If you don't mind, I'm going to vent a little bit about a pretty conflicted relationship I've been in over the last few years.
I used to have a friend who none of my other buddies liked or understood. In fact, some of them even made fun of me for it.
Being seen in this friend's company would probably have lost me some social standing growing up, not to mention the fact we could only hang out on Sundays for the most part.
Finally, our differences became too great, and I had to cut ties with my friend. Things were getting stale, and I had better things on my agenda than to sit around and do the same thing over and over again for what felt like 500 miles.
Lately though, I've been hearing about how well my old friend was doing. People were talking about how many changes my friend had gone through. I was intrigued.
I carved out some time one Sunday and hung out with my old comrade. It turns out, everyone was right; the changes were like night and day, and I barely recognized the character I once thought I knew.
My old friend is the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Growing up, some extended family got me hooked on NASCAR. They were Jeff Gordon fans, so I became a Jeff Gordon fan.
It was an easy decision.
I've been to at least five races in my life. It's not just the Sprint drivers people go for. The entire weekend is an event, centered around qualifying, practices and Nationwide races (formerly known as the Busch Series for all you hardcore fans).
Camping out in a motor home, my ears ringing after each trip to the track — those were some of the best trips I took as a kid.
Back home, instead of having my mind solely devoted to the NFL on Sundays, I'd casually ask to turn it to the race. People would roll their eyes, reject my plea and tell me I was crazy for wanting to change the channel in the first place.
Eventually, football consumed me. Plus I began playing baseball during the spring on Sundays.
My relationship with NASCAR had already been on the decline, as my other friends couldn't imagine why I liked the sport so much. I was an impressionable kid, desperate to make friends, and keep them as well.
These days, the sport has made a conscious effort to widen its fan base. The "Chase" playoff format has been tweaked plenty of times, but I think the new "win or go home" element during the elimination races makes for some compelling theatre.
I tuned in a few weeks ago at Talladega, and I saw Brad Keselowski do just that, keeping himself alive for a second championship.
The sport has gone through some hard times, and the danger factor has been known to turn folks off as well.
Still, I can't help but be drawn back to my old friend as its season comes to a close. Besides the fact that Gordon - still my favorite driver - is the points leader, there's other exciting storylines that should have people tuning in.
While football still reigns supreme in my heart on Sundays in the fall, I'll be flipping the channel every so often over the next few weeks. If Gordon pulls this out, it will be his first championship in more than 10 years. Who doesn't like an underdog story?
My old friend was good to me for a long time, despite me eventually cutting ties.