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Did You Notice? Championship Overkill, My Biggest Offseason Worry & A Heartfelt Thank You

Did You Notice? That no less than 24 hours after Jimmie Johnson captured his fourth straight Cup championship, he was in front of your television practically everywhere you turned? At 1:30 Monday, while waiting at the airport in Miami, an ESPN friend of mine texted me an “I just met Jimmie Johnson!” message. The first thought that came to mind was, “In Bristol already? Really?”

And so the whirlwind tour began, with Johnson jumping from ESPN-ville Monday to “Jimmie Johnson Day” in New York City on Tuesday. Taking a private elevator to the top of the Empire State Building with Johnny Damon, he posed for photos while the cameras whirled, trying desperately to make him the mainstream figure he’s failed to become in the last three years as the titlist.

But if you’re looking to get Johnson off your radar screen… it’s not going to happen anytime soon. He appears on the Jay Leno Show tonight before going through another week’s worth of publicity during the first ever Sprint Cup Champion’s Week in Las Vegas. A roast, a Victory Lap Parade and a full-fledged banquet are in store for a man who’s been whisked around so much, you half expect him to show up at the FOX Thanksgiving Day football game in order to promote the upcoming NASCAR season in 2010.

Man, talk about your media overkill. As a journalist who owns my own website, I understand and appreciate the value of promoting yourself, but don’t you think this whole schedule’s just a little bit too much? Heck, even if Johnson did have the popularity of Dale Earnhardt Jr., at some point you cross the line from a few small scoops of vanilla ice cream to a pound of it that makes us all sick. In comparison, how much marketability do the Super Bowl champs get in the NFL? I certainly don’t remember the Steelers showing up everywhere I turned in each of their ten days after winning the title… and I live inside their home state of Pennsylvania.

And as we all know, the additional problem here is that most people are either indifferent or sick of Johnson’s success. Whether they should be is a different story, but the simple fact remains that his whole historic accomplishment has mixed together with fans just about as well as oil and water. So at a time where most want to just put the 2009 season behind them, putting Johnson in every paper, major city, or TV program isn’t going to suddenly make anyone change their tune. Instead, if anything it’s making people say, “Enough already!”

Did You Notice? As the offseason hits as we look towards 2010, there are a grand total of zero drivers to file for 2010 Raybestos Rookie of the Year in the Cup Series. The list of new teams can be counted on one hand, and contraction – not expansion – remains the name of the game for several of the top Sprint Cup owners.

I think that’s the biggest worry I have for the offseason more than any other. Yeah, there’s so much buzz surrounding the Danica Patrick-to-NASCAR signing I’d be shocked if that didn’t wind up working out. After all, think about how much egg the sport will have on their face – and how much momentum will shift to the IRL – if she ultimately spurns their offer.

But what if Danica doesn’t take the NASCAR bait? What fresh faces will there be then to add some buzz to a stagnating sport? The Brad KeselowskiDenny Hamlin feud will help, but it’s not a cure-all – especially if Kes proves to be nothing more than a mid-pack driver in Cup.

Right now, there’re still a handful of development drivers looking to make a splash and inject their personality on any of the sport’s top-three levels. But what people like Landon Cassill, Marc Davis and even someone like Chrissy Wallace need are both the sponsorship and the ownership support to make their dreams come true. But the sad truth is that with an ailing economy – combined with the limited seats available and car owners willing to help – their dreams are dying right on the vine. And that, my friends, leaves us with only so much to feed you before the same old storylines start getting stale.

That’s why the Volkswagen-to-NASCAR rumor – as bogus a story as it was – got tons of media play. It was a sign of positive interest we haven’t seen, well, since Toyota came into the sport in 2007. And in this rapidly changing world of ours, we’ve seen NASCAR suddenly head in the direction you don’t want – the status quo.

The irony here is NASCAR did make changes to try and keep up with the Joneses… only none of them ever worked. So now, more than ever, a fresh set of people, ideas, and changes are needed to steer the sport back in a positive direction.

I hope someone finds them.

Did You Notice? This year in NASCAR has left virtually everyone burnt out? I saw it in the media center this weekend at Homestead, in the eyes of the drivers and crews in the garage, and in the officials that travel the circuit week in, week out. I see it in my own life, struggling to write this column before needing a solid few days of rest and relaxation – if not more. It seems unless you were part of the top-three Hendrick teams this year, chances are you left Sunday night ready to go on vacation instead of aching for the start of the Daytona 500 just two and a half short months away.

Yeah, a season that stretches from February to November can always cause some wear and tear. But in this year more than any other, the constant criticism combined with a myriad of economic and on-track problems have seemed to have taken their toll on everyone. Whether you were part of a broadcast network enduring public criticism, an official enduring continuing questions about the Car of Tomorrow’s struggles to be competitive, a team owner deflecting questions about future sponsorship, or an official having to explain several inconsistent penalties, you all likely shared the same level of “burnout” that nine months of fighting negativity will bring.

That’s why I think the most important thing to do for all of us who love this sport is what Marcos Ambrose gets away with every year. Marcos, as we read this, is halfway across the world right now, enjoying friends and family down in his native Australia without a care or connection to the NASCAR world. He’s got no articles to read, no criticism to endure, just a beautiful summer to relax, recharge and forget about the trials and tribulations of 2009.

So if you’re reading this column and in a burnt out state, here’s what I recommend for you: these words are the last ones you read on NASCAR this year. Yeah, I know I’m alienating my audience (I’ll still be writing for Sports Illustrated and others this offseason) but I don’t want you anywhere near a racing site. That means it’s time to erase any SPEED programming from your DVR, remove Jayski as your home page and stop listening complaints and concerns over on SIRIUS XM. It’s even time to leave our website for awhile. I promise, two months from now we’ll still be here… as will everything else.

Instead, this offseason I have a homework assignment for you. After deleting NASCAR from your brain for a few weeks, I’ll let head on over to YouTube and watch a handful of classic clips that’ll remind you of how great this sport can be. Here’s a list of my personal recommendations:

1) The 1979 Daytona 500 – Final Laps
2) The 1993 Daytona 500 – Final Laps
3) The 1995 Goody’s 500 – Final Laps
4) The 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 (Darlington) – Final Laps
5) 2001 Cracker Barrel 500 – Final Laps

I promise you after watching these five clips (they’ll take you no more than half-an-hour) you’ll be jazzed up and ready for more. And then… I want you to walk away. Take that extra month, recharge your batteries and cross your fingers that Daytona 2010 will start bringing more of the same.

A good friend in the garage recently told me something that’s become one of my favorite quotes. He said, “There’s a fine line between fear and faith.” Right now, there’s so much fear right now over the future of the sport and the direction it’s heading. What us optimists need to do is recommit to the faith that things will one day turn around. Remembering how the racing used to be is part of doing that… because as impossible as it seems sometimes, everyone and everything is capable of change. It’s not a matter of if… but when.

So I hope you’ll be around in 2010, keeping the faith while awaiting those positive changes and great racing to come.

With that… it’s time for the final DYN of the year…

Did You Notice? It’s time to give thanks during Thanksgiving? So let’s not waste any time…

Thanks publicly to my dedicated, talented Frontstretch staff. In a trying season, they’ve worked hard to come up with compelling commentary, news, features and interviews that have kept you debating NASCAR even during weeks where the race might have put you to sleep. I love the mix we have on here, from professional writers with dozens of inside sources to motivated fan experts with the most influential voice one could ever have: the power of the written word.

What I appreciate the most about this group is in the most trying year of my life, professionally and personally, they’ve stuck by me through thick and thin, doubling their effort to keep this site growing even on weeks where my heart, my body or both just weren’t in it. They are the style and substance of a site that shines, and I hope they know how much I appreciate their support.

Thanks to all the drivers, teams, and sources that have helped me in the garage this season. Whether it was a hands-on project or a contentious interview, your willingness to talk to me (as with any other writer) helps generate buzz and make my stories both as compelling and factually correct as they can be. Some people think athletes are under an obligation to talk to the media. But the truth is far more clouded; after all, how would you feel if you had 20 microphones shoved in your face every day? So I appreciate the continued respect and support you give me as a writer for my stories, and I look forward to another year of laughing together, debating together, forging friendships, and sharing information.

Most importantly, I want to take a minute and thank you, the fans. In a year where interest in NASCAR has declined virtually everywhere you turn, our numbers in the final quarter of 2009 actually increased versus this time a year ago. We write for you, we fight for you, and we run this site because of your generous support.

With that, I hope you have a happy, healthy holiday season with the friends and family you care about the most. Speaking of which… it’s time to go spend it with mine.

Take care.

Tom Bowles is now on Twitter! Click HERE to become a follower… even though he’s still learning how to use it (be patient on that one!)

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