My NASCAR Renaissance
I started to become interested in NASCAR again during our sixth trip to Sears Point in 1998. Not only had the track been reconfigured and the cars become more modern, but "Silly Season" was again in full effect. Sterling Marlin and Ricky Craven had both since switched teams with Marlin in a Coors Light sponsored Chevrolet going through a winless drought since 1996 and Craven as Jeff Gordon’s second teammate, still recovering from a accident in 1997 and being replaced by Wally Dallenbach in the Budweiser Chevrolet. Both Dale Earnhardt and Ricky Rudd had remained on the same teams they were on three years earlier, but were facing the frustration of finishing behind Jeff Gordon more and more as the young upstart was now poised for a third championship. Despite Gordon’s dominance throughout the year, he was no match for a determined Dale Earnhardt during the 1998 Daytona 500 as the ubiquitous driver and his black Chevrolet finally made it to victory lane after twenty consecutive attempts. I was pleased that Miles’ second driver was still successful, but was frustrated that Craven was missing in action. Then, during qualifying, I noticed a rookie driver named Jerry Nadeau begin his timed lap.
Like Craven, the young Nadeau was from the northeast, hailing from Danbury, Connecticut. At the time, Nadeau was driving Ford number thirteen, a car number that I thought none of the drivers, many of them superstitious, would ever want. As Miles and I sat with our Dad in the grandstands bordering the recently added track segment called "The Chute," we saw Nadeau’s gray and white car fly by en route to a second place qualifying effort, one that surprised everyone: he would start right alongside polesitter Jeff Gordon!
I had found my new second driver.
Two days later, on June 28, I was very excited for Nadeau as he looked to be ready to give Gordon a run for his money in the Save Mart / Kragen 350. When the green flag waved and the race began, Nadeau had the inside line in the first corner and passed Gordon, leading the field up the first uphill portion of the track. Just as I was ready to start cheering, Nadeau cut the second right-hand turn on the top of the hill short, driving through the rough grass on the inside and losing several positions when he again proceeded along the track. Only a few laps later, Nadeau’s car broke a track bar in the Esses, sending his car hard into an embankment, causing him to finish last. The dismay on his face was evident from the in-car camera posted in his car as Nadeau climbed out of the car. From then on, I was hooked all over again on Winston Cup racing as I anticipated that Ricky Rudd and Jerry Nadeau would soon visit victory lane. The fact that Jeff Gordon won that day at Sears Point only strengthened my resolve. As I said earlier, I am not a fan of dominant performances such as that Gordon did that day. This time period, which extends to this day, is what I call my NASCAR Renaissance.