Dustin Long
Friday January 13th, 2012

Maybe his actions on the football field fascinate you. Maybe you find his personality charming. Either way, you have probably heard of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.

He's hard to ignore. And it's getting harder, as Americans await his playoff game against the New England Patriots on Saturday night.

Go beyond the myth-making and take a closer look at Tebow. Can you see his connection to NASCAR? Can you see how your favorite driver might be like Tebow? It's there. Don't see it? Look again. You might be surprised.

Kevin Harvick, known for his aggressive style, sharp tongue and take-no-BS attitude, shares a trait with Tebow. Just look at how they win.

Denver's overtime playoff victory against Pittsburgh last weekend continued Tebow's magical season. During the regular season he led the Broncos to five fourth-quarter comebacks and three overtime victories. While not all those drives were as pristine as Sunday's one-play score, the fact remains the Broncos have won with him at quarterback.

No Cup driver has rallied to win as many races as Harvick in the last three seasons. Five times he took the lead in the final 10 laps to win (another time he took the lead with 11 laps to go to win).

Many of Harvick's victories last year were as dramatic as a Tebow rally. In March, Harvick passed Jimmie Johnson on the last lap to win at Auto Club Speedway, atoning for a failed effort there the season before. Harvick denied Dale Earnhardt Jr. a victory at Martinsville a week later, passing him with four laps to go. And, as Earnhardt ran out of fuel on the last corner of the last lap, Harvick roared by to win the Coca-Cola 600, becoming only the fifth driver to win the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Brickyard 400 at least once each.

Such dramatics are not new to Harvick. He scored his first Cup victory in 2001 when he held off a charging Jeff Gordon by inches at Atlanta in just Harvick's third start since taking over the ride after Dale Earnhardt's death. In 2007, Harvick nipped Mark Martin to win the Daytona 500 with a last-lap pass.

Yet, there's more to Tebow and his ties to NASCAR.

It's not just the late wins that make non-football fans want to watch Tebow. Every play is a taut mystery novel unveiled in seconds. Will he complete the pass? Will he be wildly off target? Will the Broncos offense flounder? How will it recover? It's hard to take one's eyes away from Tebow because there's an air of anticipation that anything is possible when he has the ball.

NASCAR fans can relate. There is one driver that you don't miss watching, even if you don't like him, because you never know what Kyle Busch will do next. Will he make it back to the front? Will he crash trying? Will he do something not seen in years, if ever?

Jimmy Spencer was known as Mr. Excitement, but it is Busch who provides the spark now.

While the discussion about Busch late last season centered on him intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday Jr. under caution during a Trucks race, Busch often is near -- or creates -- the excitement. He repeatedly dove to the apron in the corners at Atlanta to pass trucks until race officials told him to quit making those daring moves a few years back. He's among the most aggressive drivers on restarts, willingly steering his mount three- and four-wide in places most would only go side-by-side. Making the improbable seem probable is what Busch does best on the track.

There's more to Tebow than unpredictability, though. His success on the field and charitable work off it have made him among the country's most popular athletes. He even served as the grand marshal for one of the qualifying races at Daytona in 2010, giving an enthusiastic command of "Drivers, start your engines!'' that included a fist shake.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. can relate to Tebow's popularity.

Tebow has a legion of supporters who once made his jersey the best selling in the NFL and put his book, Through My Eyes back on The New York Times bestsellers list after debuting there last year. His following is so fervent Republican presidential candidates are fawning over him and seeking his endorsement.

Earnhardt's fans have made him the sport's most popular driver nine consecutive years, put his book on his rookie season, Driver #8 on The New York Times bestseller list after it was released and led then-President George Bush to seek Earnhardt's endorsement (along with other NASCAR drivers) during his re-election campaign.

For all the support Tebow and Earnhardt have, detractors remain. Those against Tebow tire of all his talk about Christian beliefs or question all this commotion about an average quarterback. Those who do not support Earnhardt question his drive and lack of winning in recent seasons, saying he's nothing like his late father, Dale Earnhardt Sr.

More often, though, the cheers for both drown out any boos directed at them.

Yet, the driver that fans are prone to think resembles Tebow the most is defending Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne. Both are open about their faith. They frequently quote Bible passages on Twitter. They've done mission work. Tebow has created his own foundation to help children, and Bayne has talked about wanting to do something similar in the near future.

They celebrate their personal triumphs in similar ways. For Tebow, it's bending down on one knee in prayer. For Bayne, it was giving thanks via his team's radio moments after winning last year's Daytona 500: "God is so good, man! He is so good to us!''

Bayne and Tebow have even chatted. A few days after last year's Daytona 500, Tebow called Bayne to congratulate him and offer some advice.

"[He] just said, stay grounded, don't worry about what they're saying, stay focused in what you really believe in, just be you," Bayne said shortly after their conversation.

Tebow's impact has touched other Cup drivers. The phenomenon of Tebowing has spawned a website with people of all ages bending down on one knee in the Tebow prayer pose. Former NASCAR champion Bobby Labonte did his form of Tebowing while in his firesuit during a recent photo shoot.

After attending Denver's overtime victory against Pittsburgh last weekend, Southern 500 winner Regan Smith proclaimed his admiration for Tebow, tweeting: "[N]o matter how the [B]roncos's [sic] season ends I have a new person who I personally and professionally look up 2 in Tebow.''

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