Editor’s Note: Amy Henderson is off this week. While she enjoys her hard-earned vacation, please enjoy her column on the resilience of Jimmie Johnson‘s team from February 28th, 2006. Ironically, that resilience would eventually pay off with the team’s first Nextel Cup title.
History is a fickle thing. Every event, every moment, is fluid, changing. History is dynamic… not static. But wait, you say. Events in the past have already happened. By their very nature, by the laws of nature and time, they cannot change.
But I say that you would be mistaken. The central event, the fact of the matter, cannot be altered; that much is true. But for every fact, every event, there is a different perspective, another twist. For every Union soldier in the American Civil War who believed with all his heart that preserving the Union was the reason for the terrible war, there was a Confederate who believed that states’ rights was a cause worth paying the ultimate price for. The war was a fact… that it occurred cannot change. But the reasons, the winners and losers, the pride and freedoms fought for, these all change depending on who’s telling the story.
That’s one thing I love about history. In NASCAR, history is dynamic indeed. Events occur, parties react, and the game is different next time around. The lingering discussion of the events surrounding this year’s Daytona 500 is the perfect example. The facts on record are the event, the constant. Chad Knaus, crew chief for the No. 48 Nextel Cup team, was caught breaking the rules. His team’s driver, Johnson, won the Daytona 500. Knaus was suspended for four weeks, but neither driver nor team owner was penalized points.
But the perspectives of these events make it fluid. NASCAR’s perspective is, of course, the one that gets written in the history books. The discovery of the infraction and subsequent penalties came from NASCAR. The explanation that the parts were legal so the points remain intact was theirs. Obviously, in this situation, NASCAR’s is the opinion that counts. It’s their ballgame… do what they say or go home.
The No. 48 team, I’m sure, has a different perspective. The same events occurred, but instead of setting an example to others, as NASCAR did, the team used the consequences to motivate only themselves. And in their eyes, the strategy surely paid off. The victory was a big one, one of NASCAR’s most prestigious. And as Johnson said in Victory Lane, winning the race with a perfectly legal racecar was certainly a painful reality for those fans who for whatever reason, harbor a dislike of Johnson and his team. But even as they savored the victory, both the driver and team owner acknowledged that a boundary had been crossed.
That group of fans who dislike the team has been vocal in their point of view. They say that this was not the first time the team had broken the rules. These fans say the win isn’t legitimate. They say that the team deserved to be turned in by the team that tipped off NASCAR. They say that NASCAR plays favorites, and that’s why the team wasn’t docked championship points. They say the driver has little talent.
And then, of course, there is a whole other group of people who will say that NASCAR was consistent with the penalties, based on penalties handed to various teams throughout 2005. They will argue that Johnson is one of the best drivers in the world, and deserved to win the Daytona 500 in a car that met NASCAR’s stringent technical policies. From this group, sentiment runs strong that the team that allegedly tipped off NASCAR had no business doing so, given that they were twice caught bending the rules last year. They’ll tell you that the penalty given was sufficient, and some will even argue that it was more than necessary.
It’s not for history to decide who’s right and wrong. It’s about an event, and the many perspectives that surround it. To be truly educated about history, one must understand more than one perspective on an event, let that event be fluid and changing even as its core is constant. That’s what makes history live on. We cannot make events “unhappen,” nor can we give up our own point of view entirely. But we can, and must, weigh the possibilities and perspectives, as many people have done in the wake of Johnson’s Daytona snafu. Because that… is history.