Well-suited Sprint Cup stars becoming old hat at this tuxedo thing


As I was standing behind the velvet ropes Friday, waiting for the world's finest stock-car drivers to appear on the red carpet before the Sprint Cup Awards Ceremony at Wynn Las Vegas and do neck fidgets because the collars on their tuxedo shirts were too tight, I thought about what Robert Pattinson, the English actor (I believe), once said.

(Actually, my first thought was what George Gobel, the comedian and American actor, once said: "Do you ever get the feeling that the world was a tuxedo, and you were a pair of brown shoes?" But I used that one last year, and no two awards banquets, like no two races, are alike. Except, of course, the races on the 1.5-mile ovals, which are always boring.)

This guy Pattinson - who I think is famous for starring alongside Kristen Stewart in those teenage vampire movies, or dating her, or both - said his life's ambition was to play the piano in the south of France. That he went there once on holiday (i.e., vacation, if you are scoring in one of the NASCAR states), and saw a guy playing the piano while wearing an old tuxedo.

"He was all disheveled, with a whiskey glass on the piano," Pattinson said. "I thought that was the coolest thing. So what's happened to me in 'Twilight' wasn't really what I planned."

Substitute "can of Miller Lite" for "whiskey glass," add in a master of ceremonies and entertainers whose presence might seem odd, and that sort of sums up the Sprint Cup Awards Ceremony. Howie Mandel was this year's emcee, joined by performers Train, Lifehouse, Natasha Bedingfield and Phillip Phillips, which, if you ask me, hasn't been the same since Chynna embarked on her solo career.

(I would remind the surviving members of Molly Hatchet not to be too discouraged, because Michael Waltrip was 0-for-462 before he won the Daytona 500 twice. Ditto the Georgia Satellites.)

This was like the 462nd time in the past four days that Brad Keselowski was introduced as the new Sprint Cup champion. Only when series runner-up Clint Bowyer did it Thursday, it was on Twitter, to Bowyer's audience of 93,883 followers - and Keselowski was urinating in the corner of a hospitality tent.

This was before the annual "Victory Lap" down the Strip. The picture looked like the album cover of "Who's Next."

This was all part of the hazing that comes with being a Sprint Cup champion, especially a first-time champion.

Keselowski took it all in stride, though by Friday night he nearly had lost his voice - probably from doing roughly 462 interviews. But he came over to the velvet ropes to do a couple of more, and to shake the hands of the local reporters he remembered from Champions Week.

So I stand by my original statement. That this kid is going to be a popular champion, at least off the track.

And so it went on the red carpet, as it always goes on the red carpet.

Howie Mandel said he was a NASCAR fan, albeit "a late to the party one." (Translation: He's probably never seen a race.)

Johnny Damon, the ballplayer, was there for some reason, sporting a faux-hawk haircut that didn't appear aerodynamically efficient.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who this week again was voted the series' most popular driver by NASCAR fans, did not appear on the red carpet, thereby making him the least popular driver among NASCAR paparazzi.

Near as I could tell, Martin Truex Jr. didn't show either, though nobody seemed to notice.

Tony Stewart was last among the drivers to arrive. He was in a good mood, which is becoming fairly routine with him. He told me the first time he wore a tuxedo was to his junior prom. Must have been '88, he said.

"It was black, right?" I asked somewhat rhetorically.

"No - it was terrible," Stewart said.

"Was it blue?" I asked.

"No - it was terrible."

"Maroon then? With ruffles on the shirt? Like Adam Sandler in 'The Wedding Singer?' "

Stewart wouldn't say. One can only hope it didn't come with brown shoes.

It's easy to poke fun at the NASCAR drivers, and their fidgety necks, and their old blue or maroon dinner jackets on occasions such as these. But who am I to poke fun? The first tux I wore, to my senior prom, was powder blue. It should have come with an STP decal. I looked like a member of Richard Petty's pit crew.

Anyway, after Roger Penske walked past looking distinguished and suave and debonair, it was time to roll up the red carpet. There was a genuine fear that his driver Keselowski might do a burnout on it. Or something else.

Because they were plum out of powder blue tuxedo coats at the Gingiss Formalwear shop, I wasn't allowed inside Lafite ballrooms 1 through 7 when the ceremony began.

(Seven ballrooms? This shows how big NASCAR has become.)

But I'll bet it was like "Talladega Nights" in there. They probably had the TV and the stereo on at the same time, 'cuz NASCAR was ready to party.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

 

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