At least for now, Carli Lloyd as popular as Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

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Sports fans faced a choice of what to watch on Sunday evening. Would it be the U.S. National Women’s team playing in the World Cup Final in Vancouver, British Columbia? Or perhaps NASCAR’s Coke Zero (formerly Firecracker) 400 from Daytona?

In the end, fans of both events were spared the dilemma by Mother Nature. A long rain delay in Daytona gave the women the sports stage all to themselves.

Perhaps things would have been different if Father Nature was in charge of the weather, but it’s a woman’s world when it comes to those things. Hopefully, the rain delay allowed more to see a splendid performance from this remarkable group of women against defending champion Japan.

For all intents and purposes, the game was over in the first 20 minutes. The final score was 5-2, but the Japanese never recovered from an early onslaught.

Clearly motivated by the disappointment of losing to Japan in 2011, the U.S. set a frenzied pace from the start. At one point, the Americans were scoring goals nearly as quickly as a lap around the Daytona International Speedway when it is not raining.

In just 15 minutes, the U.S. had a 4-0 lead. It was raining goals in Vancouver as hard as it was raining rain in Florida.

The newest household name, Carli Lloyd, scored three goals during that span in every way imaginable. Her third looked like a pitching wedge from midfield that barely flew over the head of startled Japanese goalie Ayumi Kaihori and rolled into the net.

By halftime, Lloyd had a hat trick and the U.S. had a 4-1 lead. It was still raining in Daytona.

“After 15 minutes I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming,” said U.S. coach Jill Ellis. “We wanted to put them under pressure right from that start, and everything fell into place perfectly.”

Earlier in the tournament, Ellis came under criticism from the media and former players for her coaching style and the way she handled her players. Today she is the resident genius.

As the rain continued in Daytona, Japan briefly made a game of it at 4-2 early in the second half. Just as quickly, Tobin Heath closed out the scoring as the Americans achieved the team hat trick with their third world championship.

While the Americans celebrated in Vancouver, most Americans went to bed. As Sunday turned into Monday, the Coke Zero 400 finally began in Daytona.

For those NASCAR viewers waiting to see “the big one” (crash), it took only three laps before a 9-car pileup brought the race to a crawl. But that was just the warmup act.

While the Americans still celebrated in Vancouver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. dominated the race and took the checkered flag. Prior to the race he tweeted that he had “a winning car.” It’s not bragging if you can back it up.

As Junior took the checkered flag, a massive crash took place behind him. One car, the number 3 of Austin Dillon, wound up airborne and into the fence that separates spectators from the track.

At least one fan was injured in the stands from flying debris. After seeing the crash, it is hard to imagine that Dillon walked away, but he did.

The scene in Victory Lane was joyous, yet subdued; certainly a far cry from the celebration in Vancouver.

Junior, NASCAR’s most popular driver, has won at Daytona before.  But his father, the late Dale Earnhardt, lost his life there in a 2001 crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500 while driving the 3 car. Seeing that number have another violent crash at Daytona must have given him pause.

Whether (or weather) in Daytona or Vancouver, Sunday brought popular victories, popular champions and lots of action. With the race ending at 2:41 a.m., far fewer people saw the finish in Daytona than the spectacle in Vancouver.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at