No one of any official capacity will ever admit it publicly, but secretly they are cheering and acknowledging that a great thing happened in the auto racing world, on Sunday, at Dover International Raceway: Dale Earnhardt Jr. advanced in #TheChase and Jimmie Johnson didn’t.
Not that I am criticizing Johnson in any way. It would have been great to see him battle for another Sprint Cup Series championship – seriously. He will go down in history as one of the greatest ever and he deserves it. However, there is a strong contingent of fans, who don’t like him because he wins too much, or because they think he is boring, or because he is from California or, or, or…
My experience with Johnson goes back to a rain delay at Texas Motor Speedway in 2002. I watched and took photos as he and Jeff Gordon donned umbrellas, stood in a torrential rain and signed hundreds of autographs for fans lined up along the fence at the driver/owner lot. It was a class act. But most fans don’t know or don’t care about that side of him, which is why tens of thousands of people cheered when he was eliminated after the first round of the Chase and Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t.
With a little luck and a decision to lay it all on the line, Earnhardt Jr. went up the track and sped around Jamie McMurray on the final restart of the race as McMurray’s car got squirrelly and could have taken both drivers out of contention. It was a critical move for Earnhardt Jr. because he and McMurray were tied in points and whoever finished ahead of the other would make the next round of the Chase.
Had it been Johnson to advance instead of Earnhardt Jr., it would have definitely impacted ticket sales at tracks for the rest of the season, especially at Talladega, which is the next cutoff race and where Earnhardt Jr. is lauded as the greatest ever. Despite his talent and overall nice-guy attitude, Johnson doesn’t move the needle like his teammate does.
Sadly, his elimination is considered a good thing in many people’s eyes. Even some of the sport’s upper echelon, most likely, breathed a sigh of relief after the AAA 400. For Earnhardt Jr. fans, his advancing to the next round is huge. He is good at the next three tracks, so advancing to the third round is almost a lock. Could this be the year when he finally brings home the big trophy at the end of the season? Only time will tell. There are still 11 other guys trying to accomplish the same goal, but it’s a shame Johnson won’t go for a seventh championship this year.