NASCAR's Yin and Yang in the Sprint Cup Series

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IJuly 14, 2010

PHOENIX - APRIL 09: Jimmie Johnson (L), driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, talks with Dale Earnhardt Jr. (R), driver of the #88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 600 at Phoenix International Raceway on April 9, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Geoff Burke/Getty Images

The Chinese define yin and yang as two great opposite but complementary forces at work in the cosmos.

Asian philosophy carries the explanation much further as to how yin and yang must work together to achieve chi.

In NASCAR, specifically the Sprint Cup series, we find two drivers both under contract to Hendrick Motorsports that exhibit yin and yang within the sport.

Jimmie Johnson was nicknamed "Superman" by teammate Mark Martin. Perhaps his union with crew chief Chad Knaus has catapulted him to that status with four consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Championships.

Johnson is currently third in the Sprint Cup points standings and has five wins so far this season.

Many expect the Lowe's No. 48 team to whip through the Chase later this year to nail a fifth title.

Johnson has never ranked below fifth in the year-end season points since beginning his full-time ride with Hendrick Motorsports in 2002.

The clean-cut, dark-haired family man could easily be marketed for his looks. He has adorned many a magazine cover and does it well. Public appearances come easily to this driver.

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Rich, good-looking and an anomaly as a stock car driver should be adequate credentials to make him the most popular driver with NASCAR fans.

Yet, for all he has going, fans for the most part don't want him to win, especially a fifth championship.

Many race fans are really annoyed he has gotten four titles in the manner that he has.

Being a fan favorite is one thing Johnson can't add to his resume.

The Champion has been booed and gets more cheers when he careens through the infield or his car finds it's place on the hook of a wrecker.

Driving for the same owner, Rick Hendrick, is the perennial fan favorite "most popular driver" Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt Jr. by comparison usually sports a somewhat fuzzy face. His normal attire is t-shirt and jeans. He is single and has been accused of partying a bit too much, though he is probably more comfortable near a computer doing I-racing. 

Media attention and being in the limelight are not amongst his favorite things.

Junior has failed to win a race since June 15, 2008, at the LifeLock 400. His 2009 season was his worst ever with an average finish of 23.2.

Dale Jr. has six top-ten finishes this year and ranks 13th in the Sprint Cup points standings, bouncing in and out of the top 12.

Fans became accustomed to seeing the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet with Junior behind the wheel, racing out of the DEI shop. He used to win back in those days.

As performance deteriorated at DEI, the news came that Earnhardt Jr. would leave his father's company to drive for the premier NASCAR owner, Rick Hendrick.

Excitement abounded within Junior Nation as grandiose hopes of him becoming the hot driver at HMS pumped up his marketability even more.

It was expected the driver of the Amp Energy/National Guard car would have many wins and top finishes.

Disappointment can best describe his stint so far with Rick Hendrick.

So here we have two drivers with supposedly the best equipment money can buy.

For Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, we can presume that fact to be true. There is also a chemistry between the driver and crew chief few teams can attain.

Earnhardt Jr. moved to HMS with his cousin, Tony Eury Jr. as his crew chief. Poor performance was thought to be attributed to the relationship between the driver and his cousin.

Junior had to readjust to new team leadership, finally ending up with Lance McGrew. Many question that the driver of the No. 88 deserves better, but McGrew has at least shown improvement with the team this season.

Despite poor performance, lack of wins and inconsistency, Earnhardt Jr. can bring the fans to their feet, if he even looks like he may be heading for the lead in a race.

NASCAR needs Dale Earnhardt Jr., regardless of his performance.

NASCAR may lose fans should Jimmie Johnson win a fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup title this year.  It will be a negative for the sport.

The dichotomy of the two drivers, both under the Hendrick Motorsports banner, is somewhat stunning based on the opposing effect each has on fans.

Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are truly the yin and yang of NASCAR.


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