Triumph often follows tragedy in NASCAR

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 17, 2005

The sport of NASCAR has experienced more than its share of tragedy over the years. We have seen drivers lose their lives in on-the-track accidents and we’ve seen drivers lose their lives in aircraft crashes. Just last fall at Martinsville, 10 people, most associated with the Hendrick organization, died in an airplane crash.

It seems like an amazing story often comes from the tragedy. Jimmie Johnson, a Hendrick driver, won the next race in Atlanta.

When Dale Earnhardt died at Daytona in 2001, Steve Park, who drove for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., won the very next race in Rockingham. The driver who replaced Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick, won three weeks later. Who can forget the celebration and emotion surrounding Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s victory at Daytona in July of 2001? These stories are endless and compelling.

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After Jeff Gordon won the race last week in Martinsville, we can add another example of the success stories after a tragedy. Despite having to fight through a three-lap deficit caused by a bad tire early in the race, Gordon earned the win. Rick Hendrick, owner of Gordon’s team, lost his son, his brother, two nieces and numerous business associates in the crash last year. Hendrick was in attendance at Martinsville and emotions were running high after the race.

With the win, Gordon jumped six spots in the championship standings and sits in sixth position. Johnson maintained his lead in the standings and Greg Biffle, Elliot Sadler, Mark Martin, and Tony Stewart round out the top five. Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Dale Jarrett sit in sixth through tenth spots after six races.

The Lone Star state welcomes the NASCAR circuit to Texas Motor Speedway this week for the Samsung/Radio Shack 500. This race has become one of the premier events on the circuit with big attendance, big payouts, and big speeds.

Plus, the winner of the race gets to wear a cool cowboy hat in victory lane. The qualifying speeds will reach 190 mph and we will see spends upwards of 200 during the race.

Sadler came out of nowhere to win this race last year after averaging a 28th place finish in the previous four Texas races. Kasey Kahne had the car to beat for most of that race and ended up with a second place finish, one of five runner-ups for him in 2004.

This is the week that Kahne breaks the streak. After an awful start to his sophomore season, Kahne ran well last week, earning yet again another second place finish. My pick to win this week is Kahne.

The race coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. on FOX and the action begins a little past one. Enjoy the race and we’ll talk about Phoenix next week.

Jeff Findley is publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald in Ahoskie, N.C. His racing column appears in several newspapers in the Southeast. He can be reached at