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Are first-time winners good for the sport?

Sunday we saw a trend continued with first-time winners in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season as Paul Menard won the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Menard brings the total of first-time NASCAR Sprint Cup winners in 2011 to four.

I couldn’t be happier for the Menards. Jon Menard has supported Indy for years, sponsoring Indy Cars there for 34 years, and it’s nice to see Paul finally get his big break. In fact, all of the first-time wins this year are just incredible, momentous stories.

At the beginning of the season we saw Trevor Bayne in just his second NASCAR Sprint Cup start take the Daytona 500 win with Wood Brothers Racing – a team that hadn’t seen Victory Lane at Daytona since 1976. Later we witnessed Regan Smith win the Southern 500 at Darlington, which marked Furniture Row Racing team owner Barney Visser’s first victory in seven years of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. Then David Ragan earned his first win in 163 starts during the second Daytona stop on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit – the Coke Zero 400.

People love hearing and reading about the underdog winning. My question is: Are first-time winners good for the sport? Or, maybe more specifically, are four first-time winners in a single season good for the sport?

I raised the question on Facebook and Twitter recently and the consensus from fans is that it is a positive thing. One person even commented, “First time winners will sell more tickets. This is the first year I haven't been to Indy in about five/six years. I may be going back next year.”

As for me, I don’t know the answer. I’m not a fan of the start-and-parkers, so I applaud the smaller teams for going after the win and fighting the fight. I’m really proud of Furniture Row Racing this season. They have proven that you can compete and beat teams like Hendrick Motorsports, Rousch-Fenway Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing. And they backed it up when Smith finished third at Indy.

The last time we saw four first-time winners was in 2007 (Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, Martin Truex Jr. and Casey Mears), but it wasn’t at some of the more prestigious races like we’ve seen this season. This season is the first time the Daytona 500, Southern 500 and Brickyard 400 all have been won by first-time winners.

Some may think the sport is better served with bigger-name drivers winning these marquee events. Marquee meaning the significance of the event, because not all of them have large purses. For instance, Menard earned $373,575 for winning the Brickyard 400, while Matt Kenseth earned $525,886 for his Samsung Mobile 500 win at Texas Motor Speedway in April.

I want to be clear here that I am not criticizing; I’m simply raising a question. Do we as sports fans tend to pull for the overachievers? The Patriots, Lakers, Red Sox, etc.? And do we sometimes tend to hate those teams that dominate consistently? Is that why NASCAR fans are embracing these first-time winners, because if their driver doesn’t win they’d rather see the underdog in Victory Lane?

I think it’s an interesting anomaly.