Saturday evening's Wonderful Pistachios 400 at the Richmond International Raceway should be one of the best events of the 2011 season.
Nevermind the fact that RIR is consistently among the top circuits in all of auto racing, not just NASCAR. This weekend we find out with certainty who will be the 12 drivers and teams racing for the Sprint Cup title. One can be almost certain that the final opportunity for a driver to make the Chase playoff field or pick up some valuable bonus points to get his title run started off on the right foot will create plenty of memorable moments in a season that has failed to disappoint in the excitement department.
In the long run, however, the race is about the least important part of this upcoming weekend.
This Sunday, as everyone well knows, our nation will mark 10 years since the tragedies of September 11, 2001. As much as folks have tried to get their lives back to normal in the last decade, our world was changed forever that day. It stands as one of the single most significant days in the history of our nation, with the horror still etched in the minds of all Americans.
NASCAR is doing its part this weekend to remember the lives lost on 9/11 and to honor the heroes of that day and the decade since.
Several cars in the Sprint Cup event, as well as Friday's Nationwide race, are carrying cars promoting the Steven Siller "Tunnel to Towers" Foundation. Ryan Newman's US Army-sponsored machine is carrying a car honoring the victims of the attack on the Pentagon, with the names of those lost printed on the hood and quarter panels of his Chevy.
Kyle Busch may well be the most-disliked driver in the sport, but one can almost guarantee he will have one of - if not the - most popular rides Saturday night. Primary sponsor Mars has pulled its M&M logos off the No. 18 Toyota, along with Busch's other sponsors, and will run a paint scheme made up entirely of the American flag. Longtime NASCAR fans of course recognize this as an homage to the first race after 9-11, when then-Mars driver Kenny Schrader drove the same scheme on his No. 36 Pontiac.
NASCAR and its fans are as patriotic as Americans come, and there will be plenty more displays of pride for our nation during the race. Fans can be certain that while teams will be looking for a win, a Chase berth, or just some sort of on-track good news, everyone in our sport is well aware of the true priorities of the weekend and of life in general.