Going Nuts for a NASCAR Nut

(AP Photo/John Raoux)

In NASCAR’s golden days, otherwise known as any year prior to 2015 or thereabouts, sponsorship was far more often than not a one-sponsor-for-one-car-for-the-entire-season kind of deal. Brand identity reigned supreme; when you saw a product or company, you immediately associated it with a single driver. GM Goodwrench? Dale Earnhardt. Budweiser? Dale Earnhardt Jr. DuPont? Jeff Gordon. And so on. Second-tier drivers occasionally had multiple sponsors, with the primary sponsorship rotating from race to race, but by and large, you’d see the same sponsor and the same paint scheme on the same car week in and week out.

Today, with NASCAR struggling to regain its footing as something more than a sports afterthought, companies are far less willing to shell out the up to $20M a year it takes to be a sole primary sponsor. Even Chase Elliott, NASCAR’s reigning champion and most popular driver, changes firesuits most every week from NAPA Auto Parts to Kelley Blue Book to Hooters to UniFirst to LLumar Window Film to Adrenaline Shoc. Apologies if I’ve missed anyone.

There aren’t nearly as many fun sponsors in NASCAR as once was the case. Once you get past M&M’s sponsorship of Kyle Busch, pickings get mighty slim. No more Nesquik or Vermont Teddy Bear cars running, alas.

Said all that to set up that for at least one race this year there will be a bit of fun on the track, as veteran driver Ryan Newman will be sporting a PLANTERS paint scheme during the upcoming Cup race in Nashville.

Newman is a perfect candidate to drive a car showcasing a nut, as after what he’s been through in his NASCAR career, not a few have surmised he must be nuts to keep driving. Decidedly on the downside of his lengthy career, with no wins since 2017, Newman was involved in one of the most horrific wrecks imaginable in last year’s Daytona 500.

That he lived at all is a genuine miracle. That he resumed driving after missing only three races is a genuine testimony that either when it comes to bowling balls in your shorts Newman is the undisputed king, or he’s mental beyond mention. Personally, I prefer the former explanation. And for the record, you don’t have to be male to be fearless:

Things going awry while racing is part of the sport. True race fans don’t tune in hoping for crash after crash; rather, they anticipate driving skill on display at the highest level and highest speed possible. Given the choice between twelve wrecks and a twelve-lap duel for the lead, the latter takes the checkered flag every single time.

The racer’s mentality is that accidents will happen … to the other driver. Happens to me, oh well, it won’t happen again. It’s not that drivers genuinely believe they will never be caught up in an accident. Rather, they have the focus and mental strength to block out the outside noise. When a driver is in the car, he or she entertains no doubt about being in complete control of the situation regardless of whatever mayhem is transpiring on the track. They drive differently than you and I, they think differently than you and I, and they do things in an automobile you and I can never accomplish.

So, next month, when Ryan Newman takes Mr. Peanut for (hopefully not a literal) spin in Music City, take a moment to set aside all the obligatory jokes about loose nuts, driving smooth as peanut butter, or getting stuck in the pack like peanut butter to the roof of a dog’s mouth. Maybe pop open a jar, sit back, and watch a sport where they still salute the flag, stand for the National Anthem, and actually demonstrate pride in their country. It’s a nice change.