The Ford 400 is in the books and Jimmie Johnson is the 4-time champion. I haven't commented on this achievement and will save that for another column. I want to talk about the race that was the Ford 400.
The 3:30 green flag for an East Coast race is a bad move by NASCAR. 3:30 PM falls right at the end of every 1:00 PM NFL game on television. It's hard on ratings to expect every NFL fan to turn away from their game with 5:00 left in the 4th quarter.
Overall, the Jimmie Johnson love fest that was the theme of the broadcast was overkill. "My lawyer is wearing his lucky shoes." "Drink the Kool-Aid." That's right Jimmie, most of the NASCAR fans currently need some of the Kool-Aid to keep their interest in this Series since you have completely killed the competition.
Kudos to Scott Speed for making sure he gave the guys racing for the championship plenty of room as the green flag waved.
Early on, Mark Martin was sliding all over the place. Dale Jarrett did a great job explaining how the seams in the track could cause Martin to get loose as he drove through the corner. In my opinion, this is a perfect example of how ESPN needs to use DJ during the race. We don't need a visit to the Tech Center, just let Jarrett do what he does best.
For the first time all year, ESPN finally used Earnhardt, Jr. as an example of how the wave around rule works in NASCAR. Junior pitted for tires and got lapped. The caution flew right after and Jr. used that opportunity to get the wave around and get back on the lead lap. Not that it helped him, but this is how ESPN should handle every single caution. Explain who used the wave around and why. Use a graphic just like they use during the race off of pit road. Show the cars that got the wave around, if they are back on the lead lap, and what position they are running on the track.
JPM got his revenge to the cost of his car and Stewart's night. I do not understand why fans do not pull for Montoya. He is a hard-nosed, aggressive racer who says what is on his mind and does not let anyone bully him around. I am not saying what he did was right. I am just trying to figure out why he gets more boos than applause on the track and off. He all but wrecks Gordon at Martinsville, knocks the leaders around, drives as aggressive on the track as possible and gives everyone the sound bites they are looking for, yet he does not have much of a fan base. Hopefully, all that will come with time.
One knock to the ESPN booth. With 38 laps to go Johnson and Gordon were battling for what I believe was 6th and 7th on the track. Gordon got a run on Johnson and passed him. Dr. Punch actually said that Johnson probably let him go so that Gordon could secure his spot in 3rd place in the Championship standings. This is absurd. Do they honestly feel like JJ would be sitting there on the cusp of his 4th straight title and actually be thinking about where Gordon finishes? My guess is, that unless his spotter came over the radio and mentioned it, which ESPN did not clarify, this is another example of Punch being off the radar when it comes to what is happening on the track.
Carl Edwards did an absolute fantastic job during the "In-Race Reporter" segment that followed Carl live around the track as he raced for position. I realize he was really contending for the lead, but he was racing for a Top 10 spot. I also understand Edwards had been waiting all year to do that live on the air. He gave great insight as to exactly where the car was loose, how the car felt through the turn, and how he had to pick his line. It was a great segment and I have thank Carl Edwards for doing that for the fans. I imagine trying to give constant feedback to the booth and faces while running 32 second laps isn't an easy task.
The "Gillette In The Clutch" moment went to Team 48's pit crew for the last stop of the race. This I do not really understand. Throughout the night Johnson's crew had lost him at least a dozen spots on pit road. They were taking their time, making sure they got all the lug nuts on, and getting clean pit-stops, but the simple fact is they were slow as molasses in January. So if a "clutch" moment means that no one screwed up and they made it through the night with no mistakes, then I guess they were as "clutch" as they could get. Otherwise, I would say they were sub par and just did what they needed to do to make sure their driver brought the big trophy home.
In my opinion, this might have been the best race we have seen on a "cookie-cutter" track all year. The variable banking at this track has finally seasoned and has helped to provide two and three wide racing all over the track. ESPN actually did a great job showing the action where ever it was happening on the track, although they did spend a little too much of the broadcast following the championship leader and showing the live point battle as if it wasn't already over. Outside of the Jimmie Johnson love-fest parts of the broadcast, I thought the team did a great job. Too bad it will most likely not follow over into their coverage of the 2010 season.
So the season is over and at least the final race was entertaining. Hopefully, we will see some improvements in 2010. Otherwise, I predict more of the same. Fabricated drama, a Chase that does not provide the end of the season battle we all yearn for, empty seats, lower ratings, and possibly a unprecedented 5th title for Team Lowe's Racing.
Thank you for reading my column. I welcome all comments and feedback.