Forget Adam Sandler! Sure it gave me a thrill to meet Ndamukong Suh, the Detroit Lion and former Nebraska Cornhusker. But the bulk of my investigation here at Michigan International Speedway concerned belly-button rings. What teenaged girl wouldn’t want her navel pierced in order to wear a fake diamond and, suspended below it, the number 7 of Danica Patrick’s ARCA stock car? The ornament was only $18 at her merchandise trailer outside the grandstand.
The odd thing? She didn’t even race here this weekend.
Even odder? The mere idea of a Mark Martin belly ring. Such ornamentation representing the old warrior Martin’s number 5 seems misbegotten, like cuddling with Shrek.
The woman staffing Joey Logano’s trailer shook her head when I asked about belly rings. They’re not carried here. Joey, only 20 years old, is too young and pure to dangle so close to perdition. Entering Turn One on the tri-oval at 200 mph is one thing, but slowly swaying near the delta of Venus is quite another.
I asked the staffer when belly rings became popular NASCAR merchandise. All she could say was that young girls in their teens like them, and some older ladies, too.
Meanwhile, I also visited Kasey Kahne’s trailer. Another fellow had just wandered up and was looking at the goods when his friend came to the rescue.
“Don’t waste your money, dude!” he called. “He’s changing teams.”
This morning’s highlight was Ndamukong Suh’s visit to the media center. He’s 6 feet 4 inches tall and as broad in the shoulders as his listed playing weight, 307 pounds, would suggest, but he has a softer handshake than mine. He took a few questions in a press conference, saying he was excited about Nebraska’s announcement to join the Big Ten.
“It’s going to be interesting, the Big Red in the Big House,” he said. “Living in Big Ten country, I’ll be able to watch my home team.”
As an honorary race official, Suh kept company with Detroit Red Wing Nicklas Lidstrom, who was honorary pace car driver. Suh said he’d been to Indianapolis, but this was his first stock car race. So far he’s enjoying living in Detroit, which isn’t as bad as he’d thought. He spoke of expectations that the Lions will make the playoffs this season; the offense was pretty good last year, despite the 2-14 record, and now the defense will be up to snuff. He referred to the acquisition of Kyle Vanden Bosch, another former Cornhusker, whose leadership will make a difference.
An hour later, Adam Sandler and Kevin James stopped by, promoting their new movie “Grown Ups.” I’m not crazy about Sandler and had never heard of James. (The next movie I plan to watch is a story about the Baader Meinhof gang.) Sandler has been one of the chief offenders in the genre of comedies in which adult men act like irresponsible boys, and these haven’t struck me as funny. (A critique of this genre is found in Gary Cross’s “Men to Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity.”)
But Sandler made me laugh today, from the moment he walked in smiling and waving. The moderator said Sandler probably needed no introduction. Then, hearing his name mentioned, James stood up and waved broadly.
Sandler said he keeps tabs on NASCAR, mainly to be able to tell his mother who’s Jewish.
“Who’s Jewish?” he asked all in the room.
After the silence, he said, “I didn’t think so.”
The race was dominated by Denny Hamlin, winner last week at Pocono and three other times this season, all the victories since his major knee surgery earlier this spring. He put up with “pretty much unbearable” pain in his first race after that.
First joker in the press box: “Pretty soon, every other driver will have that surgery.”
Second joker, referring to the long travails of the driver of number 88: “Earnhardt Jr. will have both knees done.”
Kahne, Kurt Busch, and Jeff Gordon ran up front throughout the race.
Top four finishing order: Toyota, Ford, Dodge, and Chevy.
A yellow flag for debris on the track erased Hamlin’s 9-second lead with 17 laps remaining, but he again pulled away after the restart. It wasn’t very dramatic, and I doubt Suh saw anything that would make him want to come back.