Rooting for the underdogs

In most team sports fans usually agree that they love an underdog. If their home team isn't involved in a season ending series, they usually back the dark horse so they have a reason to tune in to the game. Some of the most popular drivers in...

In most team sports fans usually agree that they love an underdog. If their home team isn't involved in a season ending series, they usually back the dark horse so they have a reason to tune in to the game.

Some of the most popular drivers in the sport now sit outside the top five in points and while mathematically still in the game, realistically they need a shot in the arm if they hope to win the title.

I don't think many people would try and argue with me that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is the fan favorite to win the Nextel Cup, but he sits 96 points back in sixth after incidents at Talladega and Martinsville.

Now I'm not saying everyone is an Earnhardt fan, but he's got a stranglehold on the majority and if the greater part of the NASCAR nation can't have Earnhardt on the victory lap in Homestead who can they stomach instead?

That's a tough question.

I tend to weigh a a driver's popularity by the crowd response during pre-race introductions. The fan booing of drivers has become almost cliché.

Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are vehemently hissed at 98% of the tracks on the circuit. Kyle Busch is related to Kurt Busch, so, you know do that math on that one. Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin are met with respectful applause which borders on polite tolerance.

It's impossible not to like Mark Martin and Jeff Burton, but they don't spark a feverish reaction. And Kasey Kahne? Well, he is just dreamy. So, the girls tend to give a good "woo-hoo" when he walks across the stage.

A gambling man would wager that one of the racers currently in the top five (a spread of just 48-points) is likely to add the 2006 championship to their resume.

So, if you can't have Earnhardt - can you live with Kenseth, Harvick, Johnson, Hamlin or Burton?

Through a highly non-official polling of some of the fans lingering around the infield media center the option for the red No. 8 car not to win drew indignation. One female fan decked out in 8 gear yelled at me for the mere suggestion.

There is no denying that the Chase contains some frustrating elements for fans. Frankly, I think most casual fans are a little murky on how the whole thing works in the first place. It's tough not to throw things at the television when your driver gets wrecked on the last lap of a Chase race knowing that may be the moment that cost him the trophy.

It's hard to realign your allegiance to someone else after charging so much driver-specific swag to your QVC credit card.

But the New York Yankees didn't advance this season much to my displeasure and I still cheered on the St. Louis Cardinals. Not because I give a fig about them but because I love baseball and wanted to watch the World Series. And it's more exicitng if you're pulling for somebody than sitting around in your own blind rage that you're guy, or you're team got beat.

Sunday's Bass Pro Shop 500 could prove to be the last chance for some Chasers to ascend the point grid and remain in the thick of the title. Some of those dark horses may gain a little light after this race. If the last two weeks are any indicator things can shuffle in a hurry. But if that fails to materialize and your driver seems mathmatically challenged at the close of the weekend, why not jump on the bandwagon of one of the guys that rarely gets any love?

Wouldn't it give you a warm, fuzzy feeling if Burton won his first title after all his struggles? Isn't there a certain amount of kismet afoot if Harvick pulls the No. 29 Chevrolet into the winners circle with GM Goodwrench gracing the hood for the last time? Or Kenseth winning after being so widely blamed that his first championship was the reason NASCAR changed the system?

In NASCAR-land it's time to start cheering for the underdogs.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin