Dale Jr.

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 23: Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates with the checkered flag after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 23, 2014. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Every time I bend my arm I’m reminded how much I love NASCAR.

It happened last February on the night of the 2014 Daytona 500. I had been working all day and was overjoyed when I got home to learn that the Great American Race had been postponed due to weather, and I was going to get a chance to watch the biggest race of the year live.

As the laps wound down and the clock inched closer and closer to midnight I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., was the dominant car and looked poised to take home his second Daytona 500 trophy. It was something I hadn’t seen since I was 13 years old, and, as an Earnhardt fan, I hadn’t seen much of anything to celebrate in several years.

As the No. 88 car crossed the line to take the checkered flag I leaped into the air and gave a fist pump that will probably stay with me for the rest of my life.

It’s been almost a year and the pain in my elbow from that celebratory fist pump is still there, and every time I feel that pain it makes me smile and remember how awesome that moment felt. I’ve had a lot of moments like this when it comes to NASCAR. Ever since I was nine years old I’ve loved the sport. I grew up 30 miles from Talladega Superspeedway, with a love for cars and competition — a great combination for a NASCAR fan.

My point to all of this rambling is ESPN’s Keith Olberman made a comment on Twitter this week that it was sad NASCAR had the second highest viewership behind the NFL. Maybe his point was he wishes people still watched Major League Baseball like they used to, but his mockery of the sport in his responses to fans on Twitter were not kind. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but why make fun of something people all around the country love so much — especially when the data shows how much people love it.

I never understood the passion for soccer, but last summer my friends made me watch the World Cup. I loved it and thought it was great.

Maybe Olbermann should do the same with NASCAR.

Sports editor Will Gaines’s column appears Saturdays. His email address is wgaines@times-journal.com

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