The Drive for Five is complete. Is that a legendary accomplishment or the next sign of the impending Apocalypse?
Jimmie Johnson put himself in the same room as NASCAR legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt — both seven-time Cup champions — by winning his fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup on Sunday by finishing second to Carl Edwards in the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Johnson rallied from a 15-point deficit to pass Denny Hamlin for another championship. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus endured a tumultuous Chase, during which Johnson’s crew was benched, to continue their reign over the sport.
And the great debate begins: Is Johnson’s dominance good for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and help it gain more attention as it attempts to rebound in 2011 from a season of decreased attendance and TV ratings? Or will it hurt, as fans are getting sick and tired of seeing Johnson and Knaus hoisting the big silver trophy every year at Homestead?
SBNation’s Jeff Gluck, an avid Tweeter, posted this interesting smorgasbord of Twitter reaction from fans after the race Sunday. Many fans complained about Johnson’s victory. And those fans are wrong.
What Johnson is doing here, folks, is beyond special because it’s almost beyond comprehension. NASCAR rule makers toil long and hard to build equality into the sport. The COT has homogenized the machinery. The point system rewards consistency more than winning. The Chase system was created to prevent a runaway champion late in the season, erasing any early-season dominance. Four of the 10 Chase races are on 1.5-mile ovals, with no road courses and only one short track.
This is racing’s version of the salary cap and free agency, two components that have killed dynasties in the NFL, NBA and NHL. Yet Johnson, Knaus and Hendrick Motorsports continue to just deliver under pressure, year after year. Think about it: The last time Jimmie Johnson failed to win the Sprint Cup, only Alaskans had ever heard of Sarah Palin. Justin Bieber was a kid dreaming of stardom in his bedroom in Canada. Joey Logano was 15 years old.
Why is this criticized? Why is this seen as boring? I agree with Peter DeLorenzo at Autoextremist: It’s not like Johnson and Knaus are crushing the competition due to superior equipment, an argument that could be made about the Ferrari that Michael Schumacher drove to five consecutive Formula One World Championships last decade.
These cars are getting it done better than anyone else. It’s not their fault that every other team in the garage has failed to catch them. I know I’m starting to sound like Otter in the famous trial scene in “Animal House,” but isn’t winning the American way? Don’t Americans pull for winners? Don’t most Americans outside of Western and Central New York think the Buffalo Bills are losers because they lost four consecutive Super Bowls, not taking even a second to think about such a remarkable achievement of earning a spot in the big game for four straight years?
Listen to the commentary by Ed Hinton of ESPN in the video below. It’s spot on. We’re probably never going to see a run like this again in NASCAR, so this accomplishment should be savored, not sneered.
With the confetti swept and the champagne bottles binned after the Victory Lane celebrations last Sunday at Homestead, attention already has turned to the 2011 season, on and off the track.
Dustin Long already is making his picks for the 2011 Chase. Carl Edwards already is a fashionable pick to put Johnson’s championship run into neutral next season because he won the last two races of the season. Please. What a superb example of our ever-shrinking attention span.
Edwards led just 11 laps in the first eight Chase races. The win two weekends ago at Phoenix snapped a 70-race winless streak. Seventy races. Two strong races does not automatically promote a driver into “best of the rest” status.
Off the track, NASCAR has faced an imperfect storm of dropping TV ratings and lower attendance that has caused media to spend as much time guessing about the reasons behind the slump as predicting the winner of the upcoming race. Reasons tossed around included the struggling economy, explosion of HDTV, overexposure, the COT, the Chase, high hotel room prices in race markets, a bursting of the NASCAR bubble of last decade and so on.
NASCAR boss Brian France spoke about those issues at Homestead, but Gluck thinks he’s not exactly in touch with the average NASCAR fan. I think France needs to shorten the length of the Cup races, not the Nationwide races. Four hours in front of a TV, especially on a hot summer day, is just too long. There should be a limited number of 500-mile and 500-lap races.
But the Chase is working. How can you look at this year’s Chase and say otherwise? Three drivers with a true shot — not just a mathematical chance — entering the season finale. Many different leaders in the Chase standings. Excellent racing throughout the Chase.
And if the “old” point system was in effect, Harvick would have won by 285 over Johnson. The Chase would have been over at Phoenix. So if you think the TV ratings were low this year, how much worse would it have been with the old system?
I still would like to see more points given for winning. But consistency will rule the roost unless NASCAR drastically overhauls its point system to create more incentive for winning, which it won’t. And I’d rather see that metronomic march broken into a regular season and postseason instead of an insufferably long regular season that probably will feature a runaway winner, which is exactly the scenario that would have occurred this year.
So what’s more boring? Jimmie Johnson earning his fifth straight title by becoming just the third driver since 1975 to overcome a points deficit in the season finale or Kevin Harvick locking up an inevitable, inexorable, seemingly endless march to a title a week before the season finale?
Be careful what you wish for, NASCAR Nation.
Silly season is underway in the IZOD IndyCar Series, as the series is rightfully buzzing from the addition in the last two weeks of Chevrolet and Lotus as engine builders starting in 2012. Paul Dalbey of More Front Wing and Joe Berkemeier of Trackside Online talk about possible driver moves and a lot more in this excellent podcast. Paul also had a very interesting podcast with ICONIC Committee member Tony Cotman about the 2012 chassis and engine package. That Dalbey kid is on a roll, I tell ya.
In MotoGP, new 125cc World Champion Marc Marquez is moving up to Moto2 next season with the Monlau Competicion team. Marquez became the second-youngest World Champion in history at age 17 this season and appears to be the next great Spanish hope in Grand Prix motorcycle racing.
2006 MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden underwent successful wrist surgery Monday. If you’re not a follower of Nicky on Twitter, do it now. His tweets Monday before surgery were classic.
Happy Thanksgiving to all readers of Splash And Go. Cherish the time with your families.