There is no escaping the 49ers. After a week of offseason practices, I’m breaking away from your favorite team to help cover the Toyota Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway. And as I mentioned previously, former 49ers running back Roger Craig is serving as Grand Marshall.
Craig was in high spirits during a short pre-race press conference, sharing the podium with perky HNL anchor Robin Meade, who just sang the National Anthem.
Craig said this is his first live NASCAR race, that he admires the endurance and reflexes of stock-car drivers, that he believes they are more courageous than NFL players, and that the fastest he’s ever driven is 95 mph, across the San Mateo Bridge. (Fortunately, that’s not what Niners fans are talking about when they discuss The Drive.)
Who is Craig rooting for today? “No. 33, of course,” he said. That would be Clint Bowyer.
The former running back, a Hall of Fame finalist this year, seemed especially impressed by the access NASCAR drivers allow.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I was with Clint Bowyer this morning, and he’s just so friendly with fans, and with the media, with the sponsorships. As a football player, we don’t go into that mode. We get into our zone and we have like earphones on, and we’re quiet, there’s no talking. … In NASCAR, these guys are really amazing. They can go off and do these types of things, and then get on that track and just turn it on. It’s amazing.”
Of course, we also coaxed Craig into some 49ers talk. He clearly pays attention to his first NFL team, and he sounded thrilled on several fronts – first among them the Niners’ prospects in 2010.
“Well, they could have pretty easily been 12-4 last year,” Craig noted. “You saw what happened when they should have been Minnesota, they should have beat the Colts, they should have beat the Texans, they should have beat Seattle. That’s 12-4 right there. That’s four games that could have changed the game around.
“They’re gonna be strong contenders this year. You think about Kurt Warner’s not with Arizona anymore. They’re gonna be rebuilding. Anquan Boldin is gone. And Pete Carroll’s gonna have a tough time first year. He’s gonna come out the gate and not really dominate the West. So 49ers are a perfect team to annihilate the West. And they got the right ingredients right now. They must have listened to my prediction. I said they should draft linemen before the draft, and they draft the two biggest guys on the planet.”
The NFL’s first 1,000/1,000 guy also sounded excited about a proposed new stadium for the 49ers.
“You think about our fans, most of our fans are based from Santa Clara down to Gilroy, 60 percent,” he said. “Another 35 percent are from Stockton all the way to Reno. Only five percent is San Francisco. I know we got a lot of history being in San Francisco, five Super Bowls, but the name’s still gonna stay the same. It’s not gonna change to like Santa Clara 49ers.”
Craig played for the then-L.A. Raiders after leaving the 49ers, and he believes the two franchises could happily coexist in one Bay Area venue.
“That would be a nice deal, too, if they could share a stadium,” he said. “Just like the Giants and the Jets. It could be the same thing. It could work, but it’s a matter of Al Davis being able to work with it.”