NASCAR Takes an Easter Holiday, But There’s Always Golf to Watch

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John Harrelson / Getty Images for NASCAR

Denny Hamlin, driver of the FedEx car, leads Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 1, 2012 in Martinsville, Virginia.

There’s no NASCAR race this Sunday. Those good ole boys don’t race on Easter Sunday. I understand, but I’m a little disappointed. Last Sunday I spent the afternoon in front the flat panel shuttling between the NA race in Martinsville, Virginia and the PGA Shell Open golf tournament in Houston. It was weirdly entertaining and I was looking forward to weekend of alternating between the glorious green of the Masters and asphalt jungle of NASCAR.

You would think that nothing could be more distant than these two. Golf is, let’s say, a chardonnay sport while NASCAR is unapologetically Bud. But I find the yin/yang appealing, the 100-decibel, 200-mph demolition derby and the soothing green and quiet-thwack-clap austerity of golf.

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But in both events, it’s all about handling pressure, about making critical and timely decisions, about getting a little lucky, or not. Martinsville is a half mile track, one of the smallest tracks in NASCAR. It’s tight, like staging a car race in a parking garage. (Hey NASCAR, why not?) And for a couple of hundred laps Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson played tag with each other making left turn after left turn as they churned through the front of the pack. As the two faced a restart after a yellow flag with just a couple of laps left, analyst and former driver Darrell Waltrip explained (and no one’s better at it, or more entertaining) everything the two drivers had to consider in taking on each other and holding off the pack — new vs. old tires (or “tars”, as Darrell drawls it), fuel, air temperature, fatigue, track position, driving strategy — as they headed for the green flag restart.

Meanwhile in Houston, Hunter Mahan was also protecting a slim lead, on Carl Petterson, with two holes to go, and Johnny Miller was explaining the many permutations of club and shot selection and the psychology of both Hunter and the guy who was hunting him. The thing one thing these two sports have in common is spectacular crashes. We watched Rory McIlroy wreck spectacularly in last year’s Masters — you really shouldn’t be playing your second shot from someone’s porch. At the Shell, third round leader Louis Oosthuizen crashed on the fifth hole round while Petterson just sort of blew a tire on the next to last hole, leaving Mahan, not known for his composure, a nervy 18th to deal with.

In Martinville, it ended badly for Johnson and Gordon when crazy Clint Bowyer “dive bombed” for the lead, trying to make an inch-perfect pass down low in the first turn only get bumped and wreck both of them. Ryan Newman breezed through for a less-than-deserved win, but that’s short-track racing. No wonder these guys used to have fist fights after these kinds of races. That’s one thing you won’t see in golf.

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