The Frontstretch: Johnson Gives Fans Plenty to Talk About-But Really, Now... by Amy Henderson -- Friday October 23, 2009

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Johnson Gives Fans Plenty to Talk About-But Really, Now...

Holding A Pertty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday October 23, 2009

 

Halfway through the Chase for the 2009 Sprint Cup, things are…well, things are predictable. Jimmie Johnson has the points lead (I know, shocker). No. 48 haters, can, I suppose, take heart in one statistic: no winner of the fall race at Charlotte has ever gone on to win the whole shebang. But really, around NASCAR Kingdom, many fans and media are firmly (if prematurely) focused on Johnson. Part of that is natural—Johnson is, after all, the reigning (and reigning and reigning) series champion, and that alone draws a certain amount of scrutiny. Being the point leader five races from the end is going to draw attention. There have been four pervading storylines focused on the No. 48 this week, and there have been a whole lot of headlines surrounding them.

The problem is, all four are a bit…er, misguided.

Thing One flying around is the seeming willingness to hand Johnson the Cup trophy right now. While he does have the biggest lead ever in the Chase after five races, this is also the first time that Talladega Superspeedway isn’t included in those first five races. And Talladega just might be the one thing to level the playing field in a way that NASCAR cannot. Unless a driver has a full race worth of points lead heading in, there is a complete chance that that driver will come out without the lead when the smoke clears and the carnage is counted. And Johnson’s record at Talladega, though vastly improved in recent years, is spotty at best. Restrictor plate racing is Johnson’s weakest skill, though he’s still better than many drivers—but even if he’s picture perfect, there’s no guarantee that someone else won’t cause the wreck that sweeps him up. And with just three races to go after ‘Dega, making up lost points will be a tall order.

Jimmie Johnson has the biggest point lead with five Chase races to go that we have ever seen, but it is still too soon to hand him the Championship trophy.

Sure, Johnson is a hell of a clutch driver, and his large points lead bodes well for an unprecedented fourth Cup title, but the record books aren’t written yet. Best not to go handing out trophies before the last lap-just ask Derrike Cope how that works out.

Thing Two, with all due respect to the Cat in the Hat (the real one, not Jack Roush), is that the Chase schedule was somehow created by NASCAR in an attempt to help Johnson win the title—and that it should be changed. Now, just hold on here. First of all, the schedule was not altered when the Chase was devised. The final 10 races are the same as they were before the Chase, so NASCAR really didn’t just sit down and think, “Hmmmm…how can we let this one guy win multiple titles? I KNOW! We’ll stack the last 10 races so he will magically avoid every wreck, equipment failure, and anything else, and dominate this Chase thingy.”

I suppose NASCAR could restructure the Chase to include Johnson’s 10 worst tracks. In order to do that, they would need both restrictor plate tracks, both road courses, Bristol, Indianapolis, Richmond, Homestead, Las Vegas, and Michigan. I’m fairly certain a lot of teams other than Johnson’s would be pretty unhappy with that schedule—as would a lot of fans. And my guess is that a restructure would only make Johnson’s team redouble their efforts at those tracks, which would probably yield similar results to what they do now. Not only that, but the last time NASCAR tried to penalize excellence (by restricting Toyota’s horsepower in the Nationwide Series) instead of allowing the other teams to catch up on their own, it created a very much deserved backlash from fans and media. If it was wrong then, it’s wrong now. You can’t have it both ways.

Thing Three (We’ve now stretched beyond Seuss, folks!) that I’m tired of hearing about is how Johnson’s dominance (or Junior’s slump or Jeff Gordon’s very existence) is somehow “bad for the sport.” No, it’s not. NASCAR has worse problems than a nice guy who drives clean winning multiple titles. Think about that—in itself, it’s the result of one of NASCAR’s gimmicks to attract fans—had NASCAR left the points system alone, you’d theoretically have seen three different champions in the last three years. The top 35 rule, terrible television broadcasts, and lackluster racing are all far bigger problems than Jimmie Johnson winning a few races a year. If one driver winning a lot of races and championships was that detrimental, how on Earth did the sport survive Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, or Jeff Gordon?

Johnson’s dominance simply coincides with the inevitable—all the new, casual fans that jumped on the NASCAR bandwagon at its height because NASCAR was suddenly the cool thing to talk about around the water cooler have jumped right back off and moved on to the next trend. They weren’t so much fans of the sport, they were fans of the fad. Now that it’s over, the original core fans feel alienated by all the changes that NASCAR made in their vain attempt to hang onto the bandwagoneers. And Jimmie Johnson didn’t invent any of it—he was just along for the ride.

Finally, Thing Four (these Things really do multiply…) is the assertion that if Johnson is winning, his crew chief, Chad Knaus, must be cheating. Given that the sanctioning body has cracked down harder on Knaus than anyone else for the past four years or so, that’s pretty hard to buy. The No. 48 has been taken and torn down after the last four races in a row and passed every inspection NASCAR put it through. The non-story that they almost broke a rule is getting old—you can find 20 or more cars on the racetrack every week that almost break a rule, but the fact is, they’re legal. Almost gets neither a cigar nor a penalty.

The fact is, the No. 48 has played within the rules at every race. One columnist actually wrote that if Knaus is legal within the rule book, then he must be cheating in an area not covered by the rule book. The problem with that theory is…that isn’t cheating. It’s been done since the first NASCAR race and will be done long after Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus retire. If it’s not outside of a written rule, it’s legal. In order to cheat, you have to break an actual rule. If NASCAR chooses to MAKE a rule based on someone working outside the lines of the rule book, well, then it’s a rule and the teams had better abide by it from then on. Here’s a novel idea-Johnson’s team wins because they are just that good.

With five races to go in the Chase, there should be three dozen storylines focused on a dozen drivers, so why all the hype over something that hasn’t happened yet to a driver who hasn’t done anything but drive his bottom off for the last three Chases? Some fans claim jealousy, others claim NASCAR poster boy. Many don’t like Johnson because he gets so much coverage, and yet they keep talking about him. But whatever the reason, keep this in mind; Johnson’s team doesn’t care what people say, and they are just that good.

With five races to go, isn’t it time we all found something else to talk about?

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DP
10/23/2009 09:46 AM
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“…that the Chase schedule was somehow created by NASCAR in an attempt to help Johnson win the title…”

cough….california…cough…

josie
10/23/2009 10:48 AM
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Do I think NASCAR has allowed JJ/CK to cheat? NO. Do I think NASCAR has bent the rules for JJ/CK. NO. Do I think other teams are inferior to JJ/CK? NO. What I do think..why things have culminated into a JJ/CK free for all is..NASCAR backed themselves into a corner..a corner JJ/CK are very comfy in. The ban on testing (don’t you think team “newbies” Stewart-Haas, Martin..as good as they have done this year .. would have excelled even more with testing) and how about all the “convenient” debris cautions..to “reel in” the field…the COT…if you get the lead you keep the lead..you can be any one of probably 20 cars..most likely one of 10. The “wave around” and “lucky dog” rules…come on now…4 laps down and win the race??? And let’s not forget the “Chase”….you can enter after being 400 points down in the regular season..and win the championship?? Come on now..JJ may get his 4th in a row crown..but there will always be an asterisk … a TEN race championship..how would he do in a 36 race championship? So kudos to JJ/CK for being comfy in the corner NASCAR has created…but when is NASCAR going to wake up and realize that corner is getting pretty small…and there is not enough room in it for fans, drivers and sponsors.

4EVER3
10/23/2009 11:24 AM
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It is what it is.Jimmie wins,More power to him and the 48 team.

Bill B
10/23/2009 11:28 AM
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I will only address “thing three”. Yes the bandwagon fans are leaving but that’s not the only fans leaving. Do you pay attention the the comments from fans saying things like “I used to go to three races a year but now…” or, “I’ve been to every Charlotte races since 1985 but now….”. They are the fans you should be worried about leaving and those fans aren’t leaving because of JJ’s dominance. They are leaving because of all the changes BF has made to totally change the sport. If the girl you fell in love with changes too much you eventually leave (for instance if they were religous and now they hang out in bars instead). That is how much this sport has changed in the 5 years since BF took over.

Brian France Sucks
10/23/2009 11:52 AM
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POINT 1 (All other points are a result of this point): Brian France is running NA$CAR. Wonder why ratings are down, fans are watching football or sleeping, racing is pathetic, and stands are empty???? It all begins with the idiot in charge.
On another note, I wonder if Mikey Boy was out partying with JC? What an idiot. Bowyer was right at Bristol.

Carl D.
10/23/2009 03:13 PM
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Great story there, Amy…

Yeah, Johnson has the biggest lead after 5 races in Chase history; yeah, Jimmie Johnson is chasing an unprecidented 4th straight championship… yeah, the media has already handed the 2009 cup trophy to Jimmie and Chad… but can’t we all focus on something else?

I’m still waiting on a Frontstretch column about Bobby Labonte.

FS_Amy
10/23/2009 03:39 PM
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Hey, Carl-did you read the first section of my column? It was about how ridiculous it is to hand anyone the championship at this juncture. I clearly said it was a silly thing for anyone to focus on right now.

We ran a lengthy interview with Bobby Labonte this summer. You may have to cut and paste the link, but it is here: http://www.frontstretch.com/ahenderson/25611/

Josie… I do agree that the Chase plays a role in Johnson’s success…just as the old system played a role in Matt Kenseth’s title and Terry Labonte’s second championship…just as the pre-modern-era system played a role in championship battles back in the day. I’m not a fan of the Chase system, but this is far from the first time that a team has won titles by “working the system.”

California was put in the Chase to placate Bruton Smith, who was hoping that the more lucrative Labor Day date would help attendance at Atlanta or wherever he plans to move that date to in the future. It would be hugely inflating the importance of Jimmie Johnson to believe that his skills at any track have that big an influence on NASCAR’s decision making. Not to mention, his average finish at Fontana is just four places higher than his Atlanta average, meaning only about 16 or so points in the final tally. NASCAR isn’t going to bank on a championship margin of only 16 points.

I do agree that there are older fans leaving the sport too-but what i have seen in many of them is differnt-they don’t go to races, they
may not even watch on TV, but many don’t give it up COMPLETELY, as evidenced by those who read our columns and then comment on why they don’t go to races anymore. The newer fans seem more to just lose interest and fade away. But either way, I cannot believe that one driver is causing it-otherwise fans would have been long gone in the Petty era!

josie
10/23/2009 05:21 PM
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I certainly don’t believe it is “all due to Johnson”. Unfortunately for JJ..he is reaping the “rewards”..good and bad..justified and unjustified..for NASCAR’s blundering management. I wonder..all the media who put JJ up as one of the “best ever”…do they really believe it? Or .. is it more hype to keep people interested in a lagging market? As I’ve said..I give JJ/CK credit for their accomplishments…they are tops when it comes to a ten race championship..but if we wanted to see who is the best after 10 races why don’t we have a 10 race season and be done with it? You can’t compare a steering wheel with a football or basketball or baseball..you can’t compare “the Chase” to the World Series or the Superbowl…those teams are only pitted against each other..not all the teams in the entire league. I just don’t get it. But it is NASCAR’s stick and ball….maybe that is why they are so confused..someone needs to tell them these are cars running around a track and not balls bouncing in a court!

tom1194
10/23/2009 07:14 PM
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The chase is artificial like the leader of nascar. In your response about thing three you liken matt’s and labonte’s championships to Johnson’s. THEY WENT THE WHOLE YEAR, 36 RACES. IF there was a problem give more points for 1st and 2nd place. 20-30 each. The chase breeds point racing until the last ten races. Boring at the first of the year and pointless at the end. A driver could be 600-700 points out of first place at the beginning of the chase and win the championship. The only reason I continue to read these columns is to see if any writers are willing to wake up and continue to shout out for us fans “the chase,BF, and the top 35 rule are killing the desire of fans to go to tracks or even watch it on tv”
Matt McLaughlin may not always be right on some of his stuff but that is one writer who contunues the fight for racing and won’t back down. If all the writers took a stand like that maybe nascar would start to change or they would ban you all from the tracks. it has gone both ways so maybe it is better to play it safe and in the middle of the road.

Ryan
10/23/2009 08:30 PM
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Totally un-biased column as always Amy .
We could never guess who your favoite driver is .
As all readers of Amys’ Frontstretch columns know by now , Johnson is by far the greatest driver to ever sit in a stock car , even though his stats don’t match up to Cale . And Knaus is a misunderstood genius that NASCAR picks on for no reason . What possible motive would they have for wanting to check the 48 after each race , i just can’t imagine . We get it Amy , we’ve gotten it all along . You are incapable of writing objectivly about Johnson . We get it . So stop pretending to be a writer and admit to being nothing more than a fan on a blog .

Carl D.
10/24/2009 09:24 AM
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Amy…

I did cut and paste the link and I remember the interview with Bobby. I remember thinking at the time that it was a pretty lame interview, not so much because of the questions but because of Labonte’s dismissive answers. I’d forgotten about that interview, basically because it was forgetable.

My point about Johnson was that you, a member of the media, spent an entire column telling us there’s more to focus on than the media’s obsession with Johnson.

As hard as I am on you Frontstretch writers from time to time, I want you to know it’s because your website is second to none in the sport and I’ve come to expect nothing but your best work.

mkrcr
10/24/2009 10:10 PM
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How can we possibly talk about anything else when, after 5 races, it’s evident we’re (YAWN) looking at #4. Thanks Brian France, you worthless piece of…
Perhaps if the media would focus on someone else, but then again, who really cares about the other 42. Right Amy?
I’m sure we’ll see many, many, many, more JJ articles but we won’t talk about him, will we?

Bad Wolf
10/24/2009 11:46 PM
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I get the feeling after reading Amy Hendersons writings that she was one of the early ones to hop on the FadWagon. I’m not saying this in a derogatory way and if she likes the product more power to her.

This is not my Nascar, and I do not attend multiple races each year like I used to, and I do not watch. I do come to Frontstretch to keep up on the sorry state of the sport and commiserate with other like minded fans who remember what stock car racing is really about.

I used to watch MTV when they actually played music vidios.

I used to watch VH1 when they actually played classic music vidios.

I used to watch CMT when they actually played country music vidios.

I used to watch SpeedVision before it became a mouthpiece of Brain Frances Nascar.

I used to watch Nascar races when they actually showed real racing.

 

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Recent articles from Amy Henderson:

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