- Marty Smith, NASCAR
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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Cheesy as it might be -- and I'll be the first to admit it makes a Papa John's pan pie look like a Weight Watchers' 3-pointer -- the whole celebratory "We Are the Champions" group-hug scream-along is a coveted right-of-passage, every bit as customary as the ring and the ticker-tape parade.
I mean, what kid doesn't fantasize about partaking in a semicircular pack of beer-soaked brethren, arm-in-arm in an exuberant embrace, pounding chests and pumping fists and swaying back and forth as Freddie belts the world's most-triumphant anthem?
I saw this phenomenon first-hand early Monday morning (very early Monday morning), somewhere in the depths of a popular South Beach nightclub.
Hours earlier Jimmie Johnson had clinched the Nextel Cup Series championship, and amid the eardrum-champagne-soaked celebration, teammate and team owner Jeff Gordon asked what he could do to help Johnson commemorate the special night.
Johnson's request came without hesitation:
"I just want to sing that cheesy 'We Are the Champions' song as loud as humanly possible," Johnson replied.
As the mercury rose (again, awful, I know ) Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the doggie-at-the-door-loyal 48 crew celebrated 52 weeks of assiduous focus, banding together in celebratory bliss.
On some level, it was a lot like their season:
At times they were dominant, at times downtrodden, but always resilient, banding together to keep it in tune -- be it a champion's song or a champion's race car.
Time to go Door-to-Door with the NASCAR Nation.
Q: Based on talk throughout the Cup garage, who do you look to be able to adapt the quickest to the COT next season? Also, I'm a first-year broadcasting student at Niagara College in Ontario and I am doing an essay on "Funding for NASCAR Broadcasts." Can you help me out at all? If so, thanks a lot.
--Andrew, St. Catharines, Ontario
Quite honestly, Andrew, the Car of Tomorrow initiative is a train wreck. Here's where we stand, according to high-ranking sources from two Nextel Cup car manufacturers:
Teams must prequalify chassis by submitting them to NASCAR's research and development center in Concord, N.C. NASCAR surveys the entry, then either approves or denies it. Some 40 chassis have been submitted for approval, and just one, from Hendrick Motorsports, has been approved.
Just one! And that one wasn't approved until last Friday.
COT is slated to make its debut in late March at Bristol Motor Speedway. Teams don't yet have an approved model from which to work. Uhhh Hello?
Q: I miss your column on NASCAR.com -- my ninth-graders (English class, of course) used to have to read it and critique for credit. Do you think that Junior has the talent to step out of his father's shadow and be recognized as a great driver in his own right, or is he doomed to spend his career being "not his dad"?
-- Liz Page, Ariz.
Personally, Liz, for the most part I think Dale Earnhardt Jr. already has emerged from his father's shadow. He's his own man, his own driver, his own worst critic.
But to truly be thought of separately, he'll need to win a Nextel Cup championship.
Not seven. One.
That is the measuring stick.
And I'm flattered to be considered an example in academia. Poor kids.
Q: With all the hype about Jeff Gordon lacking wins at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead, I was curious: What tracks on the current schedule has Tony Stewart not gotten a Cup win on?
--Andy, Denton, Texas
There aren't many, Andy: Talladega Superspeedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, California Speedway and Darlington Raceway. That's it. The two-time champion has won at 18 of the 22 tracks on the Nextel Cup tour.
(Note: Stewart also failed to score a victory at North Carolina Speedway before it was removed from the schedule after the 2004 season.)
Q: Mart Dog! You are the man. Hey, what do you think about holding the final race on Thanksgiving Day? I think it would add a nice touch to the holiday. Or would it get in the way of family turkey and football time?
--"Fuggeddaboutit" Joey, Queens, N.Y.
You said it perfectly, Joey: Fuggeddaboutit. Thanksgiving is about tryptophan and football.
Plus, on a personal note, there is entirely too much at stake in the annual Cocozza Family Turkey Bowl clash. Missing it would emotionally crush me. It's serious. We have an appointed commissioner -- who, ironically, is named Joey and lives in Brooklyn -- team jerseys, vote on league rules, the works. Friday morning, Harrisburg, Pa. I can't wait.
Have a wonderful holiday, everyone.
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.
What was Jimmie Johnson's celebratory request of Jeff Gordon? Can Junior emerge from his father's shadow? Marty Smith answers in Door-To-Door.