You may or may not remember, but 2007 was the year I became a fan of NASCAR. I never liked it - never understood the fascination with watching cars go around a track hundreds of times. I still don't, to be quite honest, see the fascination unless you have a fantasy team - but I do, and as a result, a way to pass the time between the Super Bowl and March Madness became a season-long obsession.
This year, with the Super Bowl now behind us, and baseball that counts a month and a half away, I offer you this quick overview of some of the big names in NASCAR - who they are similar to in other sports, and what teams you might compare them to. Please keep in mind - after one season, I am by no means an expert, and admittedly, some of these are a stretch (and some important names are missing - but I'm just one man, and can only do so much. Apologies to Kurt and Kyle Busch.). But I will offer my explanations. Enjoy. And, by the way, the NASCAR league has just started up again. Shoot me an e-mail if you want in, and I'll try to pull some strings. It's very exclusive. (Click the chart for larger images - I apologize the graphic didn't match up with what I wrote quite like I hoped.)
NASCAR begins and ends with Jeff Gordon. He is the face of the sport, and much like Derek Jeter, he started winning when he was young, and has won throughout his career in a professional manner. In that way, he is like the New York Yankees - when in doubt about picking a winner, Gordon is always a good choice.
Dale Earnhardt, Junior is also everywhere you look in the sport - flashy endorsements, big money - but he doesn't win. Just like Alex Rodriguez, or the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The stark opposite is Mark Martin. He's a part-owner, old guy, and like Brett Favre, considers retiring, but hangs on for 'one more year'. Unlike Favre, Martin only runs half the season, but he's still effective. Like the Green Bay Packers this year, making a run even though you might not expect them to.
Jimmie Johnson, like the Boston Red Sox, has that target on his back - he's the one you want to beat, because he's the defending champ. Like Josh Beckett, Johnson is young, brash, and clutch - also, they're both two-time champions.
Tony Stewart reminds me of Dan Marino - he's a hothead, and you either love him or you hate him. The only difference is that Stewart has won twice - Marino, none. There are a bunch of teams that are this divisive, but I'll go with the Dallas Cowboys.
Juan Pablo Montoya experienced a successful crossover season in 2007, coming over from IndyCar racing (I think I have that right), to do well on the NASCAR circuit. Kind of like Ichiro, not championship-level success, but still good in his own right. I'd also compare it to the Arizona Diamondbacks, experiencing success right off the bat.
These next few guys are comparable to the Diamondbacks, in that they are like small-market success stories:
Martin Truex, Jr. merits a comparison to Rich Harden, a guy who (besides the same intense look in their eyes in those pictures) hangs with the small-market type, just biding their time until a bigger deal comes along and they go big time. That came this year for Truex. I compare it to the Oakland A's, but it's more like the players that go through the system than the team itself.
Clint Bowyer is the same way, but sort of succeeds under the radar, like Brandon Webb. He just goes out and is solid, though Webb is probably the better pro. I'll compare Bowyer to the Minnesota Twins pre-2008, who succeeded despite their diminutive status.
And finally, I'll focus on J.J. Yeley. Yeley left the team he made a name for himself with last year (though, if I have this right, he was sort of forced out because Earnhardt was hired by Joe Gibbs racing), kind of like Barry Zito left Oakland to get rich with San Francisco. I'll throw in the Washington Redskins because both have recently parted ways with Joe Gibbs.
The Daytona 500 is February 17, which seems later to me than last year. But I can't wait - it's a long haul until March Madness.