The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Ugly Johnson Jeers, Picking Apart Purses, And Short Fields? by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday May 12, 2010

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Did You Notice? … The crowd cheering like crazy the second Jimmie Johnson’s Lowe’s Chevrolet came to a stop in Turn 3? After a savage wreck, Johnson was left to endure his first DNF at an unrestricted track since the Coca-Cola 600 in 2008, when A.J. Allmendinger’s failing brakes left him using the No. 48 like a dart on a bulls-eye entering the turn.

Now, I don’t have a problem with fans booing a guy they don’t like, but everything changes when a driver’s health is in question. Seeing that wreck live, I can say unequivocally it was the hardest hit I’ve seen someone take in person at Darlington since the repaving. Remember, this track is the same one where Steve Park suffered a serious head injury under caution, a reminder that crashes can happen anytime, anywhere. With an average speed approaching 200 miles an hour entering the turns, the Lady in Black is also carrying some serious speed, and ‘Dinger’s hit on Johnson was directly in the driver’s side door. Considering all the safety advances, you’d like to think someone’s going to emerge from that unscathed, but the ugly truth is you never know.

So what if Johnson hadn’t walked away? What if he was sitting there hurt? What the fans would have been doing – albeit in the heat of the moment – was cheering someone’s injury or death. If you were in that group, stop and think about it for a minute. Imagine if it was your son in that car, or nephew, or best friend; how would you feel to have 60,000 people celebrating the moment that killed him?

Jimmie Johnson was uninjured and would walk away from a scary wreck at Darlington, but a lot of fans didn’t know that before celebrating his troubles.

Look, I understand the zealous hatred for Johnson after winning four championships and establishing himself as the man to beat for a fifth. It’s natural to have good vs. evil relationships in sports, but there need to be moments where we stop and realize it’s all just a big game. In the end, people are putting their lives at stake in part for our entertainment, and when something serious happens on the racetrack we need to break out of the moment, take a step into the real world and recognize someone’s health should never take a back seat to the joy of seeing someone register a DNF.

Now, once Johnson climbs out of the car unscathed, then yes, by all means cheer away for his misfortune. But the way it was done at Darlington was a little too early for my taste.

P.S. – For all the Johnson supporters complaining about Allmendinger never taking his car to the garage, shame on you as well. If every driver just parked it behind the wall at the sheer hint of a problem, we’d have about 10-15 more DNFs every week. A team and driver’s job is to try and get the best finish possible under the circumstances, and if the ‘Dinger felt there were enough brakes to go the distance it’s the risk you take when every position and every point is meaningful over a 36-race season. To simply “give up” and pull in when there was some semblance of brakes left would have been the wrong thing to do. Not only that, but when the rotors did break off, ‘Dinger did the right thing, pulling to the inside of the backstretch in a move to spin himself out away from the rest of the competition. He just was carrying too much speed for it to work out the way he intended.

Did You Notice? … NASCAR’s 10 percent purse cut hasn’t been as bad as it might seem? I’ve talked with several smaller teams hurting over the cutbacks NASCAR announced at the last minute, claiming they had worked that money into their budget and now had to go out and replace it. But a quick look at the current Nationwide season shows funding isn’t down as much as expected.

Through the first ten events, the sport’s paid out a total of $14,437,094, a difference of $520,043 less than last season. That translates into a decline of just 3.4 percent, with some events (Bristol, Richmond) actually paying out more money than they did the previous year.

Of course, a smaller amount of bleeding doesn’t mean the wound has completely healed. When you consider the cost of doing business went up by at least the typical 3 percent inflation, independent car owners are still getting a good deal less cash to operate a business that’s gotten more expensive. And there’s still a negligible difference between say, 25th and 43rd place, giving little incentive for teams to stop the start-and-park phenomenon. Darlington was the latest example, where Stanton Barrett won $14,200 for 14th place – only $1,312 more than 43rd-place finisher Dennis Setzer, who parked his car after 11 laps for K-Automotive. That disparty (or lack thereof) just has to change, even if it means paying the last-place finisher next to nothing so there can be more separation. Now that this sport is run like a business, pride isn’t the sole motivation all the time, and a few extra dollar signs might help people get a little more racy heading down to the checkered flag.

Speaking of start-and-parks…

Did You Notice? … The dreaded start-and-park phenomenon is growing in the Cup Series once again? Last week’s race saw a season-high seven cars out of 46 there with no intention of running the distance: Whitney Motorsports (No. 46) and Braun Racing (No. 32) are the two newest additions, the former due to financial concerns and the latter to make a little extra cash for their Nationwide Series team.

Prism Motorsports may fill two full-time spots in the Sprint Cup field, but one can hardly call what they’re doing racing.

What’s more gut-wrenching is the number of cars dropping that have attempted every race. Gone is the No. 90, now cutting back to a limited schedule, as they don’t believe in the S & P concept and don’t have the funding to compete. That leaves just 44 full-time cars, five of which (Nos. 55, 66, 87, 09, 46) are now expected to park almost every week. And that’s not including a few financially strapped programs, like the No. 36 of Tommy Baldwin Racing, the No. 7 of Robby Gordon Motorsports (remember, they only have sponsorship through May) and the No. 26 of Latitude 43 Motorsports that are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Add in the uncertain future of Richard Petty Motorsports’ four cars, and we’ve got a sport that seems destined to lose at least two, if not more of its full-time teams by July.

That puts the dependency on part-time, start-and-park efforts to fill the fields. But will those cars keep coming to the racetrack with NASCAR’s new teardown rule on the last-place finisher? The sport hasn’t had itself a field of less than 43 cars since the New Hampshire season finale in November, 2001; however, I do think races like Pocono and Michigan (where the Nationwide cars are elsewhere, taking the No. 32 out of the equation) might cause that to happen under the right set of circumstances.

Even if we don’t have that problem, again what worries me is the lack of expansion of ownership in the sport. At the end of the year, we’re looking at uncertain futures for RPM’s four-car operation, EGR (looking for a sponsor for the No. 1 car), and perhaps Penske’s No. 77. Phoenix Racing’s No. 09 is also for sale; but in the meantime, none of the “new owners” NASCAR claimed would materialize in the wake of the economic decline have gained a foothold in the sport. New investors mean new money, and without it, you’ve got to wonder where the injection of cash to keep some of these cars afloat is going to come from.

When’s the last time a new primary sponsor entered the sport full-time? How about an owner? No single-car operation is running inside the top 30 right now, You’ve got to wonder if their lack of success is scaring off anyone new to try their hand at NASCAR’s top level.

Did You Notice? … Some quick hits before we take off:

  • Details are forthcoming, but I’ve been told Kyle Busch’s dispute with a subcontractor has been resolved. “Not a lot of fun,” was his comment to a source, but an end to those issues means he can get back to the main focus of owning and managing two-truck Kyle Busch Motorsports. In case you missed it, one subcontractor had filed a lien against KBM shop construction being managed by L.B. Builders earlier this month, claiming they were owed $60,000. Keep in mind that the contractor handles these issues, not Busch himself, but L.B.’s response to these debts was to claim Busch’s investment company owes them $3 million, causing the holdup in payments. Whatever the chain of command, it’s something that needed to be nipped in the bud as soon as it went public; and lo and behold, it got immediately taken care of. Busch resolving an outside distraction while choosing not to run for a Nationwide championship? Maybe the “new Kyle” is here after all.

  • Through 11 races in 2009, Mark Martin had two wins and led 215 laps. This year? No wins, no top-3 finishes, and only 42 laps led. You wonder whether it’s short-term pain for long-term gain to fully integrate the 5/88 shop better, or whether it’s just the wrong mix of chemistry altogether…

  • So James Buescher is out at Phoenix Racing, huh? My lone comment: it’s hard to sell a race team when you’re turning every car in the fleet into a junkyard. By the way, did they say Ryan Newman, Stewart-Haas employee and Hendrick satellite driver, is taking over the seat of the No. 1? Didn’t Rick Hendrick need some extra equipment for a guy he signed named Kasey Kahne awhile back? Hmm.

  • A quick breakdown of teams in the Chase as they stand: Hendrick Motorsports – 4, Roush Fenway Racing – 3, Richard Childress Racing – 2, Joe Gibbs Racing – 2, Penske Racing – 1. Five teams, 12 spots. Among those on the outside looking in: Michael Waltrip Racing, Team Red Bull, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, and Stewart-Haas (biggest surprise).

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Swan Racing Announces Restructuring, No. 26 & No. 30 ‘Sold’ Off
Tech Talk with Tony Gibson: Taking Stock Of Danica Patrick In Year Two
Vexing Vito: Three Drivers In Need of a Role Reversal
Going By the Numbers: Top-10 NASCAR Variety Hard To Come By In…
Truckin’ Thursdays: Lessons Learned Just Two Races In
Fantasy Insider: Team Revelations For NASCAR’s Short Tracks



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05/12/2010 08:01 AM

I agree with you totally about the classless cheering following some driver’s wrecks. I won’t say Johnson, because it isn’t just Johnson that has this happen to him. Certain “fans“ belong on medieval torture racks and not in the stands. But unfortunately the Freedom of Speech our founding fathers gave to us, didn’t come with a clause relevant to the speaker’s I.Q.

It wouldn’t take a huge increase in purse money to stop the start and park phenomenon. A simple rule change: Any car that retires from a race without taking the checkered flag, crashing, or blowing an engine will be subject to a suspension for their next five scheduled races. Entry money will NOT be refunded. That would end the problem right there.

As far as short fields, if 43 cars can’t come to compete every week then don’t guarantee 43 starters. NASCAR has increased and decreased the maximum field size throughout its history to accomodate the financial landscape. If people are truly honest, they would admit that they wouldn’t even notice the difference between 43 cars or 36 cars starting the event. A side effect would be less congestion on some of the tracks not built for today’s speeds.

Bill B
05/12/2010 08:05 AM

Fans that cheer when a driver wrecks before they even know if he’s alright is one of the biggest turnoffs for me about NASCAR. It’s sick, it’s selfish and it’s small-minded. It also reinforces the stereotype that NASCAR fans are only there to see the wrecks and carnage.

05/12/2010 08:53 AM

You know guys, you can celebrate a driver being taken out of the race AND be concerned for everyone’s safety. I cheered when I saw the damage on the 48 car but I also turned to my husband and expressed my hope that everyone was okay. Nobody wishes a driver harm and if you don’t believe that then you’re the small-minded, classless jerk.

05/12/2010 09:26 AM

Ann, You go girl!!…..I’ll bet they are all Johnson fans whinning.!!

Carl D.
05/12/2010 10:06 AM


I’m with Ann… it’s easy to cheer when a driver you don’t like gets taken out, but that doesn’t mean you don’t care if they’re hurt. We’ve all seen drivers walk away from wrecks that looked a lot worse than Johnson’s did. To a degree, we’re conditioned to accept that they’ll be okay. I don’t think the vast majority of race fans would want to see ANY driver seriously injured, whether they cheered when the driver wrecked or not.

Sorry for being a bit condescending, but you set the tone…

Bill B
05/12/2010 10:47 AM

I was happy that Johnson got taken out because I am tired of seeing him dominate (and I am not a fan). But, because it was a hard hit, I didn’t celebrate until I saw him get out of the car. If your first reaction after seeing a driver slam hard into the wall is to cheer out loud then I stand by my original post and appraisal of those who do.

What if I didn’t like your father or husband. How would you feel if he got into a wreck and everyone cheered before you even knew if he was seriously hurt? How would that make you feel?

Just because these drivers are public figures and you don’t like them doesn’t allow you to be a no-class dumbass.

Don Mei
05/12/2010 11:08 AM

I’m no Johnson fan but I’ll be damned if I’m going to cheer ANYBODY hitting a wall hard. I go to or watch races to see Stewart or Newman or JPM beat Johnson by a half a car length, not see him hit a wall.

As to the start and park problem, until there is a serious conversation about cost containment and sponsorship, its an exercise in futility. What exactly constitutes a “blown engine?” Obviously a rod poking out of a block does…what about a loose rocker? That would really be fun one to police.

05/12/2010 11:32 AM

Okay , we’ve been warned . Do not cheer , or boo , you are to keep silent , sit on your hands , make no discernable facial expressions or react in any way until the outcome of a wreck is known . You fans have to learn that Bowles feelings get hurt when you don’t give his favorite driver his due . Why , that was a “ savage “ crash , the worst Bowles has ever seen at Darlington , at least in the ten years or so since he found out that there is a race track at a town called Darlington . And even though the Steve Park incident was a completely different type of wreck , we dumb fans get your message . Fan emotion has no place in a sport where competitors can be hurt . Many fans , i would say the majority of fans simply don’t like Johnson . This isn’t a new phenomenon , he really hasn’t ever been all that popular . Your concern over the fans reaction to the Johnson crash is just a wee bit transparent Tom .
Having said all of that , i agree that in a perfect world every competitor would get the respect of the fans . But rivalries and black and white hats are what NASCAR , and for that matter all sports , are based on and relentlessly marketed . So why is it so surprising that the fans show their support , or dislike of a driver at even inappropriate times .

The one bright spot in the “ gut wrenching “ spectacle of underfunded teams trying to keep the doors open is that no one in authority at NASCAR pays the slightest attention to your almost weekly bleatings on the subject . “ Gut wrenching “ ??? You are quite a comic Tom .

Managing Editor
05/12/2010 01:11 PM


I just want to say how flattered I am that you try and read every column of mine just so you can try and tear it to shreds. For someone who doesn’t like my writing, you sure do a heck of a lot of reading!

Thanks all for your comments as always.

05/12/2010 01:22 PM

What’s the point in reading Tom’s articles if you obviously dislike him so much? If I don’t care for someone’s writing, I simply don’t read it. Reading it and then bashing him for it seems rather pointless to me.

05/12/2010 03:02 PM

Tom , nice of you and your brother in law to respond . It’s hard to get any smarter if you only read or listen to people who have the very same opinions as you do . I read your column because it concerns auto racing . While i certainly don’t agree with a lot of what you write , and i’m often not alone in that respect , you have your opinion as i have mine .As has been said before by readers of your columns , you’re far too thin skinned . If you find it necessary to publish your opinions on line , then you shouldn’t
be surprised to find that there are others who don’t agree with you . You keep trying to convince me that Johnson is the greatest race car driver ever , and i’ll keep trying to show you how totally unimportant it is to the sport of NASCAR that small teams drop out of races early to save further damage to a car ( damage the teams can’t aford to fix ) or to simply be able to keep their doors open .

Richard in N.C.
05/12/2010 03:03 PM

Much better, balanced article than I had come to expect.

I don’t think NASCAR should try to eliminate all S&P’ers because they are not all the same. What Joe Nemechek and Tommy Baldwin do is not the same as what Phil Parsons’ team does. I have a real problem with S&P’ers who seem to have no intention of ever racing, but I don’t have a problem with teams like Nemechek’s who have to S&P occasionally so they can afford to try to actually race later. It seems to me that what NASCAR needs to do is to distribute part of the purse based on laps run.

With all the talk about S&P’ers it amazes me that I have not been able to find anywhere where anyone trys to keep up with who is S&P’ing at races.

05/12/2010 03:05 PM

So, if Newman takes over the #1 where does that leave McMurray? And if Kahne goes to SHR for a year, what happens to SHR in 2012? Does SHR become a one-car operation?

The whole scenario makes no sense.

Kevin in SoCal
05/12/2010 04:36 PM

I think they’re talking about the #1 in Nationwide series, not Cup series. Phoenix Racing has the #1 in Nationwide and the #09 in Cup. Kasey Kahne could run the #09 with Hendrick support like Brad Keselowski did last year.

Don Mei
05/12/2010 05:22 PM

I guess you lost me Mark. Im doing my best to understand your logic. Are you really suggesting that failure to approve of Johnson auguring into a wall in a serious wreck means that one is a Johnson fan? If so, its fairly obvious to me that you have absolutely no idea of what it takes to drive a race car or be a serious racing fan.

05/12/2010 06:37 PM

No Don , that isn’t at all what i’m suggesting . I’m suggesting that Tom Bowles is dramaticaly over-reacting to the Johnson wreck and the cheers or jeers of the crowd . Sporting events are based on winners and losers . That means taking sides by the fans . When a boxer is knocked down , part of the crowd cheers . When a tackle brings down the quarterback , the harder the tackle the better , part of the crowd cheers . And when a racer blows an engine or crashes , part of the crowd cheers . That type of behavior is part of sports . And Tom Bowles lecturing the fans about disrespecting his favorite driver is laughable .
You’ll notice however that when an ambulance crew takes a long time to get a driver out of a crash , the cheering/jeering stops . I know of no one who wants to see a driver injured or killed .

05/12/2010 07:58 PM

Mark it is very easy to tell if a boxer is seriously injured when knocked down. When a QB gets a brutal hit and doesn’t jump right up, most stadiums go absolutely quiet.
I don’t know how many times I have heard people saying that Dale Earnhardt’s fatal wreck “just didn’t look that bad.” To a casual uninformed race fan it looks run-of-the-mill. It was anything but that.
Racing crashes happen so fast and have unbelievably high G-forces. Far greater than anything a boxer of footbal player sustains. It should be a factor that race fans consider. These drivers risk their lives for our Sunday afternoon diversion.
So if it is impossible for you (or anybody else) to figure out if a driver is still breathing before they cheer the vicious hit that they just endured; then yes, sit on your hands, shut your mouths, and try not to act too ignorant. Better yet watch bowling or figure skating and leave the racing to the fans that actually care about the driver’s safety.

No, I am not a Johnson fan. I am a Dale Earnhardt fan. I don’t care that he has been dead for nearly a decade. No-one can replace him. Today the only thing that matters to me is that every driver, crew member, official, and fan get to go home safely at the end of the day. See, I am a REAL fan of racing.

05/12/2010 08:40 PM

@ DonMei: I am not sure if you are aware of this, and I am not posting it to belittle your comment.

NASCAR routinely impounds a car from each manufacturer and random cars throughout the field to dyno test and strip down for compliance testing. This is in addition to the normal post-event inspection process. That includes a complete engine teardown. It would not be difficult at all to make sure at least one start and park team was included in these tests. Considering a 5 race suspension could actually mean the end of the team permanently, the chance of being caught lying about the reason for a retirement would keep most smaller teams honest.
Sadly, the simple fact is these small teams don’t actually bring anything to the table. Starting a race and retiring in 15 laps is never going to earn a sponsor. Racing is expensive. A mid-pack or back team can probably be run for about $15 million per year. Teams that do not have this money should be kept out of the sport. That probably sounds heartless, but it’s not meant that way. The older a car is the less safe it becomes. Reusing parts has a diminishing return and the failure rate increases exponentially. (Does anyone want to bet me that the brake caliper that failed on A.J.‘s car was brand new for Saturday’s event? Because I am willing to bet that it was a used part that failed mid-event.) That’s not safe for anybody. Not the fans, driver, or other teams. But I stand by my belief that if a team has no intention of actually competing, then they shouldn’t bother to show up. NASCAR’s shows didn’t suck in the 80’s when the field was 38 strong, and if financial hardships make that necessary again, then so be it.

Don Mei
05/13/2010 07:58 AM

The reason they are kept out of the sport Noel is that NASCAR has never tried to take a good look at the overall economics of the sport. Had they done so there are a LOT of things they could do, many of which would alleviate the start and park problem.

As to Marks comments, many of us watch a race to enjoy the competition without cheering on any particular driver.

05/13/2010 08:45 AM

Don, I don’t disagree with you at all. But NASCAR will never be a cheap sport. Nor do we want it to be. These cars are the true proving grounds for safety innovations that we see in our own road cars. It could be made cheaper. Even a portion of the TV money could be set aside to susidize small, unsponsored, and start-up teams. The France family’s greed means that will NEVER happen.
Regardless of the amount it costs to run up front, there will always be people looking to participate that can’t truly afford to do so. NASCAR should have an obligation to make sure that the teams coming to compete should be able to meet some level of minimal financial liquidity.

Don Mei
05/13/2010 04:08 PM

You are making my points for me vis-a-vis the economics of Nascar. Your point about Nascar provides innovations we see on our roadcars is ridiculous. All my roadcars have fuel injection, ABS. airbags, etc etc..I could go on and on.But why bother. Nascar is a spec series for 70’s technology.

05/13/2010 05:00 PM

Right on Mark!!!

05/13/2010 07:01 PM

@ Don: True, but the run flat tire tech was developed for race cars first, as were airbags, harness belts, collapsing steering columns, the cute little chest clip found on infant car seats. Many safety features are field tested in NASCAR and other series. Granted the technology is outdated, but to incorporate current technology wouldn’t actually decrease costs. It would increase costs. Look at the cutting edge technology in F1 $300 million doesn’t guarantee a championship. By comparison, NASCAR is having trouble filling its field with $30 million costs. Do you want to justify $50-60 million? I don’t.

Don Mei
05/14/2010 10:59 AM

I sure don’t Noel, but as a CPA and an economics profesor with 40 years experience in various areas of motorsports as a sponsor, race chairman and competitor I can absolutely gurantee you that there are ways to cut costs way below current levels.

05/14/2010 11:51 AM

Well this is coming from one of those “evil” ones that cheered when he wrecked. After he wrecked he tried to crank his car back up and he moved about 10 feet or so before he stopped and turned it off, so I knew he was ok. If you wanna complain about someone getting cheered when they crash, how about those bad crashes of Jeff Gordon?

Don Mei
05/14/2010 12:31 PM

Nothing evil…more about lacking common sense.

05/14/2010 12:43 PM

I agree with Jon. No one said this when Gordon wrecked all those times. All I heard were cheers and no one cared. We cheer because the drivers we don’t like wreck but we also hoe they are ok if it is a bad wreck like Johnson was in. So if you don’t like it then get over it.

05/14/2010 12:48 PM

I meant hope they are ok.*

05/14/2010 07:09 PM

Don I agree that costs could be cut severely. From our conversation I believe NASCAR would be run much differently if either you or I were in charge of it. I will admit that I am no financial wizard, my life has been spent studying the human body in relation to traumatic injury and chronic illness.
Wouldn’t any attempt to cut costs actually produce more of a spec series? I don’t know any way to stop the big teams from spending more cash than to outlaw it from the get-go. I am interested in hearing your thoughts.

05/15/2010 12:28 AM

hahahahaha…. y’all make me laugh. Guess I’m terrible for cheering for a guy wrecking… big whoop. Get over it and write about something useful. And I agree with Jon and Steve…. where was this “sensitivity” when Gordon wrecked all the time? As I recall, plenty of races when Gordon wrecked the TV station would turn up the crowd mics and what do ya know? PEOPLE WERE CHEERING!!! Gosh, it sucks being a simple-minded guy with no common sense… I can’t ever make since of it all.

05/15/2010 11:34 AM

I did say it happened to more driver’s than Johnson. I also said it was terrible for it to happen to anybody as every driver deserves respect following a hard crash.


Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
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