The Frontstretch: The Cool-Down Lap: How Should NASCAR Nation Feel About Five Straight? by Doug Turnbull -- Monday November 22, 2010

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In case you haven’t heard, Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe’s team won the 2010 Sprint Cup championship on the strength of a second-place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Sunday’s Ford 400 – his fifth straight. And while the ESPN crew and pillars of the media that cover NASCAR release stories lacing him with words like, “incredible,” “historic,” “unbelievable,” and “all-time great,” NASCAR’s ever-growing pool of dissatisfied fans just grew another notch disinterested. Is one side right? Are both points of view spiraling away from each other? With sponsors fleeing the sport, ratings bottoming out, and NASCAR spinning every positive event into a string of platitudes that makes stomaching them hard for even the greatest of optimists, one can’t help but have a few reservations about Johnson now winning a half-decade’s worth of championships under the Chase format.

But is this feeling the right one to have?

Jimmie Johnson’s amazing 5-peat may be one of the most forgettable feats in NASCAR’s history…and that’s a shame.

Drivers like Petty, Earnhardt, Yarborough, Waltrip, and Gordon all rang up astronomical numbers and championship hardware. However, Johnson’s efforts seem cheapened by the points reset that takes place after race 26 every year. That could be overlooked if Johnson were more relatable. Unlike Petty (The King of giving back to the fans), Yarborough and Earnhardt (who each personified blue collar, rags-to-riches rises to fame), NASCAR nation has had trouble grasping Johnson’s vanilla, corporate image. Despite the fact that Johnson grew up poor, didn’t buy his ride with Hendrick, and lost four championships before winning one, his domination has not jived well with many in both the media center and the grandstands. NASCAR’s numbers began to fall in 2006, the same year Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus began their string of success. Chisel Rick Hendrick’s face in with this duo, and you have the Mount Rushmore of the problem that NASCAR has become, the dynasty of driving interest in stock car racing… elsewhere.

Then again, Johnson’s drive for five is historic. No NFL team has won five Super Bowls and only select teams have only been able to match the feat in the MLB, NHL, and NBA. In racing, only F-1’s Michael Schumacher (five championships from 2000-2004) and NHRA’s John Force (ten championships between 1993 and 2002) have accomplished five in a row. Johnson is the only driver in NASCAR history to come close to five crowns, and is only two short of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt (seven each) to tie for the all-time lead in Cup championships. Shouldn’t we respect this achievement? Johnson could crash through the ceiling of most all-time records in the series. If he quit tomorrow to start modeling in beard galleries and fixing stop signs with Kobalt tools, he likely would go down statistically as one of the sport’s ten best… at least. But instead, we yawn and flip the TV to see how many interceptions Favre has thrown or if his wife swapped his iPhone for a 2002 Nokia without a camera. We just can’t grasp history when we see it.

Who’s to blame? Is NASCAR’s fan base taking out its frustration with Brian France and his leadership group’s poor decisionmaking in the last seven years on Johnson?

The answer, to me, is a little bit yes and a little bit no. Fans reacted poorly to some of Dale Earnhardt’s domination in the late ’80s and early ‘90s and also to Jeff Gordon’s surge from 1995-2001. So naturally, Johnson raking in five rings and doing it with ease in the previous four years is going to rub more than a few skeptics the wrong way. But combine the most dominant run in Sprint Cup history with rampant disapproval of the Chase, along with many other mitigating negative characteristics of the sport, and this perfect storm morphs into a hurricane that washes the allure and excitement off of Johnson and the No. 48 team’s accomplishments.

Like it or not, agree or disagree – that’s a shame.

Almost everyone outside of the Johnson camp, whether they admit it or not, has a bad taste in their mouth today. Despite one of the most exciting stretches of races in awhile, Johnson’s should-be inspiring fifth straight Sprint Cup crown actually mars what was an exciting 2010. After a season full of comeback stories (see: Richard Childress Racing, Jamie McMurray), verbal comebacks after races (see: “She wears the firesuit in the family,” Joey Logano; “He’s starting to piss me off,” Jeff Gordon; Kyle Busch’s tirade against Hamlin after wrecking in the All-Star race), and an airtight points race through most of the Chase, the 2010 season’s lasting memory will end up being just another Cup falling into Johnson’s hands.

Twenty years hence, when Johnson likely has retired and some other hot shoe is at the apex of their career, another points format is being criticized for the same problems the Chase has, and no one else has won five straight championships, we likely will sit back with our kids and grandkids and reminisce about the greatness of Johnson and his team. Little will be said about how much it rubbed us the wrong way after, say, 2007. Don’t we do that about Earnhardt and the No. 3 team now? Don’t we already do that about the Jeff Gordon-Ray Evernham dynamic duo that led the Rainbow Warriors to four championships in seven years? Unfortunately, those good feelings are going to come long after whatever solution is born that will resurrect this sport from the doldrums in which it sits – because they are not around to save NASCAR now.

Johnson, Knaus, and Hendrick deserve major props for what they have accomplished. Nonetheless, here’s to whoever rises to the occasion next season and gives the No. 48 team a run for its money.

Listen to Doug weekly on The Allan Vigil Ford Lincoln Mercury Speedshop racing show with host Captain Herb Emory each Saturday, from 12-1 p.m. (or whenever the Georgia Bulldogs are not playing) and daily as a traffic reporter on AM-750 and NOW 95.5 FM News/Talk WSB in Atlanta and on wsbradio.com. Doug also hosts podcasts on ChaseElliott.com and BillElliott.com and is co-track announcer at Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, GA.

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Alex
11/22/2010 01:41 AM
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Don’t forget Tony Schumacher has six straight Top Fuel Championships. 2004-2009

TEAPOTJR
11/22/2010 02:48 AM
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If my math serves me well, and I have several degrees of education, #48 would only have TWO Titles if the old scoring system were used insted of this really BAD “Chase,” or should we call it the “Jimmy’” NASCAR shoves off the dwindling attendance at the tracks to the “Poor Economy.” Has the “Poor Economy,” caused those at home to save electricity by not trning on their TV’s to watch the races for free. F-1 and Indy Cars traveled down the “Stupid” road and almost became extinct before they pulled their “Head’s out of their shorts,” and started listening to the fans. Dump the Chase!! Few like it, and most will not return as fans until they do. The teams are crying that they can’t get sponsers, of course not. Why should they put up all that money to help advertise Lowes and Kobalt Tools. Five in a row just sent another two dozen sponsers packing, count on it.

Johnboy60
11/22/2010 08:01 AM
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Doug, you and Randy are both just dead wrong! Rick “the felon” hendrick has bought and paid for every chanpionship he has.That man has NEVER done anything on the up and up in his life!! I and sure he and brian farce spend many a night together playing with each other and Randy. If jimmy drove for ANY other team, including another hendrick team he would be a start and parker now..The reason for the loss of interest in nascrap is that most people are smart enough to see a sham, it’s a pity that you and Randy can’t!

Jacob
11/22/2010 08:59 AM
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Doug, I can guarantee that I won’t be reminiscing fondly about the amazing streak of Jimmie Johnson 20 years from now.
This era is fraudulent, and beneath contempt. Granted it is not Jimmie Johnson’s fault that his championships come as the sport’s management has spit in the face of the very people that took it to such lofty heights, but that becomes his legacy by default.

jld1948
11/22/2010 09:29 AM
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Good article Doug! I stopped being a Jeff Gordon fan when he jumped ship on Bill Davis, but he was screwed out of several championships because of the miserable “Chase” format!Harvick had a big points lead in the regular season and Hamlin wins 8 races and isn’t the champion…the “Chase” just sucks! Not to say that Jimmie Johnson wouldn’t be extremely competitive in any format, but the “Chase” has certainly aided his cause!

Craig
11/22/2010 10:01 AM
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We shouldn’t be hating on Jimmie. He’s just competing with the system put before him. Most fans just don’t like the Chase and what Brian France has done to this sport. The most needed change is obvious, revamp the driver’s point system. It’s 30+ years old and outdated, especially for the Chase era. Formula-1 provides the basic model.

AndrewFromTN
11/22/2010 10:45 AM
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@Johnboy60:

Those are some pretty strong claims.

Do you have ANY evidence to back them up?

don mei
11/22/2010 11:13 AM
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I would like to propose that everyone on this site make a New Years resolution to post on this site in 2011 with a bit less stridency and at least a modicum of intelligent thought. One can dream cant one??

MIracefan
11/22/2010 11:39 AM
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Agree with don mei – this website has become a high school schoolyard, sometimes less mature than that. We really need to ignore the more obvious morons. Just ignore them. They know who they are (one IP-multiple post names).

Doug
11/22/2010 12:51 PM
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Randy…are you really Brian France in disquise?

don mei
11/22/2010 12:55 PM
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Just once I will make an exception to my policy of never talking to or responding to idiots. Pay attention Goldman, take notes if you have to…OK…ready? Lets see if you can grasp this concept…most of us unhappy with the direction that Nascar is going do so because we are serious fans and care about that direction. Its essentially analagous to caring about ones children.Not to try and correct them would be the real tragedy. Clear now? And please dont bother responding to this post, youll just look like a jackass…again.

MIracefan
11/22/2010 01:55 PM
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One moron has singlehandedly turned the focus of attention towards himself. Let’s take the focus back to comments on the articles by not addressing or referring to said moron anymore. Tired of his (their) drivel……………

Buzz
11/22/2010 02:00 PM
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JJ is an illegitimate champ. In many people’s opinions, he not only hasn’t surpassed Cale Yarborough, he hasn’t even tied him. Cale was a season-long champ three years in a row. Jimmie is a contrived champion, forced down our throats by NASCAR, Chevy, and the networks. In the real world of having to actually race ALL SEASON for a championship, Jimmie would have 2. As it stands today, he is not a legitimate champion to many, many fans. And we’re tired of hearing how awesome he is, when – in reality – he isn’t. Its not the same system. Not the same points. Apples and oranges.

Steve
11/22/2010 03:19 PM
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I think the majority of the fans are more upset about the Chase than they are with Jimmie. Insert another driver in as a 5 time 10 race champ and you will get the same response from disgruntled fans.

At least Jimmie winning 5 in a row will show everyone how this Chase is not working. Instead of enacting a Chase format, wouldn’t giving more points to the winner but less of a points distribution overall determine a real champion without the Chase? Food for thought

NASCARQueen
11/22/2010 03:22 PM
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Personally I am SICK AND TIRED of the ENTIRE #48 Team and their arrogance. They are NOT anything special and how dare they compare themselves to Earnhardt !!! On their best day they couldn’t hold a you know what you know where !!! I am DONE with NASCAR. Brain-less is an embarrassment to his own family. Sober up and pay attention, Jerk – - – nevermind – - -you’ve done lost it now !!! It’s too late to come back now, too bad too !!!

jld1948
11/22/2010 03:25 PM
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Steve: Amen to that! Awarding additional points to the race winner is the only thing that has ever made sense to me. Since it is so very difficult to win a Cup race, additional points should be awarded!

Craig
11/22/2010 04:43 PM
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NASCAR nation should congratulate the 48, but demand change from Brian France and his cronies. The vast majority of the fan base has rejected the Chase and wants it gone. I found France’s comments this weekend insulting. Another spoiled rich kid, maybe Bill Jr. didn’t hug him enough.

CincyLady
11/22/2010 04:47 PM
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Do I think the points system needs to be revamped? Yes. I hate the Chase, as it mainly makes the first 2/3’s of the season irrelevant, and puts all of the focus on making the Chase for the second half of the regular season. It also only focuses on the Chase drivers. I did not watch the end of the race yesterday, and had to check 3 different race sites just to find out who actually won the race in Homestead. I do not buy the sentiment of whoever wins the most races should win the Championship. Nascar has never operated on that premise and there needs to be some room for just consistency. Some races just taking a bad car and getting a good finish shows a winning mentality, both for driver and team.
The year Matt Kenseth won in 2003, he had two wins to Ryan Newman’s 8 I believe. Even though Matt had the championship more or less sewn up I watched to see if my driver or team would win the race. The media would still focus on the drivers winning races, not just the accursed Chase.
As long as Johnson and Knaus are a tandem team, I will never think he is the best. If Hendrick wanted to show some cajones he would move Knaus to the 88 car and see if he can work magic with him. We would have answers on both.
There is nothing I have liked about this whole Chase since it was formulated in BF’s tiny mind…

Dave
11/22/2010 06:50 PM
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I voted “no” he is not the best driver ever. However if the question were “is Chad Knaus the best crew chief ever”, that would be a big yes.

They are not always the fastest, or most powerful, or most consistent or win the most races, but they start right now today with a plan to save their best cars, best engines, best “tricks” for race one of the chase. they know it makes no difference what happens prior to that, they just need to finish each race and they can be in the top 12 in their sleep. Wins don’t matter, qualifying doesn’t matter, just snooze their way until race 27 and pull all the tricks out of the bag. the other 42 teams just have not taken that theory to heart yet. The other 42 are happy to take a chance on wrecking a car for a meaningless position gained or a meaningless win.

That’s all. No big secret.

Kind of makes most of the season irrelevant and boring doesn’t it?

Pam
11/22/2010 08:23 PM
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Let’s see if I can say this simply enough that some of those posting on here can understand.

EVERY SINGLE DRIVER AND TEAM RACE UNDER THE SAME POINTS SYSTEM AND RULES. THEY HAVE ALL RACED UNDER THE CHASE FOR 7 YEARS. IT IS WHAT IT IS. JIMMIE, RICK, CHAD NOR THEIR FANS ASKED NASCAR TO CHANGE THE SYSTEM. AGAIN EVERY DRIVER AND TEAM HAVE THE SAME SYSTEM AND THE SAME RULES. They all have had the same opportunity to to adjust how they approach races and the Chase and learn how to win with what they are given.

JJ, Chad and the 48 are plain good. They would be multiple time Champs and most likely still be several time in a row champs no matter what points they raced under. They finished 5th in points rookie year and 2nd sophomore year under your blessed/never ever been anything in the world as good as that/Nascar went the h*ll when it went away points system. They most assuredly would have won many championships under that system had it stayed. Jimmie and Chad and their team out work everyone else in the sport. Even Mark Martin said that last year.

All that said if fans don’t like Jimmie and the 48 team’s reign… too bad, so sad. Let the other drivers & teams step it up and beat them.

Ok, one last thing. If Chad were Jr’s CC he’d probably have killed him already. I LIKE Jr and he’s a nice guy but he does not know how to tell his crew chief what the car is doing in detail and then let the crew chief and team adjust. I’ve listened to him.

Jimmie truly is that talented of a driver, a student of the sport, and a very very calm detailed perfectionist when describing what his car is doing. Chad is truly a talented crew chief in taking that input and checking against his notes and between he and Ron M deciding on adjustments.

Go Jimmie!

Darcie
11/22/2010 08:35 PM
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It’s not the JJ haters that’s the problem here. Dynasties in sports have been around for ages. Look at the Yankees, Celtics, Lakers, Red Wings and the SEC in the NCAA. So, what’s the difference? Sports is driven by love/hate relationships. People tune into watching the teams they hate hoping to see them get their butts kicked. I know I tune into the Lakers and Notre Dame hoping to see them get a good azz whipping. But when it comes to Jimmie Johnson, I just yawn and fall asleep. There’s nothing to cheer for and he’s someone you really can’t hate. He’s just a boring, white bread, robotic, corporate licking driver with barely a personality.

In the “old” days, you had the likes of Earnhardt, Wallace, Waltrip and the rest, hating on each other, having hot tempered personalities—-guys who fought to the end on the track. Regardless of what fans say now, Earnhardt had a ton of haters, and those people came to the track and turned on the TV hoping to see him get punted off the track, hoping to see Waltrip take a swing at him. You don’t have that with today’s Nascar. The drivers who are winning now have the personality of a blade of grass.

Can you all imagine what would happen if the current hot heads in the sport were fighting for a Cup? Can you imagine Busch, Montoya, Hamlin, Harvick, Stewart all fighting for a Cup, NOT in the Chase format? Like I said, sports survive on love/hate relationships, and since there’s nothing to either love or hate about Jimmie, fans are just yawning and turning off the TV.

kelly
11/22/2010 08:57 PM
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You know what would be interesting? Have the crew chiefs and teams prepare a car, without any decals. Then have a lottery to see which driver gets which car. After that, you decal the car, you practice and qualify with that car and then it’s impounded——no working on it until the race. I wonder how Jimmie would do with a car not prepared by Chad? Would he still be as dominate?

DC
11/22/2010 11:49 PM
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20+ yr fan who follows many racing blogs and articles but has never responded or participated – so give me your time to read what I have to say, please. This article was exceptional; however, it hit on one of my ‘sore’ points regarding JJ’s 5th championship.
1st for all of the Chase haters, I’ve withstood too many years of championships – spending countless $$$ to attend many races, all of which when the championship was determined far too early in the season. Old point system didn’t work because it was always too often non-competitive. Chase hasn’t always been optimal but better than the old system and this year proved it was ultimately the right decision by NASCAR. This is one area where if we had the ‘old’ format still in place, NASCAR would be seeing even worse track attendance and TV ratings. Tell me I’m wrong?!
2nd this entire season, and the Chase itself, was one of the MOST exciting in recent memory – perhaps because of the “boys have at it” directive, who knows? – but real fans should have nothing to complain about. Long-time fans remember when racing was not so corporate and family-oriented and there was truly anticipated excitement from the occasional ‘just racing bumps’ and post-race altercations from the competitors. Think this year’s Texas race – if you’re honest with yourself and watched the entire race – who could argue that race was everything anyone could want? Yes, I endured the Jeff Gordon era and, in retrospect, that was great compared to the JJ era. This was one of the best seasons in a very long time and I commend NASCAR and the competitors! There were many opportunities for fans to determine new favorites, who they could ‘despise’ and become ‘haters’ of – THAT’S NASCAR! The ‘old’ NASCAR many loved is BACK and needs to be embraced!!!
Lastly and why I’m compelled to respond on my ‘sore point’ : To the article’s point in commending HMS/JJ’s accomplishment in winning 5 Cups and comparing this to other very worthy, admirable sports teams, I ask WHY AND HOW can you seriously make this comparison? I definitely will descent and wonder why I’ve not read similar debates.
When the going got tough for HMS/Knaus/JJ, they got rid of their TEAM – the TEAM they worked with all season long and they were allowed to bring in a SUBSTITUTE TEAM as a ‘corporate-entity! In a sport where an “even playing field” is PARAMOUNT; where you have teams, templates, inspections, etc. – how can NASCAR allow this to happen? Also, with all of the other worthy sports teams you compare JJ’s team to, did they ever ‘sub’ or ‘replace’ their teams with two races or playoffs to go? The analogy I ask you to consider re JJ and other teams’ successes: Did any of these teams replace their entire team except i.e. the coach, QB, driver, etc.? Come on – you know the answer is “no” and I don’t need to spell out the analogy more – it’s TRULY not even comparable. NASCAR should not have allowed HMS/Knaus/JJ to replace their yearlong pit crew with Jeff Gordon’s in the championship chase – mid-race nonetheless. For that reason, I strongly dispute recognizing or heralding JJ’s 5th championship and any comparison with other sports teams’ successes and hope that is one of the FIRST changes NASCAR looks at in 2011. HMS/JJ plays a good NASCAR corporate game and because of their previous accomplishments and support have the confidence and leverage to play a successful game, however, Hamlin and Harvick deserve much more recognition and heralding given their TRUE TEAMS’ season accomplishments.

Bill B
11/23/2010 08:18 AM
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Look at the facts… The sport is around for 50 years with one points system and then drastically changes it. Then all of the sudden a guy wins 5 championships in a row. No one ever came close to that in the past. Johnson fans will, of course, claim it’s because he’s so great but how coincidental. IMO, Johnson is a great driver but the five in a row has more to do with the chase format than how great he is.

The Mad Man
11/23/2010 08:50 AM
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In 5 years this will all be a moot point when NA$CAR has to go bankrupt because there are no fans in the stands, nobody is watching at home, and no teams can afford to race because they can’t find any sponsors.The only way it can be turned around is by replacing NA$CAR’s leadership with some competent people who actually care about racing and the folks who buy the tickets and watch at home. Otherwise, it’ll be R.I.P. NA$CAR in about 5 years.

midasmicah
11/23/2010 11:44 AM
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The chase is a hoke. Harvick has a 200+ points lead after 26 races. Johnson is a great driver, but the chase has cheapened the championship.