The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Two Juniors Speak Out, We're Chasing The Old System, And ... Max Papis? by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday October 29, 2008

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Did You Notice? … That under the old points system, the championship battle would be far from over. With three races left, Jimmie Johnson would lead Carl Edwards by just 98, with Kyle Busch hanging on by a thread at 203 points out. Jeff Burton and Greg Biffle would round out the Top 5, but neither would have a shot at the title.

Should the 1-2 finish for Johnson and Edwards hold, it would be the second time in the last three years the old system would have “been better.” In 2006, Jimmie Johnson won his first title over Matt Kenseth by 56 points in the Chase; but in the regular season, that margin would have been just four – the closest championship battle in NASCAR history.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s no coincidence here. Johnson doesn’t look at the season as a 36-race schedule; he looks at it as a 26-race regular season followed by a 10-race playoff, and both sections are approached in completely different ways. Since Johnson isn’t looking for consistency over 36 races – just 10 – it makes sense he wouldn’t win a title under the “classic” point system. He could care less if he’s the point leader after 26 races; what he cares about is simply proving he can run well in the final ten.

While you can’t argue with the strategy, it’ll feed the fire of a lot of frustrated fans if more people pick up on Johnson’s “test in March, win in September” motto.

Did You Notice? … That in another championship battle, Kevin Harvick’s teams played it the right way? I was pleasantly surprised to see the No. 2 truck driven by Ryan Newman successfully run down and pass his teammate, the No. 33 of Ron Hornaday, Jr. in the closing laps at Atlanta. Hornaday is in the thick of the Truck Series title race versus Johnny Benson, and Benson had a horrible day; eventually finishing 7th, he saw his lead cut in half to just 31.

Of course, Hornaday could have made a much bigger dent if he was “allowed” to take the win. But Newman never backed off, and was backed up by team owner Harvick after the event for giving it 110 percent. Now, that is what you call a healthy series on the race track. Not surprisingly, it’s shown in the ratings, with the Trucks posting ratings increases in over two-thirds of their races this season.

Did You Notice? … That while Kenny Wallace’s underdog story was a great one for the Nationwide Series, no such scenario could ever happen in Cup. Why? Because those teams don’t even exist anymore. At this point, it costs so much to even get to the race track in NASCAR’s No. 1 division that a team like Wallace’s wouldn’t even have the cash to get through five races of a 36-race schedule.

That’s got to change.

Did You Notice? … Former car owner Junior (not Jimmie) Johnson’s endorsement of Barack Obama in this year’s presidential election? In a sport that’s looked at as a Republican stronghold, Johnson’s endorsement was both unexpected and surprising in how it was made public. In a letter tied to Obama’s campaign, Johnson went into great detail about his support for the Democrat, going full bore with quotes like, “I’ve been in a lot of races in my life. But this may be the most important one of all. So let’s all get in gear and win it together.”

Many are saying Johnson’s endorsement could be a game changer in the state of North Carolina, where the election is a virtual tossup between McCain and Obama supporters. Most people tell you that celebrity endorsements aren’t supposed to matter, but deep down we know there are voters out there who care enough for that to make a difference. More importantly, though, with one full swoop Johnson helped alter the sport’s image a bit to total outsiders — especially after nine of the Top 10 drivers in the Chase publicly endorsed Republican George W. Bush four years ago.

With the rest of the four major sports not going out of their way to be either Republican or Democrat, my feeling all along that if NASCAR wants to enter the political arena, it should be balanced out so you don’t have any fans feeling unwelcome. A public Democratic endorsement by such a beloved figure is the first step in that direction – although I’m sure Johnson was thinking about none of that when he decided to make his voting decision known.

Did You Notice? … With all the free agents out there on the NASCAR market these days, GEICO decided to go Cup racing with…Max Papis? Really? And when they already had a solid string of marketing commercials featuring Mike and Loren Wallace?

Nothing against Papis, but have you seen the success rate of open-wheel converts these days? Makes you wonder what else the Italian brought to the table in order to get the gig. By all accounts though, Papis is one of the most feel-good nice people you’ll ever meet, so I’m hoping to be proven wrong on this one.

Did You Notice? … The number of sponsorships still yet to be announced for next season? Right now, I count around eight to nine full-time Cup cars without sufficient funding for 2009. With a car count that’s at 44 for next year, I don’t think I’d consider that a good thing.

There have been rumors that we’ll see a ton of layoffs later in November as soon as the season ends. Deemed “Black Monday,” people seem to think as many as 750 employees of various Cup teams will be wiped out as soon as the checkered flag falls at Homestead. I don’t think it’ll be that bad, but at this point you have to think at least a few pink slips will be handed out. Even though 2009 is still three months away, there’s so much that needs to be done in terms of off-season testing and simply making cars competitive for the following year that teams need funding immediately to keep going. And once Homestead falls, checks from companies like the U.S. Army, Caterpillar, etc. start heading to other teams than the ones they’re currently with.

The clock is ticking … so let’s hope these guys all come up with something at the 11th hour.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s had a season filled with plenty of introspection; but as the year winds down, he’s begun to speak his mind in public once more.

Did You Notice? … Jeff Burton’s championship hopes were dashed when he “bulldozed” the very car (Dave Blaney’s No. 22) that’s funded by his primary sponsor for 2009? Just a small touch of irony.

Did You Notice? … Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has been speaking out lately? At Martinsville, he all but accused NASCAR of deliberately throwing debris cautions late in races there to keep the final few laps competitive. Then he goes to Atlanta and complains about the late starting time of races, blaming it on the networks but clearly agitated that NASCAR keeps capitulating enough to allow these early evening finishes.

After a year of adjusting to Hendrick, I’m encouraged and happy to see Junior speaking his mind. With more power than most to have a real influence over some of the problems ailing NASCAR today, his words will always carry a bit of added weight. And for the record, I think he’s right on both counts.

Contact Tom Bowles

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
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10/29/2008 10:55 AM

Max Papis is actually a road racer , not an open wheel driver . Most of his career has been in sports cars . Did a very good job in the IROC series .
I often wonder if Democrats aren’t just as numerous in NASCAR as the Republicans . But as in other aspects of life , the Republicans are just louder .

Carl D.
10/29/2008 11:03 AM

Junior Johnson’s endorsement of Obama is really not that big of a deal. Sure, he’s a former moonshiner, but can he really hold a candle to Ayers, Rezko, and Khalidi? I know this isn’t a political column, but since you brought it up, Tom, I disagree that that Johnson’s endorsement improves Nascar’s image overall… It just goes to show that even old stock car racers can be hoodwinked.

Carl D.
10/29/2008 11:26 AM

Now on a non-political topic… I agree that it seems an unusually high number of teams don’t have announced sponsorships for 2009. I’m particularly concerned about the Dodge teams. With Chrysler’s future up in the air, what company would want to invest in a team with unstable manufacturer support? The Pettys and Ganassis were on shaky ground to start with, and without adequate sponsorships, how long can they stay in the game?

10/29/2008 12:08 PM

I’m AMAZED that Jr Johnson would endorse Nobama but so for it’s a free country so he can. I just wonder WHY he did it and how he will feel if Nobama wins.

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
10/29/2008 01:25 PM

Maybe I will get to meet Junior Johnson in the workcamp I am assigned to should obama win next week. Then again, maybe Junior has been sipping on too much of his Midnight Moon and has pickled his noodle.

Now the left is unveiling a new, “2nd Bill of Rights”…this one for Government.

For those of you who think these charges of “Socialisim” are being used to score cheap political points…start connecting the dots here.

Ren FS Publisher
10/29/2008 01:50 PM

Shame about Junior Johnson. It reminds me of when I visited my Dad just before he died. All my life I had looked up to the man, thought he wa the smartest man I had ever met. To say I held my father in high regard is an understatement.

My father was a smoker when I was growing up and had quit when he was in his 40s, as have I. As anyone who has quit smoking in the past knows though, it’s not an easy habit to break and an even easier habit to start back up again after you’ve quit. Anyway, I was visiting my cancer-riddled father in July of ’05, knowing that he wouldn’t make it to see the Fall, and he said to me “I figured I’d catch it in time to treat it.”

At that point, I was crushed. That this man whose judgment I held above all others would do something so stupid floored me. It affected the way that I’ve thought about him ever since. Not that that’s a bad thing mind you. It’s just that I don’t think of him as infallable any longer and I make sure that I let my son see my idiot side at times(not real hard to arrange, believe me).

In a small, small way, that’s the way I’m feeling about Junior Johnson right now. That he is a gullible man who has made a stupid mistake that he’ll regret in the future.

D. Brown
10/29/2008 02:04 PM

With the car counts headed for new lows, and sponsorships impossible to find for teams with less than 3 cars, expect to see folks like MSRP and Morgan Shepard in Cup, starting and parking.

It doesn’t help when teams like RCR start poaching sponsors from the last “little teams”. BDR and Petty both lost sponsors to RCR. They may have to “Park” just to build capital to run select races if they can’t find sponsorship.

The Old Guy
10/29/2008 02:23 PM

It doesn’t help when teams like RCR start poaching sponsors from the last “little teams”. BDR and Petty both lost sponsors to RCR. They may have to “Park” just to build capital to run select races if they can’t find sponsorship.

The nail hit squarely on the head.

10/29/2008 03:45 PM

Thank you Jr. for speaking up. Nascar won’t listen to the fans (or Stewart) but they will listen to Jr.

But hey…next year we’ll have ‘bama’s change. Quarters, dimes, nickles, and pennies. And wonder why companies are holding off on spending money (sponsorship)?

10/29/2008 03:50 PM

Vito , thank you for saying what we’re all thinking . The bailout of the banks IS Socialism at its best . Who would have thought it would be the republicans that would bring it to America ?
And Ren , i’m sure Junior appreciates your concern over his decisions . Thats a shame about your father . Many millions of people were suckered in by the tobacco industry . See what i mean about the republicans . They’re just louder .

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
10/29/2008 04:50 PM

I am giving serious thought to running for public office in two years. With any luck, I will not be confused with Rep. Vito Fossella, who got a DUI, and was bailed out by his mistress. I will be issuing strict instructions to all of my mistresses to not assist me.

10/29/2008 07:41 PM

My opinion is JJ would of won his first classic championship the year before he won it with the chase format. He had a big lead in August and according to interviews of Jimmie, Chad and the team owner they ran experimental engines and setups the last 4 races before the chase started because they had nothing to lose and his engine exploded twice and Jeff Gordon picked up a lot of points and then Kurt Busch won the chase. If they were not running the chase format they would not of did that and scored a hundred or more points and not lost their momentum.

10/30/2008 12:52 PM

I thought it was “Warren” Wallace.


Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
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