NASCAR and Football: Injuries Have the Same Consequences

Kelly CrandallSenior Writer ISeptember 11, 2008

What would happen if a NASCAR driver had to sit out the season because of an injury? How would the fans react to if they saw someone else driving Jimmie Johnson's, Jeff Gordon's or Tony Stewart's car for 10 months?

Danger is around every corner at every track on the Sprint Cup circuit and unfortunately we've seen the worst that can happen. The drivers and the families know it, the teams know it, the media knows it and the fans know it.

"This is a dangerous sport," says Jeff Burton. "Any time you strap yourself into something that's propelling you down a straightaway at 200 mph, you have the potential to get hurt. That's part of our sport, and I do believe that we've all become a little immune it."

Does the same apply for a football player that has a two hundred pound defensive end hurrling toward them each week? Earlier this week the New England Patriots announced that Tom Brady, their star and only quaterback for the past eight seasons, is done for the year with a knee injury that requires surgry. Now someone else, Matt Cassel, will be guiding the Patriots ship.

As a substitute driver would in NASCAR.

In 2002 at Kansas Sterling Marlin wrecked and fractured a vertebra in his neck. He was seven races away from potentially winning the championship, instead his season was over early. Jamie McMurray piloted the no. 40 car for the remainder of the season.

In 2004 Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered second-degree burns when racing in the American Le Mans Series in Sonoma, California. During a practice run his Corvette C5-R crashed and then burst into flames. For the following few weeks Earnhardt Jr. was able to start the race but was unable to finish them.

Other drivers have fallen ill and needed someone to relieve them.

Now compare Tom Brady to a NASCAR driver:

The driver is the center attention. It's his face you constantly see. Without their star driver the team doesn't thrive. When they hand out checks and trophies they go to the driver. Sometimes the names of the pit crew are not even known.

Brady is also the center of the team with the most pressure to perform. Without him doing his job spot-on the team can't do theirs and it's he who gets all the attention. Sometimes even all the credit. It also doesn't hurt that he's good at what he does.

Bill Belichick and his quarterback coach could be considered his crew chief-the man always in his ear. The rest of the team are his team, the pit crew, who all need to perform their jobs to get a W.

But now Brady, the star, the leader, is gone for an entire year and the New England Patriots are being forced to adapt to life after Brady.

Which brings me back to my earlier question, what would happen if a star NASCAR driver couldn't compete for an entire year?

The team would have to keep their moral high in the absence of the only driver they've ever known. The job then switches from trying to win the championship to maintaining TV space. And the first decision to be made will be who to put in the driver's seat that will gel with the team in order to achieve that. The Patriots are hoping that happens with Cassel.

Communication between driver and crew chief becomes as important as ever, as does learning how Cassel handles the huddle and runs plays.

From a fans perspective, how would you react and cope with the loss of your weekly hero? Would you still attend race or tune in on Sunday? The hardcore NASCAR fans probably would, but maybe not the fans who cherish only one car and driver or those who collect a certain someone's jersey.

New England Patriots or more importantly Tom Brady fans will be put to the test this weekend as the team travels to the meadowlands to battle the New York Jets.

When things go wrong how many people will be saying, "Well with Brady this would have happend and we would have won"?

And of course think about the big picture for the National Football League and NASCAR in terms of marketability which equals money and ratings. The name Tom Brady and [insert favorite driver here] sells. Without them both in action there's nothing to show and no money to capitalize on. In the long run it may hurt both organizations, maybe not by much but there will be a dip.

What if Jimmie Johnson fell off that golf cart and hurt more than his wrist? What if Tony Stewart threw out his back while using his Home Depot tools to do housework?  What if Tom Brady had dropped back deeper in the pocket? What if they had run a different play?

What if...what if?

Contact is was makes sports a sport and we all have cheered for the play making sack on the quarterback and the Big One at Talladega. Tom Brady will be back and probably better than ever.

However, in NASCAR as Robert Darden, an English professor at Baylor University, says "In this sport, if you sneeze at the wrong time, you meet your maker. If you make a mistake on the golf course, you won't end up in 20 pieces."