Jimmie Johnson, whom I discussed in last Tuesday's article , is arguably one of the greatest NASCAR drivers ever, and will surely have himself a spot in the Hall of Fame once he is eligible.
Johnson is on the verge of winning a record fourth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. While many folks have screamed about this being bad for NASCAR, I argue it is good.
Now, I’m as tired of his dominance as anyone, and I’m especially tired of him being on the cover of UMI Publications NASCAR Preview and Press Guide every year. However, this has the potential of being a boon to NASCAR.
Let’s set up the situation:
Only four drivers have ever won more than three championships: Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt both have seven, and Jeff Gordon has four.
Only two drivers have ever won three in a row: Cale Yarborough and…Jimmie Johnson.
Winning four straight would put Jimmie in a unique class—part of the quartet of drivers who have won more than three championships, and the only driver to ever win four straight.
Why is this good?
People like it when people do things that have never been done before: test pilots became celebrities when they walked on the moon, a mob greeted Charles Lindbergh in France when he crossed the Atlantic by himself, and Magellan became a figure in history books when he circumnavigated the globe.
A huge industry has been built around people doing things that have never been done before—have you ever read the Guinness Book of World Records?
Jimmie’s drive for four will be good for NASCAR, and will draw people to NASCAR in the same way Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire drew people to baseball when they were setting home run records.
Jimmie will draw people to NASCAR the same way Lance Armstrong drew people to cycling when he won the Tour de France seven straight times—I mean, who cared about cycling until Lance Armstrong came around?
While long-time NASCAR fans may gripe about the same guy winning every year, someone doing something no one has ever done before gives those who have never had a reason to watch NASCAR a reason to watch – though they may have never watched a race in their lives, they want to see if this Jimmie Johnson guy can actually do it, or if 50-year-old Mark Martin can beat him and win his first championship.
Richard Petty’s dominance in the early days of NASCAR brought hoards of new fans to the sport, and his record 200 wins still stands today. Though people didn’t follow NASCAR, they came to know Petty’s STP-sponsored no. 43.
ESPN’s Brad Daugherty professes to wearing the no. 43 in his basketball career in homage to Richard Petty, and Sprint Cup rookie Marcos Ambrose recalls following NASCAR while growing up in Australia because of the success of The King.
And remember: Cale Yarborough won three straight, and Dale Earnhardt won seven in his career. Who in NASCAR circles today doesn’t like them?
Bottom line is people respect perfection. Though those in NASCAR may not enjoy Jimmie Johnson winning the last three championships and possibly a fourth this year, most still realize that he and his team are simply the best.
And, shouldn’t the best team win the championship?
Other NASCAR Notes
Last week, Ford and Roush-Fenway Racing revealed the Nationwide Series’ Mustang COT. Yes, it looks just darn sexy. After the reveal, the NASCAR community started ripping on Chevrolet for not racing the Camaro. After all, Ford is racing the Mustang and Dodge is racing the Challenger; why is Chevy insistent of sticking with the Impala?
I say Chevy shouldn’t race the Camaro.
Here’s why: the NASCAR stock car is descended from the family sedan. That’s why big heavy stock cars are big and heavy—because the family sedan is big and heavy!
There is a type of racing for Mustangs and Camaros—it’s called sports car racing. Leave NASCAR racing for the family sedans (though the NASCAR Mustang is waaay cool).
Also, this week, NASCAR is running the Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville on the same day (Saturday) as the Nationwide Series race in Memphis. The Truck race is at 1:00 ET and the Nationwide race is at 3:30 ET—two times that are way too close to each other.
Why would NASCAR put its fans, especially in an era of lackluster ratings, in a position where they might have to choose which race to watch? C'mon NASCAR, surely you're smarter than that.
Finally, does it sound to anyone like the Petty-Yates merger might not go through? Petty’s language while discussing this is always speculative, and is always prefaced by “if” it happens, not “when” it happens.
Regardless, Petty has said his team will race Fords next season whether or not the merger goes through (notice how he made sure to say “whether or not” though).