Home feels different.
I don't mean your current residence. That's nice, too, certainly. It is relaxing and comforting to be in your own space, where you can be whatever and whoever you want to be without reservation or concern for others' judgment.
We are publicly judged. All of us. It's part of life.
But sprawled on that couch in that old, raggedy T-shirt and those Zubaz Panthers' pajama pants, you're you. And you feels pretty dang good.
That's not the home I'm writing about. I mean your childhood home. And not just the structure. The town. The area. The culture. It is an indescribable feeling of warmth and belonging. It is for me, anyway. It's intangible but no less dynamic.
For the past six months or so, I've been in Southwest Virginia often -- more than I'd been in the entire previous decade. It sounds ridiculous, but the moment I cross the state line from North Carolina into Virginia on Interstate 77 North, it's as if I see the world through a different lens.
It's very odd, but the hues seem suddenly warmer and the air suddenly cleaner. It's not, I figure. But for reasons I can't pinpoint, it seems so. Maybe it's the manifestation in my mind of youthful innocence. Maybe for me, the mountainous Southwest Virginia panorama is the poster of pre-adulthood frivolity.
I spent my youth counting the minutes until I could leave there. I had bigger aspirations than hanging around Small Town, USA, the rest of my life. That's what many folks in small towns all over this country do -- they graduate from high school and they marry their homeroom sweetheart and they get a job at the factory and drink beers with their buddies on Friday evenings and sit in the third pew on Sunday mornings.
And they're so happy. And that's fantastic. And these days I love the thought of it.
These days those are the folks I champion more than any other.
They're real life. They work hard and love harder. It's faith and family and Friday night lights.
But back then, I didn't see that. I wasn't looking for it.
I was looking for a way out.
But now, as an adult with greater context about the world, I find myself looking for a way back.
I have a much deeper appreciation for my roots. The drive up that mountain and through the New River Valley makes me nostalgic. It makes me proud.
I know it's not just me, either. Everyone has their Southwest Virginia. I'm just blessed to have slowed down -- and woken up -- to realize it.
What are your thoughts on Ryan Blaney? Last week was his NASCAR debut. He had a great race driving for Tommy Baldwin.
-- Scott Alan Shurson, from Facebook
It's been quite some time since I can recall a young driver creating a buzz in the garage like that which currently accompanies Blaney, Scott. Joey Logano certainly did. But this feels different. We'd heard about Logano for years before he was actually driving. It seems as if Blaney just -- poof -- appeared.
His talent, unassuming disposition, family pedigree, car control and, maybe most-impressively, his in-the-moment decision-making abilities scream superstar.
Said Tony Stewart: "He does an awesome job. His racing family tree is pretty strong, got pretty good roots, between his uncle, Dale and his dad, Dave. He's a smart racer. He thinks about what he's doing and thinks about the scenarios he puts himself in."
Stewart definitely has his eye on Blaney for the future. And he's not alone. Cup owners are swirling like vultures, ready to lock the kid up to a long-term deal that will put him on the fast track to Sprint Cup. When you look at Blaney and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. you see the future of NASCAR.
Stenhouse is just a beast. For that kid, once confidence met ability it was on like Donkey Kong.
That "NASCAR Now" where you disagreed with everything [Andy] Petree and Ryan [McGee] said was great to watch. It was like PTI for NASCAR by people who know what they're talking about. But why was it on so damn late? Anyway, I found it odd that you were for Danica running Darlington. Why do you feel that way?
-- Rodney Amee, Salyersville, Ky.
It makes perfect sense to me, Rodney.
Folks are perplexed by Stewart's decision to run Danica Patrick in the Sprint Cup race at Darlington mainly because Darlington is among NASCAR's most difficult challenges. Martinsville may be the only track that's as difficult, though for very different reasons.
Oddly enough, the challenge is the reason Stewart chose to enter her there. In a world with no testing, why wouldn't you introduce her to the toughest challenges she'll face in 2013 -- her first full season -- when it does matter? Trust me, if Patrick had the opportunity to test, Greg Zipadelli would have run her through 600 miles of tires at Darlington before they went back to race.
But they don't have that luxury. They have trial by fire. They have saddle up and hammer down, young lady. So that's what she'll do -- two-step with the Lady In Black.
Speaking of it'd be killer if Danica got GoDaddy to approve an all-black firesuit for her Darlington debut, no?
What's missing this year on the No. 29 team? Great qualifying, but no race wins yet? #OneGoal #SprintCup
-- Williemanille, Kansas City
Blame it on the rain, Williemanille.
I am very funny.
In my opinion the answer is Scott Miller. Since he departed Richard Childress Racing the cars don't seem quite as fast. And where did Miller go? Michael Waltrip Racing. Which team is the surprise of the season so far? Michael Waltrip Racing. It's no coincidence.
SONG OF THE WEEK
"The Rain Came Down," by Steve Earle. Earle was in Charlotte this week and I wasn't. I was ... in Southwest Virginia. My man Nate Ryan from USA Today was there, and his account via Twitter rekindled my love for Earle's unyielding support of the common man. He sings about runnin' shine and defending your hard work. I love that.
Now my granddaddy died in the room he was born in
Twenty-three summers ago
But I could've sworn he was beside me this morning
When the sheriff showed up at my door
So don't you come around here with your auctioneer man
'Cause you can have them machines
But you ain't taking my land
Download it. Trust me. The passion in the words will hit your soul.
Why did it take me so long to download Creepin'? #CHIEF
-- Matt Visintine, Columbia, Ill.
I tried to tell you, man. Then again, I've tried to tell everybody.
The Nashville show Saturday night will be epic. I have a distinct feeling it will be historic, in fact. I'd bet the farm Eric Church will show that town something it hasn't seen before. If you're going, buckle the belts tight and strap on a football helmet. It's gonna be rowdy.
Saw you in on the NASCAR Now discussion about less cautions, and wanted to say thank you. You hit the nail on the head when you said more competitive but not more talented. In the last seven years we have had two champions. While it's not uncommon to have only a few champions a decade the 74-79 did it for six years. Things go in circles in this sport remember :)
Today's NASCAR isn't just about driving -- you have to sell products. A more marketable star can actually get a job over a better driving star, and that dilutes the pure talent pool. We see guys with not as much talent who are great for a sponsor. I have no problem with this as it's evident they can drive. But they are not dominant superstars.
The sport is driven by sponsor dollars and companies have a right to choose their drivers/spokes-person. NASCAR does have some obviously-great wheel men -- JJ and Stewart, Kenseth, Kyle Busch, and Harvick would be my top-five superstar drivers.
Keep up the great job and keep bringing it son, tell it like it is we are listening!
-- Kneal Hesse, Iowa
I truly feel that way, Kneal. Today's driving corps is fantastic. Even drivers we consider mediocre because of their lack of Cup success have world-class talent. But the top-10 drivers in today's Cup Series aren't necessarily better than the top-10 drivers in 1992.
Compare Alan Kulwicki, Bill Elliott, Davey Allison, Harry Gant, Kyle Petty, Mark Martin, Darrell Waltrip, Sterling Marlin, Ernie Irvan, Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace to today's crop of stars, including Johnson, Stewart, Kenseth, Harvick, the Busch Brothers, Hamlin, Biffle, Gordon, etc.
Is the 1992 group "worse." Not to me. Granted, the field these days is deeper.
The competition, however, is very different. Rules are more stringent than ever, and teams have far less leeway to be creative with their cars. As a result, far more drivers have the opportunity to win each week.
That's my time, Team. Thank you for sharing it with me. And thank you for being NASCAR fans.