On Friday night, NASCAR’s Top 10 drivers will swap their firesuits for a rented tux and gather at the Wynn Las Vegas for the biggest shindig of the year — the annual Sprint Cup Awards Ceremony.
It will be a gala affair, with drivers, officials and various celebrities taking their turns on the red carpet and posing for photographs like they are at the Oscars.
They’ll enter an elaborate ballroom, the spotlights will blare, new Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart will take center stage and then … four hours of boredom will set in.
Some of it will be fun. The entertainment — Reba McEntire and Kid Rock — will be interesting, and there will be some light amusing moments.
But mostly, driver after driver will read mundane, monotonous speeches that will suck the life out of living rooms all across NASCAR Nation.
Some will take harmless jabs at rivals, deliver some long-rehearsed one-liners and perhaps elicit a few chuckles from the audience, but for the most part they will all come off like Jimmie Johnson trying to do standup comedy.
What NASCAR’s postseason banquet needs is a drastic overhaul, a shot of excitement, a bit of suspense and a heavy dose of honesty. Throw away the scripts, knock down those teleprompters and let the drivers say what they really want to say.
If each of the 10 drivers stepped on stage and said what they’re really thinking, it would be a lot more entertaining — and it might go something like this:
10. Ryan Newman
"First of all, I’d like to congratulate my teammate on winning the championship. Amazing what you can do when you get all the best equipment (laughs) … Seriously, we had a good season, won a race, made the Chase. Not bad in second-hand equipment (laughs) … But seriously, folks, for a second team in a two-car operation, I’m pretty proud of how we ran … all except in the Chase, when, well, you know how that went. Maybe I should have fired my crew chief. … And, by the way, I’ll be sending out Christmas cards soon and you’ll all get one — except for Juan Pablo Montoya. Juan, I’ll be sending you a bill for $50,000. That’s the most expensive punch I’ve ever thrown. … Oh wait, I wasn’t supposed to mention that. That was supposed to be a secret fine. Uh, sorry … Happy Holidays everyone, and congratulations, Tony, you had a great run in that great equipment."
9. Denny Hamlin
"Wow, what a great year we had. Winning eight races, almost winning the championship … Oh, wait, was that last year? Seems like it was just yesterday. … We would have won it, too, if my crew hadn’t of run me out of gas at Phoenix … and then I had that little slip-up at Homestead, hard to forget that … What? Oh, sorry, that was 2010, wasn’t it? … 2011? Well, I guess I need to thank NASCAR for creating that wild card. And I guess I need to thank my crew chief Mike Ford. Is he still my crew chief? … Anyway, we had a great year, won at Martinsville, won at Texas, won Darlington, Pocono, Michigan, Richmond, Texas again … would have won the whole thing if they hadn’t run me out of gas … What? … Look, I know everybody thinks I struggled this year because I can’t get over 2010, but I’m over it, OK … It’s just that, well, if they hadn’t run me out of gas at Phoenix …"
8. Jeff Gordon
"First of all, I’d like to thank Jimmie for winning the championship ag … What? Jimmie didn’t win the championship again? Wow, that’s hard to believe. … Actually, I think I even won more races than him, didn’t I, Jimmie? Where is Jimmie? He’s usually up here. Oh, there he is, out there in the audience. Hey Jimmie, didn’t I win more races than you this year? Thought so. … It was a really good year for us. Got to do a lot of neat things with the Drive To End Hunger campaign, got to visit the Congo, Rwanda, a lot of rewarding things … And did I mention that I won more races than Jimmie? Where is Jimmie, anyway? Oh, there he is. Merry Christmas, Jimmie."
7. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
"Well, I guess I need to thank all the fans for voting for me again. It’s really neat to win this Most Popular Driver Award again … Oh, yeah, we did that yesterday … Sorry, just got up, and I haven’t been up here in a while … Anyway, I’d like to thank Stevie for keeping me pumped up all year, keeping me from having a meltdown. He did good, we had a good year, made the Chase, that’s good I guess. … We just … well, you know … It’s been a long time since … well, you know … since 2008 … anyway, thanks, gotta go."
6. Jimmie Johnson
"Thank you, Jeff, for those kind and thoughtful words. I’m still here, not going anywhere. I’m sure I’ll run into you soon. Just ask Kurt Busch. … Congratulations to Tony, he finally ended our streak. Of course, I guess all of you people out there are happy about that. I know you got tired of me winning all the time, and you finally got your wish — a champion with some personality. Good luck with that. … We didn’t have the year we wanted, or are used to. We can thank Kurt Busch for that. Where is he, by the way? Flipping someone off, I guess. … Anyway, we’ll be back up here next year — after we kick everyone’s butt again. Maybe by then I’ll develop a little personality …"
5. Brad Keselowski
"I only have a few things to say since … well, I don’t want to get fined or something for speaking my mind. … Want to thank my doctor for patching up that broken ankle good enough for me to win at Pocono and go on a hot streak. … And I guess I need to thank NASCAR for creating that wild card that got me into the Chase. … And, well, I guess that’s it … except for two things … Kyle Busch is still an ass, and I still hate fuel injection. … Merry Christmas … Or am I not supposed to say that, either?"
4. Matt Kenseth
"Unlike Brad, I really am a man of few words. We had a good year, won some races, might have won the championship if it hadn’t been for Brian Vickers. Where is he, anyway? Is he not here? Oh, that’s right — you have to have a ride to get in. … I want to congratulate my teammate on a great year and almost winning the championship. By the way, Carl, can you teach me to fight? …"
3. Kevin Harvick
"Well, it was certainly an interesting year (grins). … But before I get started, I want to know one thing — where’s Kyle? He’s not here? He get suspended again? Maybe somebody finally gave him a whooping and he couldn’t make it. That’s a shame. Maybe he wrecked a cab driver on the way over and got his ass whipped. … Anyway, I’d thank my crew … if we hadn’t finished THIRD AGAIN. … Could have won it this year if we’d had better pit stops … and better pit calls … and better cars … and won some FREAKING RACES IN THE CHASE … Anyway, I’d like to thank my crew chief … What? He’s not my crew chief anymore? That’s a shame. … Well, guess I better wrap it up, looks like Richard’s taking his watch off. … We’ll be back next year to give it another shot … and give Kyle another shot (grins)."
2. Carl Edwards
"You mean I get to go first? Shouldn’t Tony be up here, too? We tied, you know. (laughs) … Seriously, I’m glad I get to go first — it’s the first time I’ve finished ahead of him in a while. (laughs) … Really, I think NASCAR should take a serious look at this points system and this Chase. I mean, really, who wants to see a guy win half the Chase races and win the championship? That’s not fair, is it? (laughs) … I promised I was going to be NASCAR’s best loser, and I’m trying really hard, but seriously, shouldn’t it be about consistency? You know, all 36 races, and not just 10? I’m just saying …"
1. Tony Stewart
"First of all, I’d like to thank Carl … thank him for staying out of my way so I didn’t have to wreck him. ‘Cause he knows I would have wrecked him, don’t you, Carl? (grins). I would have wrecked his mother, too. (laughs) … I’d also like to thank the media … NOT! They all ask stupid questions anyway, and look like porn stars. And by the way, guys, we won’t be meeting outside my hauler every week next year. Just letting you know. … And I’d like to thank my crew chief Darian Grubb. Where’s Darian? Oh, I forgot, I fired him. … And in conclusion, I’d just like to say one more thing — when I tell you we’re going to do something, you can take it to the bank. We’re going to do it again next year, too. To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man … Wooooo!"