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Welcome to the first football-less weekend since Labor Day. Are you bummed? Of course you are. You live in the South.

Alas, our crack research staff has informed me there are other sports besides football, and several of them have spotlight moments in the days ahead. I did not believe it at first, but the evidence is irrefutable.

NASCAR drops the flag on its season this weekend at Daytona, its version of the Super Bowl. The Sprint Cup storylines are rich. Lovable or loathable veteran Mark Martin starts on the pole looking for his first Daytona 500 win. Jimmie Johnson begins his quest for a possible mind-boggling fifth consecutive points title.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. could even finish in the top 10 in a race this year. Who knows?

The overriding story from Daytona this year, though, has been Danica Patrick, who has signed on with Junior's JR Motorsports to run ARCA this season and will make her Nationwide Series debut today. Patrick already has attracted a new audience and reintroduced NASCAR, which has been plagued by the bad economy, bad PR and bad racing for the last 18 months.

Whether you do or do not know the difference between a restrictor plate and a serving plate, Patrick's presence is at the very least intriguing, especially for a Nationwide Series that needs a jolt from super-powered jumper cables.

She has the presence and the polarization to be among the rarest of sports figures -- on who, for whatever reason, rises above the field and becomes as interesting as the event. Think about this: If you miss the race today, what's your first question after it's done? If you said, "Who won?" well, OK, but then the second question will be, "Where did Danica finish?"

And if you think NASCAR is no place for a ponytail, well, how do you explain Kyle Petty?

While the Sprint Cup Series just begins its marathon season that stretches from this weekend until seemingly forever, the Winter Olympics kicked off its two-week stay in the spotlight Friday.

The organizers, sponsors and athletes of the international games always refer to the Olympic spirit, a catch-all phrase that encompasses the passion and pursuit of arguably the most historic and meaningful trophy in sports -- an Olympic gold medal.

Regardless of the event or the setting, though, the Olympics offer arguably the world's biggest stage, and with it comes sports' most intense pressure and most tangible drama.

I know what you're thinking -- the Winter Olympics, seriously? There's curling, which should be the crowning event of the Custodial Games. There's any variation of snowboarding, which is the wintertime equivalent of tubin' at Lake Chickamauga. There's the biathlon, the ski-then-shoot-then-ski-some-more competition that seems about as likely a combination as beer and pingpong. Wait, strike that last one.

Before you are going to dismiss any part of these Olympics, though, consider this: There is no other athletic event anywhere that is this important on a global stage and defines one of most pure and glorious demands of sports -- seizing the moment.

Most often, the thing that makes great performances legendary is the stage. Be it Game 7 of the World Series or the Super Bowl or the Final Four, the platform elevates the magnificent. And each of those events happens annually. The teams and players work toward a singular goal, but if they fall short, there is that familiar refrain, "There's always next year."

Not in the Olympics, where the calendar frequently demands that competitors make the most of this opportunity. There is only now; there is only this event in which the best of the world are trying to make the most of the moment.

In truth, that's ultimately what makes sports great. Well, except for male figure skating, of course.

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