Kyle Busch had an impressive weekend sweep, winning both the Xfinity Series and Sprint Cup Series races. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second in the Cup race. Budding star Chase Elliott finished in the top-five for the first time in his young Cup career.
Hey, even Lynyrd Skynyrd braved the on-and-off rain during their pre-race concert.
Those were among the storylines that should have been talked about coming out of Texas Motor Speedway’s opening race weekend of 2016. However, the most-discussed event of the weekend happened to be a controversial pre-race invocation by Duck Commander founder Phil Robertson.
Robertson created a national stir in a prayer in which he said: “I pray father that we put a Jesus man in the White House. Help us do that and help us all to repent, to do what is right, to love you more and to love each other. In the name of Jesus I pray, amen.”
Understandably, the “Jesus man in the White House” line was picked up by national outlets. The Robertson family, stars of the reality TV show Duck Dynasty, have been outspoken in their support of Republican candidates in this presidential season.
Phil Robertson has endorsed Texas senator Ted Cruz, while his son, Willie, has been vocal in support of Donald Trump.
I defend Bruce Springsteen’s rights to take his position and, if you do that, then you’ve got to defend everybody else’s too.
Eddie Gossage, on defending Phil Robertson’s prayer message
“He said what he felt and believed and there are a lot of people that agree with him and a lot that disagree with him,” Gossage said. “Nowadays, you cannot say what you think because of political correctness. So I guess everyone has a right to free speech or nobody does.
“Bruce Springsteen cancels his show in North Carolina on his viewpoints [on that state’s controversial ‘bathroom law’], and a lot of people agreed with him and a lot of people disagree with him. I defend Bruce Springsteen’s rights to take his position and, if you do that, then you’ve got to defend everybody else’s too.”
TMS is no stranger to this sort of controversy. This is a track that had the National Rifle Association sponsor a Cup race in 2013.
But this latest prayer controversy does raise issues on NASCAR and its efforts to break away from its “redneck” stigma. Right or wrong, the sport has been stereotyped in that manner.
In February, NASCAR dealt with similar backlash when NASCAR chairman Brian France and several drivers publicly endorsed Trump.
“Far more is made of it when conservatives offer up their political views than when a liberal offers up theirs,” Gossage said. “What do you do? We’re supposed to be tolerant of all.”
Gossage went on to say the track had enjoyed a positive three-year partnership with Duck Commander as the lead sponsor of the race, which ended this year. Gossage even made it clear to Willie Roberston that the family is more than welcome back on race weekends.
“Willie asked me and I said, ‘Heck, yeah,’ ” Gossage said. “I was working, but I guess he got up on stage and sang with Lynyrd Skynyrd at one point. He said that was one of the coolest things he’s done.”
As far as the race’s future sponsor, Gossage said an announcement would be coming in the near future.
I pray father that we put a Jesus man in the White House. Help us do that and help us all to repent, to do what is right, to love you more and to love each other.
Phil Robertson, Duck Commander founder and reality TV star, in the invocation Saturday night
As far as the race itself, Gossage couldn’t have been more pleased outside of an almost two-hour rain delay. It featured some of the sports’ biggest names with Busch and Earnhardt finishing 1-2.
“Every driver thought it was a fun race and the several people I talked to at the race and even today said it was very entertaining throughout,” Gossage said. “It was a good weekend.”
Gossage said the track had slightly higher ticket sales going into this year’s race than the previous year, but actual attendance was down about 4,000. He blamed the weather for the dropped attendance figure.
“You hate to see no-shows, but when the weather is so much different than the forecast, you’re going to have that kind of thing,” Gossage said. “You hate to have one of these weekends affected by Mother Nature.”
It was a good weekend. Much respect to Lynyrd Skynyrd for playing through the rain. Some bands would’ve just stopped.
Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage, after a rain-plagued Saturday night Sprint Cup race
Phil Robertson’s invocation
The Sporting News ran this transcription of the Duck Commander founder’s pre-race prayer Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway.
“All right Texas, we got here via Bibles and guns, I’m fixin’ to pray to the one who made that possible. Father thank you for founding our nation. I pray Father that we don’t forget who brought us — you. Our faith in the blood of Jesus and his resurrection. Help us Father to get back to that. Help us dear God to understand that the men and women on my right are the U.S. military. On my right and on my left. Our faith in the U.S. military is the reason we are still here. I pray Father that we put a Jesus-man in the White House. Help us do that and help us all to repent, to do what is right, to love you more and to love each other. In the name of Jesus I pray, amen.”