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As we approach the running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18, many casual fans will tune in to see “the big one,” the traditional accident that usually takes out a handful of drivers. And while these casual fans will gasp at the screeching tires, the destroyed cars and the highlights being shown over and over on the sports wrap-up shows, true NASCAR fans will be worrying about those drivers strapped in those cars.

You see, those drivers have wives, girlfriends (or boyfriend, in the case of Danica Patrick), mothers and fathers, kids, brothers and sisters and countless loved ones who dread these sorts of accidents. And it’s the story of those families that gets NASCAR fans really invested in their favorite drivers.

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It’s not all about tires and paint schemes and qualifying speeds. Rather, it’s often about a pit road filled with good people and hard workers, as well as amazing love stories that happen far from pit road.

Especially in recent years, NASCAR fans have found themselves not only rooting for their favorite drivers, but also rooting for the loved ones who cheer them on. We root for young couples like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and wife Amy, who are eagerly awaiting the birth of their first baby in early May.

“When I got married, I thought I had a good idea how amazing my wife is,” the once-reserved Dale Jr. gushed in a Feb. 8 tweet. “But her poise and grace during her first pregnancy has turned me into an adoring pile of mush.”

Indeed, Dale Jr. and Amy are just one of the many couples that make up the story of NASCAR, living love stories that fans can’t seem to get enough of. They gush over the kids of Kyle Busch and wife Samantha, Ty Dillon and wife Haley and Kevin Harvick and wife DeLana, who are all frequent stars of their parents’ social media feeds.

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They melt over the weddings, like the 2017 nuptials of of Austin Dillon and wife Whitney, and learn from the longtime marriages of past drivers such as Darrell Waltrip and wife Stevie.

And yes, they pray as hard as they can when a couple finds themselves in the fight of their lives. NASCAR champion Martin Truex Jr. and longtime love Sherry Pollex, for example, are not only celebrating the success of their 2017 season, but also fighting the battle of their lives as Sherry continues to be treated for ovarian cancer.

In every pit box, every victory lane and every cockpit, there is a story. And it’s those stories that NASCAR fans are in love with. Those stories make fans not only tune in every weekend to see the spectacle of 40-plus race cars going faster than 150 miles per hour around a track, but also make them feel something for the people behind the wheel and the loved ones cheering them on. After all, they are a lot like us, people who are just trying to make sure they fill their lives with love.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Tricia Despres is a senior correspondent for Rare Country, based out of Chicago. Join the conversation on Twitter at @RareCountry. We would love to see y’all there.
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