NEW YORK – Jeff Gordon, sitting in a restaurant adjacent to Times Square here in Manhattan last week, said it himself.
"If it doesn't happen here, it doesn't exist."
Meaning NASCAR needs to be here in New York.
Gordon actually was speaking from the point of view of big companies (read: potential sponsors) who call New York City home, asserting that some opportunities need to present themselves right under the marketing execs' noses to be noticed.
So here we found NASCAR in New York for its awards week. And here we could find NASCAR racing in the coming years – which Gordon would very much like to have happen.
NASCAR celebrating in New York is nothing new, but the apparent impact the presence of drivers like Gordon, champion Jimmie Johnson, fan favorites Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne, and the rest of the top 10 is having seems to increase year over year – the drivers themselves said as much.
The New York Post had a commemorative promotional cover page celebrating the week's festivities. Then there was the lap around Times Square last Wednesday, an event which drew a very solid crowd. There also were lines of fans outside of NBC's "Today Show" studio hoping to catch a glimpse of Johnson and Co., who have made numerous media appearances throughout the week.
In fact, fans found their way to the media hotel (which also hosted Friday night's banquet) and to other events that weren't even widely publicized.
In other words, it's clear NASCAR fans knew NASCAR was here.
"This year's [lap] was amazing – coming down Broadway and Times Square, seeing all the people," Gordon said.
No, the entire city hasn't gone NASCAR crazy. During the Times Square lap, some pedestrians simply walked on by, others stopped to take a look or ask what the event was, and some had "what the hell is going on?" looks on their faces.
Still, there have been plenty of moments – surreal ones at that.
One minute you are leaving a NASCAR function, watching autograph and picture seekers try to catch little more than a glimpse of their favorite drivers – some of whom have been shown to alternate exits to avoid the crowds. The next minute you are walking down the street, hearing roughly a half-dozen languages being spoken around you (this doesn't happen at all that many Cup races).
Then you are walking by one of the pit stop demonstrations that have been set up around the city. Another minute and you are standing at the Rockefeller Center, looking up at the Christmas tree that was lit just earlier that week.
And don't forget the NASCAR-themed port-o-potties. Really.
All the while you pass everything Manhattan has to offer – the food, the shopping, the culture, etc.
It really does all seem to be here – including, this particular week, NASCAR.
And NASCAR, in recent years, has made it clear that it wants to be in as many places as possible – especially the big markets.
There are new and/or additional races near Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles, and a concerted effort to reach the Pacific Northwest market, just to name a few.
And, of course, there is Staten Island, where NASCAR and ISC had hopes to build a track and stage a race, though ISC abandoned those plans Monday.
NASCAR could look to alternative metropolitan New York locations close enough to the city to differ from those previous examples, as anyone who has been to Fontana, Calif., or Joliet, Ill., know those towns aren't quite Los Angeles and Chicago, respectively. In fact, John Andretti once told Yahoo! Sports that he believed NASCAR brought more fans to the Fontana area than Southern California (specifically LA) brought to NASCAR.
And if NASCAR does stage a race in New York, maybe that will continue to hold true. But a race within New York's city limits could set it apart.
The difference being the exposure Gordon speaks of, to both potential sponsors and millions of passionate sports fans.
No, the Staten Island site won't work out. Maybe NASCAR will find an alternative like the Meadowlands in New Jersey, though a race there potentially wouldn't have quite the same impact.
Based on the popularity of these events and the idea of a blending of cultures (ain't that what New York's about?), it would be, well, simply pretty cool if NASCAR were able to stage a race in the boroughs.
No, this isn't about abandoning NASCAR's roots or traditional tracks, as events in more rural areas have tremendous history and support. Rather, it's about honoring tradition while also reaching new fans and sponsors.
And being in New York is a way to do the latter.
"If it doesn't happen here, it doesn't exist," Gordon said.
Without breaking into a lyric from "New York, New York," let's amend Gordon's take: If it happens anywhere, it also should happen here.
Said Gordon, "[Being in New York] only helps the sport grow."
That much, NASCAR already knows.
- New York