Danny Peters · Wednesday November 24, 2010
In the comments section of my Five Points column this past Tuesday, I was very much taken to task by a number of fans that told me in no uncertain terms I was more than wrong to voice this particular opinion on Kevin Harvick:
“Now there are those (frankly moronic) fans who will continue to bleat long and hard as to why Harvick was the real ‘regular season champion’ but this would be a specious and spurious claim. Yes, in 2003 under the old points system, Harvick would have been the champ, but we’re not using that system and the idiots that keep propagating this nonsense about the real points champion should really learn the difference and the shut the (insert your own expletive) up.”
One fine commenter even suggested Frontstretch should fire me for my egregious choice of words. (Perhaps a two-month suspension from column writing duties?) So, with due respect, I’ve taken a long, hard look at what I said, and frankly I don’t disagree with the essence of what I wrote. Yes, there are some fairly choice words: I’d lose the frankly moronic, the idiots and the expletive in hindsight, but for once I felt the need to really make what is, in my opinion, a very important general point. It’s simple, really: you race to the system, and the system in play crowns the champion. That’s that. I may have been a little cruder than my usual, more delicate approach, but mistakes do happen. Such are the perils of writing over 50 columns a season; occasionally, you say it right, it just comes out a little bit wrong.
So who better, then, to ask an opinion of my (sensible) point of view then the champion himself, who was in Manhattan on Tuesday to tape a special NASCAR TV show entitled “No Restrictor Plate” hosted by Kyle Petty? The recording was attended by not just media, but also a contingent of fans, six of whom got to ask the champion a question directly. It’s always fun to watch a TV show being taped, and Kyle Petty makes for a great host. Before the serious stuff began, he was right at home, joking and having fun with the fans — full of witty one-liners and quick quips. One such example came after a NASCAR employee introduced the format to those in attendance, saying, “We’re lucky to have two special guests today” (Kyle and Jimmie).
The immediate deadpan response from Mr. Petty: “One special guest and Kyle, he means.”
Johnson was quick to get in on the act, as Petty was having a last-minute make-up touch up. “Look, he wears make-up,” said Johnson, laughing. “Every day,” answered Petty. The make-up artist then moved on to apply some final touches to Johnson, who looked ruefully at the fans and said, “I just made fun of him and they put it on me.”
Good stuff from a man whose subtle sense of humor is often overlooked. Once the recording began, though, Johnson was all business: composed, even-keeled, rational, calm, respectful – the very mark of a champion, just as you would expect. Below are some highlights from the show as well as from a Q&A session after the taping.
What do you think to people who say Harvick is the real champion based on the old points format?
“I go through it every year. Five years, I have been the champion and some years with the old system I [would] have been, and some years I haven’t been. Umm… OK.” At this point, he paused. Turned. Looked at the glimmering 2010 Sprint Cup trophy seated a few yards behind him, and said, “It’s got my name on it.”
Do you think you get the respect you deserve?
“The majority of people respect, appreciate, and commend your achievements. There’s always a percentage of naysayers, people questioning it. That’s motorsports and it’s sport, too, in general. I’ve been accustomed to it. It is what it is. Our sport is fighting to prove itself from time to time, that we are athletes, that we are a serious sport, so some of that stuff dilutes the accomplishments we’ve experienced and obtained as a team. I would assume this fifth in a row will clear up a lot of that. But I haven’t felt like I have not been respected. Honestly, where I look for respect is the garage area among my peers. When I walk through that garage, I’m respected, and that means more to me than anything.”
(Writer’s Note: Given the first person to go congratulate the champ was two-time Tony Stewart… well, I’ll say no more.)
When you saw Hamlin’s post-race reaction at Phoenix, did you view it as an opportunity to get into his head?
“When I got out of the car, I didn’t see his action and throwing the water bottle until I got home. I sensed an opportunity. His crew chief took some shots at us the week before, so it just kinda felt right. It’s really not my style to give low blows, but I felt like speaking from experience and protecting a championship lead going into the final race is one of the most stressful environments. I know; I’ve won four. And him going for his first, it would be tough. I was remembering those emotions and I wanted to take the chance to remind him how tough it would be…” (chuckled)
Do you really have to lose a championship before you win one?
“Before I won a championship, that saying pissed me off so bad, but it’s the same thing with race wins. We can look at a variety of examples and there is that trend. I hated that saying.”
Speak a little about the fan wearing the “I hate 48” T-shirt during your title celebration?
“He went out of his way to get my attention. He was screaming my name, screaming my name and I made eye contact with him and he’s pulling his T-Shirt and he’s saying ‘I hate you’ and he’s pointing. I’m like, I’ve heard it, I can see it and then he gave me the thumbs up and went ‘great job’ …I was highly confused.”
What are the three things the No. 48 team needs for 2011?
“1) The setup needs to be more aggressive. We’re not lacking mechanical grip and our aero grip is good. 2) The right pit road guys and 3) more horsepower!”
How hard is Chad already working on 2011?
(Grinned broadly) “He flew home with my wife yesterday from Miami and left the airport and went to the race shop. I talked to him last night at 7:30 PM and he was at the shop. I’m glad he’s back to his old self.”
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