McREYNOLDS: Underdog Panthers are like Kenseth, Kulwicki

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Larry McReynolds

Larry McReynolds has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, Daytona 500-winning crew chief and broadcaster. He earned 23 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief, including two victories in the prestigious Daytona 500, as well as a pair of non-points victories in the annual all-star race. Follow him on Twitter.

There's no question that the Carolinas have predominantly been known for college basketball and auto racing. But there's also no question that the Carolina Panthers' success this year has been a big deal for everybody in the area. My wife and I are actually planning to go to Houston for the Super Bowl. Do I think the hype surrounding the team over the next couple of weeks is going to take away anything from NASCAR? I really don't. This week is UAW-GM Motorsports Media Tour in Charlotte, and while there's a lot of coverage about the Carolina Panthers -- what they've done and where they're headed -- more than 200 media members have rolled into our city from all over the country to cover NASCAR. The Panthers are a big story from coast to coast and border to border because they had a 1-15 season two years ago. You could have shot up in the grandstands at the end of that season and probably not worried about hitting anybody. I think the team's turnaround is great for our city because a lot of Carolina Panthers are NASCAR fans just like a lot of us in NASCAR are Carolina Panthers' fans and season ticket holders. I see at a lot of games in December. Richard Childress, and Ernie Irvan have had season tickets. My wife and I have had season tickets for the Panthers ever since they played their first season in Clemson. I really don't think the Panthers' Super Bowl run takes away from the start of the NASCAR season or vice versa. Whether Carolina wins or loses the Super Bowl, it's still going to be a big story for a long after the game is over because Jerry Richardson made a commitment to the Carolinas that within 10 years, we would have a championship team. The Super Bowl is two weeks before NASCAR's Super Bowl, the Daytona 500. In its own way, the NFL's Super Bowl could actually put a little more popularity in NASCAR as media members like FOX NFL Sunday host Terry Bradshaw and analyst Howie Long refer to the NFC South as the NASCAR South. I think those associations can help both sports. Heading into 2003, I don't think anybody predicted that the Carolina Panthers would even make the playoffs much less be able to go to the Super Bowl. And even though won the most races in 2002, I don't think a lot of people picked him to even be in contention to win the championship much less win it. It's always neat when an underdog prevails. Not to say the 17 team was as much of an underdog as the Panthers, but before last season, everyone was picking , and to take the 2003 title. You didn't hear Kenseth's name mentioned a lot just like it was probably Week 11, 12 or later before people started talking about the Panthers as a serious contender. Whether it's somebody I pull for or not, I like an underdog. Eleven years ago, I lost a championship to an underdog, but if we couldn't win the 1992 championship with Davey Allison, I couldn't have hand-picked anybody better than Alan Kulwicki because he was an underdog. I've always been a big fan of the underdogs. Just look at the people the Panthers have going to the Pro Bowl -- only two starters, punter Todd Sauerbrun and defensive lineman Kris Jenkins. The Panthers' locker room is like the land of misfit toys. As a Carolina fan, it scares me to death when I think how badly New England could possibly beat them, but you'd better not count out these misfits. Two years ago when John Fox was named as the new head coach, it was like "Who? What is owner Jerry Richardson thinking now?" But Richardson knew what he is doing. And there are a lot of teams regretting moves that they made with the personnel on the NFC champion Carolina Panthers. E-mail Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond

FOX race analyst Larry McReynolds has more than 25 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, crew chief and broadcaster. He and his fellow Crew Chief Club members take you behind the wall at www.crewchiefclub.com.

"Larry McReynolds: The Big Picture" is on bookstore shelves now, or you may order your own autographed copy from www.DWStore.com.

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