Drivers Are Super Fans Too

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The point spread between the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots in Sunday’s Super Bowl XXXVI is 14 points, in favor of the Rams.

Ricky Craven is OK with that. The driver of the No. 32 Tide Ford in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series – a longtime Patriots fan and a native of Newburgh, Maine –said that just may very well be the Rams’ downfall on Sunday in New Orleans.

“Hey, that’s great if St. Louis wants to take the Patriots lightly,” said Craven, who said the only place he’ll be Sunday evening is in front of the television watching his beloved Patriots. “That’s the mistake the (Pittsburgh) Steelers made (last Sunday against the Patriots in the AFC Championship game). If the Patriots play like they have the last eight games, then anything can happen.”

New England won six straight games in the regular season and defeated Oakland and Pittsburgh in the playoffs to reach the Super Bowl for the third time in the team’s existence. The Patriots were defeated by Chicago in 1985 and by Green Bay in 1997 in its two previous Super Bowl appearances.

Kenny Wallace, a St. Louis native and driver of the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevy in the Winston Cup Series, isn’t taking any stock in the points spread conjured up by Las Vegas oddsmakers. He does believe his beloved Rams will win, but by a closer margin.

“Everybody thought that the Rams would be here, but the Patriots have kinda caught people off guard by making it to the Super Bowl,” Wallace said. “People want to make predictions and some say it’s going to be a blowout, but I think it will closer than that. I’m going to say the Rams by a touchdown.

“There are three things involved here that everybody needs to look at. First is the fact that the Patriots can sneak up on you, as they did with the Raiders and the Steelers. That’s huge because they can’t be taken lightly. Second, the Rams have Marshall Faulk, and not only is he a great running back, but he can catch the ball coming out of the backfield, and that’s a huge weapon for the Rams. They’ve got so many weapons on offense that it’s difficult to defend them.

“And then third, you look at that defense, and the Rams’ linebacker, Aeneas Williams, stands out. He can make a big play on defense at any time, and that can be the key play that could turn the game around at any time. There are so many things that can happen. But if I’m making a prediction, I’m going to say the Rams by 7 points.”

Wallace hasn’t always been a Rams fan. He was a backer of the St. Louis Cardinals before they moved to Phoenix and became a Rams’ fan when they moved to St. Louis a few years ago.

“Man, I just love my St. Louis teams,” said Wallace, who actually was able to return to his home for a week in December and took in a Rams game. “Whether it’s the Rams or the (Major League Baseball’s) Cardinals or the (NHL’s) Blues, I get pretty damn excited about it when one or all of them are doing well.

“We won the Super Bowl a couple of years ago and that was big-time, man. Now, I’ve been catching myself every night watching ESPN to see what’s happening with the Super Bowl week hype and all of that.

“During the NFC Championship game with the Eagles (last Sunday), it was like I was hyperventilating because it was so close, but the Rams pulled it out. My dad told me that now I know what he feels like because he does that every time any one of us boys (he and his brothers Rusty and Mike) go out onto the race track.”

Another New England native, Frank Stoddard, will, of course, be rooting for the Patriots. He, too, is surprised to see the team in the Super Bowl and is thrilled it has a chance to win it all, but the crew chief of Jeff Burton’s No. 99 Citgo Supergard Ford is taking a more realistic approach to the game.

“As much as I hate to say it, I believe the Rams will win a close game,” Stoddard said. “The Patriots have had a remarkable year. Their No. 1 quarterback in Drew Bledsoe went down, and an unheralded quarterback like Tom Brady comes in and they rally around him and they win the AFC East.

“Then they play that game against Oakland in the snow, and that was certainly interesting. The instant replay was in their favor, and that gave them an opportunity to go and play Pittsburgh, and nobody was giving them a chance to win that game. Really, they just wanted it more than Pittsburgh and they really came to play.

“Now, they’ve got another chance to win the big one. The first time was a big blowout to the Bears and ‘The Fridge’ (William Perry). Then they lost to the Packers in a game they could have won a few years ago. Now, it’s the heavily favored Rams. I think they’re going to need to get at least a couple of turnovers and turn them into touchdowns. If the Rams score a lot of points, then there’s no way the Patriots can win. It should be about 28-24 in the end.”

Jamie McMurray, who drives the No. 27 Williams Travel Centers Chevy in the Busch Series, is a native of Joplin, Mo., and says he’s not really that much of a football fan. But there is an interesting side story with McMurray.

“(Rams defensive lineman) Grant Wistrom grew up about 3 miles from me,” McMurray said. “He and I weren’t really friends, but we kinda dated the same girl. It’s kinda neat to watch the games and say that you know somebody. The only game I watched all year was the last one (vs. the Eagles). I was rooting for the Rams, and I’ll probably watch the game on Sunday, too.”

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