Sunday, March 07, 2010

NASCAR 2010: A Year of Change for Good?

REPOSTED IN ITS ENTIRETY FROM website from Liberty76 ...

Mar 07, 2010 03:33 AM

Until now, I have held silent on the subject of the effect NASCAR changes are having on the product on the track ... well, only sort of in that regard. My Daytona 500 post struck a nerve I NEVER expected against some adamant fans who shared extremely contradictory opinions to my own. At that point, I began to wonder ... has my Fan Council membership just been revoked?

After all of this, I had to tell myself (in my head, anyway) ...
So, you want a *negative* opinion, huh?

I don't think I'm the only one who sees the product on the track actually getting better but the results in the stands getting worse, right?

I don't think that Brian France and company used to listen to my voice on the NASCAR Fan Council, but they seem to have lost my membership surveys recently, true?

The "Fan Council" seems to conveniently show up ONLY when opinions get especially negative ... get ready for some angst to reappear after Atlanta this weekend. The "Southern forces" are going to unite over the fact that this venerated location will be threatened to lose a track date after, yet again, due to the stands being half empty for another Cup date. You can only do *so much* before you throw in the towel and admit defeat. Bruton Smith is going to be the target of some SERIOUS hate mail very soon.

They like to say the "South is going to rise again" ... who would have guessed that NASCAR might be the boiling point for a lot of fans this time around? Until now, all indications were that this, too, would pass, but the Kentucky Speedway, near the border of the Union-Confederate States, will signal an initiator in the reignition of the "new" Civil War of sorts that NOBODY, and I mean NOBODY, will ever see coming from something as "simple" as NASCAR.

Don't be shocked that you heard it from me first.

Anyone notice an INTERESTING trend in something? The development of actual BEARDS in NASCAR? First, I see Dale Earnhardt, Jr. wearing a full beard, hearkening an era of his late, great father, the MAN who brought me into the fold of NASCAR itself. Then, I see the reigning champion himself, sitting on the SAME team, no less, sporting a FULL BEARD, too! What happened to Jimmie Johnson's status as the clean-cut, SHAVEN star of the sport. Does Jimmie want to start wearing the BLACK HAT this year? Is the challenge for MOST HATED DRIVER going to leave the clean-shaven crowd (Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, JEFF GORDON (!) ...) and jump over the Johnson himself?

For the first time in a VERY Long time, I have a feeling that the dynamic of the sport is ready to fracture. Pro-Johnson on one side and Pro-Earnhardt on the other. A genuine CIVIL WAR over fandom in NASCAR ... can this REALLY be happening?

If NASCAR wasn't so pro-Christian, pro-family, pro-Republican, etc. I wouldn't be as concerned as I am. For the first time in EVER, I see genuine Southeastern American disenchantment over the product on the track. We actually have a REAL split between the blue-collar south (lest we say the DixieCrats / Tea Party rising) and the white-collar north (anyone want to pull out my least favorite title EVER ... the Yankee nation?).

Anyone perpetually tired like me at the representation of states like my own (Ohio) which have been IGNORED too long for something as simple as a NASCAR race? SERIOUSLY???

Indianapolis, with its "sacred cow" race track venerated for ... why again? RACE AT ELDORA, you morons ... its that simple. THAT'S THE REAL NASCAR ... that's where this sport started. ON DIRT. LISTEN TO TONY STEWART AND TELL ME I'M WRONG.

If we actually went back to the ROOTS of the sport, we wouldn't have this elitist CLASSISM happening. IF we actually PAID ATTENTION to what FANS WANT, we would be racing the boys of Cup (Prelude to the Dream stuff, boys?) ... on the CLAY tracks of places like Eldora Speedway in little old Rossburg, Ohio. Lawrenceburg Speedway (border town of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, anyone?) ... Indy Raceway Park (forget the crappy name they call it now) ...

the TRULY venerated MILWAUKEE MILE ... NOW That's a race track. DID anyone see the story FLY UNDER THE RADAR that this track DOESN'T HAVE A DATE in 2010?!? HOW CAN THIS BE?

As the NaptownRef likes to say, "ref out" (clearly in reference to standup comedian Chris Rock) ... I will take it one better. I have been Liberty76 for a LONG time ... I am a fan of Richard Petty. I am a fan of David Pearson. I am a fan of Dale Earnhardt. And, against my better judgement, I became a fan of Jeff Gordon. I am a FAN of the GREATS of this sport. On the backs of legends goes I ... and from the view up here things are NOT looking so rosy any longer. Be prepared, NASCAR fans, for the fracture of NASCAR Cup racing into a NORTH AND a SOUTH division. It will happen, and it will be sooner rather than later.

Maybe 2010 isn't going to be the year, but 2011 will be the sign of new things to come. Bruton Smith, you ain't seen nothing yet ... oh, and Brian France, word the wise: the SMS / ISC battle is about to be REAL. The Kentucky Speedway lawsuit by Jerry Carroll and the KS folks was a precursor to the angst we "border states" are feeling these days. Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky, etc. are FEELING THE PAIN of being a fan of your white-collar sport. WE SUPPORT YOUR PRODUCT without justification TOO OFTEN. My support comes with a pain threshhold ... and you may have finally found it in 2010.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

And the Beat Goes On ... Knaus, Johnson Just Win

Knaus outsmarts everyone – again

LAS VEGAS – In searching for an excuse why Jimmie Johnson dominates, the haters are quick to scream that his crew chief Chad Knaus is a cheater.

It’s time to put that talk to bed.

Cheating is not what won the 48 team four championships in a row; it’s not what has had them competing for a title in each of Johnson’s eight going on nine Cup seasons; and it’s not what put them in victory lane Sunday for the second week in a row and the 49th time overall.

When everyone else opted to take two tires on the final pit stop of Sunday’s Shelby American at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Knaus made the call to take four. It was a typical Knaus move and one that perfectly explains why Johnson perpetually is in a league of his own.

By not running with the pack, the 48 team gives themselves the chance to be ahead of it. Once that decision is made, it’s up to them to perform, and as we’ve seen, they usually do. Knaus made the call Sunday, the pit crew changed the four tires in less than 12 seconds to send their driver back on the track in fourth, and Johnson took care of the rest, passing Jeff Gordon with 18 laps to go.

Afterward, Johnson was asked the question that’s become as routine as him winning: How lucky can one guy get?

“If people are trying to find a way not to accept the quality of this race team, that’s cool,” Johnson said. “We’ll just come back this week and take the trophy again.”

Johnson acknowledged that his was a “smart-ass” remark, but who’s going to argue that he won’t?

For most of the day, Gordon dominated, leading 219 of the 267 laps. With a little more than 30 laps to go, a caution came out, setting up the leaders for one final stop. Originally, crew chief Steve Letarte ordered Gordon not to pit but changed his mind at the last second, calling for a two-tire stop. Behind him, Johnson was taking four.

On the restart, Johnson bolted from fourth to second almost immediately, setting up a two-car duel to the finish. Gordon held off his teammate for a stretch but couldn’t indefinitely.

“I knew we were a sitting duck,” Gordon said. “It was just a matter of time because two vs. four.

“When you’re leading, that’s the toughest position to be in – to make that call,” he explained. “If we won the race, we’d look like geniuses, Steve would have. The fact that we lost the race, now Chad looks like the genius.

“I talked to Steve briefly after the race. He’s pretty upset obviously. I think he just felt like more people were going to take two tires.”

Had they – had Johnson – Gordon is confident he would have won. So are Johnson and Knaus, which is why they made the decision they did. All afternoon they were stuck behind Gordon and Matt Kenseth, unable to make any gains because the cars were so equal. So when the opportunity to break from the pack arose, they took it.

Johnson sprays Knaus and team. AP

“If you’re prepared and a situation arises that you can take advantage of a top-five or a victory, I don’t think that’s luck,” Knaus said. “If we’d had been out there today and wrecked on Lap 5 because we were midway in the pack, that’s not luck; that’s because we qualified so poorly that we were somewhere where we shouldn’t have been.”

Knaus pointed to last year’s Chase race at Texas when Johnson qualified poorly, then got caught in a wreck on Lap 2.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of luck,” he said. “There’s opportunities that arise throughout the race. If you’re prepared to capitalize on them, then good for you.”

Undoubtedly some will view Knaus as being arrogant when really he’s more proud. He’s the one, after all, who has put in the work and dedicated his life to figuring out how to get his driver to the checkered flag before everyone else. So if you’re looking for an explanation of Johnson’s dominance, there it is, and there’s nothing unseemly about it.

Jay Hart is the NASCAR editor for Yahoo! Sports. Send Jay a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.