Do you need a hug? Here! Have a hug! Is there somebody else who needs a hug? Hugs for all!
What an absolutely joyous feeling that spread across NASCAR Nation as AJ Allmendinger celebrated his very first Sprint Cup victory. I giggled as he embraced the official handing him the checkered flag, and then shed a tear when AJ announced repeatedly, “We won a Sprint Cup race!” It felt good to celebrate.
Then it didn’t feel right, as the darker emotions of Sunday morning swept over me again.
Still, AJ’s moment in the sun could not be stopped. Roger Penske and Richard Childress arrived in Victory Lane to share in more back-thumping, hand-pumping hugs. No, it was okay to smile and celebrate, for Allmendinger has not always walked in the light. He had his struggles–losing his ride at Penske after testing positive for a banned substance two years ago. The Dinger deserved his trophy–fighting off the true road course ringer, Marcos Ambrose all through Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 At The Glen. This driver had faced the worst of public judgment, fought his own demons, and finally grabbed a spot in the firmament of Sprint Cup Winners. Nobody handed him this joy. He fought for it.
After all is said and done, that was a quintessential NASCAR moment, and at the same time, a fine example of the human story.
Perhaps because of the wondrous ending to Allmendinger’s struggles, I kept returning to the place in which Tony Stewart remains.
All through the endless coverage of the tragedy at Canandaigua, I knew this was not the time for judgment. I was not there. I do not have all the information needed to know what truly happened at the moment that Kevin Ward, Jr. lost his life. It was time for grief, tears, and support for those that it personally impacted. I struggled to come to terms with how Tony must be feeling, how he would be feeling the next day, week and all the years to come. Regardless of what may come to pass in the courts and tabloids, Tony Stewart now has a path to walk, and he’ll walk it alone.
At this point, I don’t care whether the No. 14 will make the Chase, or if Stewart-Haas Racing will face financial straits due to public backlash. That is of no importance in this world.
One man lost his life, another is left with the reality he was involved with that death. There will be an eternity for a battle of self-doubt and unanswerable questions. How does one ever find peace after such a horrific incident?
Perhaps AJ Allmendinger found the answer in some small way. No, what Allmendinger did that brought down the world upon his head is not nearly as shattering, but it was his personal battle. AJ looked in that dark place most of us prefer to avoid. He faced down what must have felt like the worst thing that ever happened to him and climbed back out of the shadows. He held to hope.
It is early days yet, and still I’m wishing that everybody touched by the terrible passing of Kevin Ward, Jr. can cling to hope. For even in the darkest moments, when anger and sorrow dim all around, we must look for better times when we can see the light once again–when we will share hugs with the entire world. Today, I’m thanking AJ for reminding me that we can hope. Everybody can.
2014 Sonya Strictly by the Stats
Top Three Rookies for 2014 Cheez-Its 355
1.) No. 42 Kyle Larson Started 23rd Finished 4th (1st in RoTY standings)
2.) No. 3 Austin Dillon Started 31st Finished 16th (2nd in RoTY standings)
3.) No. 51 Justin Allgaier Started 15th Finished 17th (3rd in RoTY standings)
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