It was another big weekend for NASCAR drivers from Las Vegas.
On Friday, 18-year-old Dylan Kwasniewski became the first driver to win championships in each of NASCAR’s developmental touring divisions in back-to-back seasons; on Sunday, 35-year-old Kurt Busch drove a car painted up in Wonder Bread colors, like Ricky Bobby in the movies.
This being NASCAR, it’s probably not hard to guess which of these occurrences generated the most publicity.
But this is why if you don’t follow professional stock car racing, perhaps you should.
Of all the sports that have lucrative TV deals, NASCAR is the only one that doesn’t mind looking in the mirror and chuckling, or poking itself in the ribs. Unlike the stick-and-ball sports and pro golf, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
When Jimmie Johnson lines up Dale Earnhardt Jr. for a pass, the guy in the scorer’s stand does not put out the QUIET! flag like those course marshals do when Tiger or Phil or even Vijay Singh is lining up a putt, though I’ve heard John Daly doesn’t mind too much when people in his gallery whisper.
The reason Kurt Busch was sporting red, yellow and blue balloons on the sheet metal on the No. 78 Chevrolet at Talladega Superspeedway was that was the car Will Ferrell drove in “Talladega Nights.” I did not see this movie, but my racing buds said it made light of every NASCAR stereotype you could think of plus a few others.
There’s even a driver from France who comes over from Formula One, and he’s portrayed by the guy who plays “Borat,” and in the movie he’s openly gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But having been to some of these races, and having hung out at Handsome Harry Gant’s souvenir trailer, I would hold that most NASCAR fans do not like people from France as much as they like people from one of the Carolinas or Alabama or even Missouri, which is where Carl Edwards is from.
All of that aside, I think it’s cool that NASCAR allows Kurt Busch to drive a Wonder Bread car, and earlier this season, a City Chevrolet car, like Tom Cruise drove in “Days of Thunder.”
Major League Baseball, for instance, would never acquiesce to the Chicago Cubs wearing “Bad News Bears” uniforms, or to the Oakland A’s sporting the duds of “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings,” not even on Throwback Night, or on Turn Back the Clock Night, or on Billy Dee Williams Night.
Two days before Kurt Busch invoked the legend of Ricky Bobby, young Dylan Kwasniewski invoked the legends of Kurt Busch, and of Kurt’s younger brother Kyle (who finished fifth at Talladega but was not sporting a paint scheme inspired by a stock car movie), by winning on the famous road course at Road Atlanta, thereby clinching the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship.
It was his sixth win of the season and he led from start to finish, which is the way that Sebastian Vettel guy does it in Formula One.
Last year, when he was 17 and still had oily skin, Kwasniewski won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West title. K&N does not sponsor Pro Series in the North or South, so next season Kwasniewski probably will be racing in the Nationwide Series, if he can find a ride.
The last driver to win different NASCAR championships in consecutive seasons was a fellow named Mike Stefanik, who captured the Whelan Modified and K&N East crowns in 1997 and ’98. Mike Stefanik is now 55, and he still races modifieds.
But two other drivers in the exclusive club of lead foots to have won back-to-back titles in distinct divisions were named Allison (Bobby) and Petty (Lee); this is why I expect Dylan Kwasniewski will have little trouble securing a ride in the Nationwide Series, or in the Craftsman Truck Series, on his way to the big-time.
He’s young and he’s fast and he wears his hair like Justin Bieber and he’s media savvy. He’s good with the Twitter, like Brad Keselowski. He has a guy who puts together highlight packages for YouTube after each of his races; they are professionally edited with a country-rock soundtrack.
Dylan Kwasniewski even does a video blog for The Huffington Post. You can understand him much better than you can understand Arianna Huffington.
This is a kid who is headed up the ladder. I predict he’s gonna get to the top in a hurry, especially if he’s amenable to driving a car painted up like Brewster Baker’s and hiring the “Six Pack” as his pit crew.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski