most visible drivers in the sport. But here he was, victim of a poor pit stop, walking with determination. Only one fan spotted him and got an autograph, and then Logano walked right between two haulers and disappeared into his own, alone.

Logano had walked right past Ryan Newman, who was standing in the middle of the garage talking to his crew chief and a couple other colleagues, a weary smile on his face. Newman was the guy who wasn’t even supposed to be here, and although losing had to be a disappointment, he was playing with house money all Chase long. He, of the four finalists, was the one who was the most accommodating to fans, posing for pictures and signing autographs for a good 15 minutes.

Out on the track, Kevin Harvick and crew were enjoying the fruits of victory — said fruits including 50 cases of Budweiser, as my colleague Geoffrey Miller learned. They would be partying late into the evening and on into the morning, and they may not have stopped yet.

So there you go. Four drivers, four short stories, only one happy ending.

Previous 14 from ’14:
Day 1: In victory lane for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Daytona 500 win
Day 2: US Open: A father, a son, a wheelchair, and Phil Mickelson
Day 3: Which college boasts the three best cross-sport athletes?
Day 4: FSU-Miami: Why won’t you die, Florida State?
Day 5: NFL playoffs: The refs robbed the Panthers!

Jay

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