Oh, the pain of it all. Could I find myself pulling for Junior?

Some readers will immediately recognize my dilemma as NASCAR related. Others might need a bit of interpretation.

I’m a so-so fan of the so-called “stock car” racing series, in which race teams pretend that their virtually identical cars are Fords, Chevys, Dodges or Toyotas while chasing each other around an assortment of tracks scattered across the country.

I used to cheer for Bill Elliott, mainly because he was from Georgia. I didn’t like it that he was twice sponsored by beer companies (Coors, when he drove the 09 for his own team, and Budweiser when he drove the number 11 car for Junior Johnson).

When I wrote him once to express concern, he wrote back and said he wasn’t excited about it, either, but business was business, and that he often spoke out against drunken driving. Later he switched to McDonald’s as his primary sponsor, driving the number 94 car for several years of immense popularity before going to work for Evernham motorsports and driving the number 9 “Dodge Dealers” car. It was easier to cheer for him then.

When Elliott retired from full-time racing and handed the keys to young Kasey Kahne, I started pulling for him to win, though he wrecked so often that I sometimes called him “Krashy Kayne.”

After our daughter was killed (in 1994) by a man who was stoned on Bud Ice, I declared I’d never again cheer for anyone sponsored by a beer or liquor company, which put me solidly in the “anti-Junior” camp. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (commonly known as “Junior”) is far-and-away the most popular driver in NASCAR. But, for years he’s driven a fire-engine red car emblazoned with the Budweiser logo, which only enhanced his youthful reputation as a hard-drinking party boy.

Junior announced earlier this year that he was leaving his late father’s race team to drive for Rick Hendrick’s super-successful stable. It soon became evident that neither the number 8 nor the Budweiser sponsorship would follow him.

During the past week it was announced that Junior’s new sponsor would be the National Guard and Pepsi, which will use his new number 88 car to promote its Mountain Dew “Amp” energy drink.

Meanwhile (ouch!) it was announced that Budweiser would shift its sponsorship to Kasey Kayne’s car in 2008.

No more cheers for you, Kasey.

I don’t do “energy drinks,” but I down a lot of Diet Mountain Dew and Diet Pepsi (preferably, with lime), and I appreciate the National Guard.

All of which means that in 2008, I could find myself in the really stressful situation of cheering for Junior to win instead of lose.

Then again, this may be the boost I need to let NASCAR go the way of professional football, baseball, and basketball — and just stop caring about the sport at all.

Time (and sponsors) will tell.

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