Jimmie Johnson Gets 5th Championship, Dooms NASCAR
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have not been a huge fan of the direction NASCAR has taken in the last few years. A number of moves by NASCAR management (such as creating the chase to the championship), changes to the cars, and an incredibly poor selection of tracks has really dragged the series down. This year, NASCAR attendance and viewership is down in the range of 20% or so, with many tracks hiding grandstands under plastic covers, offering 2 for 1 deals, or otherwise doing whatever they can to put people in the stands.
One of the fixtures of the dull and floundering NASCAR has been Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsport. Johnson is the sort of guy who’s personality just doesn’t shine through, no matter how hard NASCAR and their media partners try to push him. He is the white toast, no butter of racing, a guy without a single memorable quote to his name, with little outward emotions for about 99% of the time. He is sort of like a talented driving robot, not really someone you would want to get to know.
So the finish to the 2010 season should come as no surprise to anyone, as the 48 team once again rolls to a championship, with a second place finish in the race. With that 5th championship in a row, Johnson sets a record and really comes up to be one of the greatest champions in NASCAR history. Sadly, that championship pretty much sums up what ails NASCAR (or as I call it these days, NAPCAR). Here’s what I see:
First and foremost, NASCAR evolves very slowly. Unlike the NFL, MLB, and the NBA, it takes many, many years for things to change on the track and in the series. A reasonable durable driver can make a 25 year career out of NASCAR. Jeff Gordon will be entering his 19th year, Johnson is in his 10th year, and team mate Mark Martin will complete his 30th season next year. What it means is that the players on the field often don’t change much from year to year, and each season becomes a repeat of the previous year. In the last few years, there have been typically been only a handful of changes. The changes are often so minor that sites like Jayski celebrate paint job changes as major events.
In football, players move from team to team, some teams go up, some go down, and so on. Last season, the New Orleans Saints won the superbowl, yet it is very doubtful that you will see any of the lower end NASCAR teams ever reaching for the stars. Those guys who finished around 35th this year (Robby Gordon’s team) will likely be around the same place next year.
NASCAR is also incredibly slow with technology. The cars still run pushrod V8 engines, with carbs, a distributor, 4 speed transmissions, and use truck arm style suspensions in the rear. New model cars? NASCAR is suggesting 2013 or so. Fuel injection? Maybe next year… but then again, maybe 2012 or 2013. 17 inch wheels, lower profile tires, and independant suspensions? Get comfortable, none of that even has a date with possible in the next 5 years.
The chase? Well, it’s despised by many, yet NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France arrogantly suggests that everyone loves the chase, that nobody is complaining. Apparently he doesn’t spend any time listening to fans, reading chat boards, or actually paying attention to the media. The chase is one of many things that fans routinely complain about, and yes, the results of this season’s championship are more proof. Without the chase, Kevin Harvick would have sewn up the championship without issue. Instead, he lands 3rd – meaning the best team didn’t win the championship, just the little playoffs. Brian France doesn’t seem to get that people realize they have been manipulated here.
The tracks are another issue. So many of the tracks are either 1.5 – 2 mile cookie cutter tracks, or are tracks with personality that have been modified and neutered in the last 5 or 6 years in the name of “better racing”. Bristol, which was one of the tracks which sold out 40+ races in a row modified their track with progressive banking to make the racing better, and instead turned the race into a snooze that is chasing the fans away.
Jimmie Johnson’s 5th championship sets a record, and hammers another nail into the NASCAR coffin. It is very unlikely that any changes for the 2011 season will come over the short winter period, and it is very unlikely that NASCAR will offer up anything new and exciting that the lost fans will want to come back for. The same drivers, in the same look alike cars, at the same look alike tracks, repeating the same season they have repeated for the last 5 years, with the same predictable results. Congrats Brian, you have just about killed your family legacy!
PS: A little post script to this story. About 2 hours after the end of the NASCAR season and the championship, I was unable to find NASCAR, Jimmie Johnson, or anything of that nature on Google trends for the US. However, the UFC night from the night before was up there, as was the Philadelphia Marathon Results. It is telling that NASCAR doesn’t even rise up to the level of interesting of the death of Bambi Bembenek (convicted killer from the 90s who died recently).