NEW YORK -- My back is stiff this Thursday afternoon. Nextel Cup shock packages aren't exactly designed for New York City streets. But a few Doan's pills are a small price to pay for the opportunity to bounce down East 53rd Street with Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer is an unassuming type, a self-proclaimed Kansas hillbilly who is much funnier than he realizes. He's a good ol' boy who likes to laugh. A lot. My kinda guy. Plus, he's sponsored by Jack Daniel's, and that never hurts anything.
I am sitting in the passenger side of his Chevrolet during the NASCAR Victory Lap -- a parade of Cup cars through Times Square piloted by the top 10 drivers in points on Wednesday -- which has quickly become a staple of Champion's Week in Manhattan.
I have no seat, rather, a razor-thin layer of what amounts to blue carpet padding and a black folding stadium seat propped up against the rear cross bar. Makeshift doesn't even start.
The guys who rigged up my spot tell me Richard Childress forbade anyone from drilling holes in his cars. Can't blame the man one iota, there. I wouldn't want some random dude punching holes in my floorboards, either.
Bowyer and I both find this humorous as he squeezes through the window into a seat that obviously is not his.
He questions what skinny SOB it could possibly belong to. Ah, Jeff Burton.
I inquire how ridiculous he felt in the Waldorf-Astoria lobby at 7 a.m. in his driving suit.
"Very. And I'm freezing."
It is quite cold out. Eyes water. Hands are red. Bowyer shivers. I remind him I'm wearing a heavy coat.
As the command to start the engines rings down the block and the motors fire, he looks at me quizzically and explains he has no clue where we're going or what we're doing.
Um, no. "Follow the 24, maybe?"
As we ease around the corner behind Jeff Gordon, fans are everywhere and ultimately line the entire 1.5-mile circuit around the city. They cheer as the boys roll by. This event has grown each year in attendance, and in rowdiness. A NASCAR news release stated some 150,000 people took in the action this year.
About 10 minutes into the trek, I implore Bowyer to do a burnout.
"You'll get some new fans, man!" I scream above the roaring motor.
"Probably get arrested, too," he rebuts.
"Light 'em up!" I persist.
He does, and the fans love it. One guy on a corner, though, freaks totally out and jumps back, terrified. I cackle. The engine, though, isn't quite so enamored.
"Well, it gets on the [rev-limiter] chip pretty damn easy!" Bowyer says with a laugh.
With that, the ride is over. The car stinks. The brakes and the clutch are burnt up, and we hop out and head toward the Hard Rock Café entrance.
As I turn to follow Bowyer in, I am stopped by a NASCAR security man.
"Go look at the 17."
Kyle Busch has burnt the clutch completely out of the No. 5 car and slammed hard into the back bumper cover of Matt Kenseth's No. 17. It is dented -- looks like it just ran the Sharpie 500 at Bristol.
Maybe next year we'll order up brakes and clutches up to the task.
Oh, and shocks. Definitely shocks.
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.