Jimmie Johnson put himself in the same room as NASCAR legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt — both seven-time Cup champions — by winning his fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup on Sunday by finishing second to Carl Edwards in the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Johnson rallied from a 15-point deficit to pass Denny Hamlin for another championship. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus endured a tumultuous Chase, during which Johnson’s crew was benched, to continue their reign over the sport.
Say it five times fast: This guy is a legend.
And the great debate begins: Is Johnson’s dominance good for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and help it gain more attention as it attempts to rebound in 2011 from a season of decreased attendance and TV ratings? Or will it hurt, as fans are getting sick and tired of seeing Johnson and Knaus hoisting the big silver trophy every year at Homestead?
SBNation’s Jeff Gluck, an avid Tweeter, posted this interesting smorgasbord of Twitter reaction from fans after the race Sunday. Many fans complained about Johnson’s victory. And those fans are wrong.
What Johnson is doing here, folks, is beyond special because it’s almost beyond comprehension. NASCAR rule makers toil long and hard to build equality into the sport. The COT has homogenized the machinery. The point system rewards consistency more than winning. The Chase system was created to prevent a runaway champion late in the season, erasing any early-season dominance. Four of the 10 Chase races are on 1.5-mile ovals, with no road courses and only one short track.
This is racing’s version of the salary cap and free agency, two components that have killed dynasties in the NFL, NBA and NHL. Yet Johnson, Knaus and Hendrick Motorsports continue to just deliver under pressure, year after year. Think about it: The last time Jimmie Johnson failed to win the Sprint Cup, only Alaskans had ever heard of Sarah Palin. Justin Bieber was a kid dreaming of stardom in his bedroom in Canada. Joey Logano was 15 years old.
Why is this criticized? Why is this seen as boring? I agree with Peter DeLorenzo at Autoextremist: It’s not like Johnson and Knaus are crushing the competition due to superior equipment, an argument that could be made about the Ferrari that Michael Schumacher drove to five consecutive Formula One World Championships last decade.
The plunge off the ratings’ cliff is odd, because the racing has been very good this entire season, including the Chase. Even Auto Club Speedway, NASCAR’s generic prescription for Ambien, put on a very competitive race two weeks ago.
If you’ve tuned out the Chase on The Worldwide Leader in Sports this fall, you still should tune into ESPN tonight for what promises to be a fascinating 60 minutes of NASCAR programming. ESPN’s superb series of short documentaries, “30 For 30,” looks back at the life, legend and truths of Tim Richmond in “Tim Richmond: To The Limit” at 8 p.m. (ET) on ESPN and 11 p.m. (ET) on ESPN2.
The Last Rock and Roll Star: Tim Richmond
Richmond has sadly faded into the vanishing point of the rear-view mirror of NASCAR. This guy was an incredible force of nature and an incredible talent in Winston Cup racing during the 80s. He raced, partied and lived harder than most of the corporate automatons disguised as drivers today probably could ever dream. Imagine Kyle Busch’s speed and carefree talent mixed with the rock-star magnetism and lifestyle of Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones or Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, and you had Tim Richmond.
Much like James Hunt in F1, the number of Richmond’s laps led and ladies bedded ran side-by-side. But he had tremendous skill and huge attachments behind the wheel of a stock car and appeared headed to the high altitude of the legends of the sport before he contracted AIDS and died in 1989.
Want to see Richmond’s otherworldly talent encapsulated in one short video? Watch this below. Richmond is swallowing the field whole on a restart at North Wilkesboro while continuing to talk from his car with ESPN commentators in the booth after the green flag:
Due to his illness and the misconceptions associated with it, Richmond never has received his due from either NASCAR or its flag-waving, God-fearing fan base. Hopefully this documentary will help those who have forgotten or never knew about Richmond realize he was a rare supernova.
Watch this show tonight. Richmond is exactly the kind of character that corporate sponsors in 2010 never would bless even though racing needs talented showmen like him more than ever.
Back to racing 2010. It’s a quiet day in worldwide motorsport — a rarity during the season. But there’s still some news to chew on.
Plenty to catch up on after a day away from Splashing And Going. But first, it was good to be Bruce Barhydt on Tuesday, Sept. 21. Damn good.
Bruce and his wife, Barbara, visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to pick up the keys to their 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS Indianapolis 500 Pace Car that they won in the Indy 500 Pace Car Sweepstakes simply by renewing their tickets for the 2011 “500″ at www.imstix.com. And two-time and reigning Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti was there to hand the Barhydt’s the keys to their new ride and take them for a spin around IMS in the Camaro. Dario is a hell of a driver and a classy dude – a magically delicious ambassador for the Indy 500 and IndyCar.
Not a bad way to spend a day, eh? Speaking of Indianapolis 500 tickets, it’s time for a friendly Public Service Announcement: Tickets for the 2011 Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 29 – the 100th anniversary of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” – are on sale now at www.imstix.com.
While Japan’s rabid-but-polite IndyCar fans are still coming down from their fun last weekend at Twin Ring Motegi, attention in IZOD IndyCar land has shifted to South Florida for the season finale Saturday, Oct. 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Will Power leads Franchitti by just 12 points entering their titanic tussle, but Pop Off Valve has those drivers reversed in its latest power rankings. Hard to blame them. Will never has won an oval race; Dario has won plenty, including last year at Miami.
VERSUS will televise the finale, and Pressdog interviewed ace racing TV producer Terry Lingner about all the hard work that goes on inside and outside “the truck” just to get an IZOD IndyCar Series race broadcast on the air. One of Lingner’s charges that night will be reporter Jack Arute, who curiously wonders out loud why the season finale is going up against SEC and Big 12 football.
I’m really getting tired of the “we need to avoid football” argument. First, if the finale was contested on Sunday afternoon, it would clash with the NFL. And is there really enough room in the schedule to end the season by the end of August, before football? No.
So all IndyCar can do is put on a good show (it does), have a compelling championship race (it does, without gimmicks) and promote the hell out of it. Every other sport in America – not just IndyCar – is a fresh asphalt speed bump ready to be flattened by the steamroller known as football. Even NASCAR, the self-proclaimed No. 2 sport in America, is struggling with ratings against the mighty giants of the gridiron.
Plenty of reasons and solutions for the disappointing TV ratings of the Chase opener at New Hampshire are being tossed about in the blogosphere. One of the reasons I see often is the proliferation of high-def TV’s these days. The camera angles are great from the track, the picture is crystal-clear on an HDTV, and the beer is a lot cheaper and plentiful and the traffic is a lot thinner at home in front of the 50-inch plasma than it is at the racetrack.
That might be true. So how is Charlotte Motor Speedway responding? By building the largest HDTV in the world at its track. It’s even bigger than Jerry Jones’ vaunted board hanging over the field at the new Cowboys Stadium, which has to rankle Jerruh’s considerable ego just a smidge. Everything is big in Texas, but it’s even bigger in Charlotte.
Can you play Xbox 360 on that thing?
I have mixed emotions about this board. It will be good for replays. I’m also guessing advertisers and sponsors will dig it. But “Bruton-tron” also will breed more of the loons who pay good money to attend sporting events and spend more time watching the video boards than the action on the field or on the track. I’ve never understood that. If I wanted to watch TV, I would have stayed home. Am I a lone, crotchety voice in the video wilderness?
This just in, almost literally as I type, from the halls of NASCAR in Daytona Beach: Clint Bowyer was using an illegal car when he won the Sylvania 300 last Sunday at New Hampshire, the opening race of the Chase. Bowyer was docked 150 points, and his crew chief, Shane Wilson, was fined $150,000 and suspended six weeks. I guess it was more than a misplaced wheel nut, then.
Richard Childress, Bowyer’s car owner, claims the car was out of specification because other drivers tapped the rear of it during Bowyer’s victory lap. Childress also said the tow truck that pushed Bowyer’s car into Victory Lane knocked the rear out of whack.
Childress vowed to appeal the penalty all the way to the NASCAR Commissioner. This could get interesting. What if the penalty is overturned, Bowyer stays on a hot streak and ends up winning the Chase by less than 150 points? What if the penalty is upheld and he ends the season 149 points or less behind the eventual champion?
Sticky. And fun.
Well, so much for the Bowyer Cinderella story, at least for now. Bowyer now has yo-yo’d from 12th to second back to 12th in the points since last Sunday morning. Leader Denny Hamlin now enjoys a 45-point gap over second-place Kevin Harvick.
The soap opera continues in Formula One, where a battle is brewing over who has control of the iconic Lotus name. It’s a typical F1 sh*tstorm between two guys with wallets to match their egos. But does it really matter? Lotus isn’t Lotus without Colin Chapman running the show, and reviving the classic British Racing Green paint job doesn’t instantly play Lazarus with an esteemed racing marque.
All this does is besmirch the names of late Lotus greats like Chapman and Jim Clark. Sad.
There also are rumblings that Michael Schumacher may pull the plug on his ill-fated comeback attempt after this season and hang up his helmet. So the ego really has landed? I’ll believe it when I see it, but it would be a good idea. Right now, Michael looks like Willie Mays in his final, sad season with the Mets, losing routine fly balls in the sun.
From a four-wheeled legend to one on two wheels, Kenny Roberts, the first American MotoGP World Champion, is selling his house and practice facility in California. Check out King Kenny’s Krib. It’s a roomy place, but in time-honored gearhead tradition, the garage is almost as big as the house and contains a complete machine shop:
Ducati also was in the news recently, but it had little to do with Casey Stoner, Valentino Rossi or Nicky Hayden. The iconic Italian manufacturer presented two of its Multistrada models to the motorcade for Pope Benedict XVI. Maybe it’s a gift for His Holiness using his WATS line to above for Ducati, as Stoner answered the Ducatisti’s prayers by earning the team’s first victory of the season Sept. 19 at the Grand Prix of Aragon. Hey, they don’t call it the Red Phone for nothing.
There is real, on-track news in MotoGP. Seriously. The Grand Prix Commission rubber-stamped a change of the schedule for the rest of the season in which the three hours of MotoGP track time Friday and Saturday will be divided into two 45-minute practices Friday, and one 45-minute practice and one 45-minute qualifying session Saturday. Since 2009, there has been a one-hour practice Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, with a one-hour qualifying session.
That revised schedule debuted at Aragon, and it looks like it also will become the rule of the land for the 2011 season.
Sorry for the late-evening version of Splash And Go, but I had to wait for the first practice results from Motegi. They’re in, and Will Power is on top of the time chart. His closest pursuer in the points, Dario Franchitti, was sixth.
Still, I think it’s only a matter of time until he earns his first oval victory in the IZOD IndyCar Series for Team Penske. Dario just hopes that time is next year.
I was stunned when I first saw the time sheet and noticed Takuma Sato was at the bottom, even beneath Milka Duno. Say it ain’t so at your home motor dojo, Taku-san. But then I read where Taku crashed after an oil line failure splurted oil on the tires, causing Sato to spin.
Good thing Taku is OK. It’s pretty safe to say that normal order will be restored, with Milka in the caboose. But you have to feel for Sato in front of his home crowd. And do you think KV Racing Technology has gold card credit status with Dallara for chassis repair yet this season?
While practice is underway at Motegi, it’s not too late to check out this humorous preview of the race at Pop Off Valve.
She's still an elite race driver, ladies and gents
Tony Johns of Pop Off Valve also takes on the white elephant in the room with the IZOD IndyCar Series, the future racing intent of 5-2, 100-pound Danica Patrick. Tony thinks IndyCar doesn’t need Danica anymore.
Sorry, Tony, but I beg to differ. Danica is the most popular driver in the series, has attracted countless fans of both genders to IndyCar and is a magnet for attention, good and bad. No one can force her to stay in the series if she wants to run NASCAR full time after her contract expires with Andretti Autosport, but to say the series doesn’t need her? That’s a big step off a very narrow ledge.
Johns brings up Danica’s relative lack of success — one victory in nearly six full seasons of IZOD IndyCar Series racing — and says her results don’t match her hype. Well, the stats don’t match the buzz for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in NASCAR Sprint Cup, either, but he remains the most popular driver in that series by about six ZIP codes.
Sports is a personality-driven entertainment business now. People follow personalities more than results. But results are still a factor, and Danica gets it done at the biggest race in the world, the Indianapolis 500. Five top-eight finishes in six career starts at the Brickyard. ‘Nuff said. She’s a plus for the series. Period.
On a final IndyCar note, it’s really heartening to see that Mike Conway is almost ready to climb back into the cockpit. This boggles my mind considering the ferocity of Mike’s wreck at Indy, but he’s trying to beat the clock to return to his Dreyer & Reinbold seat for the season finale Oct. 2 at Homestead. Dude’s a racer – what else can you say?
Hey, did you know the Chase starts this Sunday? THE CHASE! THE CHASE! I’m starting to sound like Herve Villechaize calling for the plane on “Fantasy Island.”
Mike Hembree at SPEEDtv.com wrote an interesting piece stating that sleepy, small Loudon is an odd place to conduct the first race of NASCAR’s postseason.
New England is a stronger racing bastion than one might think, and Nor’easter fans go especially nuts for the superb NASCAR Modified Tour, the most exciting division in NASCAR, in my opinion. But New England also is a pro stick-and-ball haven, with the Patriots, Celtics and Red Sox Nation inhaling most of the available media oxygen.
Still, that’s not stopping track president Jerry Gappens from beating the drum. Jerry is an Indiana native, so racing is in his veins. He also worked for the legendary promoter Humpy Wheeler at Charlotte Motor Speedway, so the guy clearly knows how to sell and connect with fans.
The new Grand Prix of Aragon is underway in MotoGP, and the Motorland Aragon is one trippy racetrack, as this photo feature at motomatters.com shows. There are so many blind entrances to corners that I think Ray Charles and Jose Feliciano designed the circuit.
Dani Pedrosa was quickest overall as MotoGP returned to two Friday practice sessions. Pedrosa has been en fuego since Indianapolis and was rewarded with a new two-year deal with Honda. It will be very interesting to see how the notoriously fickle Pedrosa and his attack-dog manager, Alberto Puig, get along with Australian hard-ass and sometimes chronic complainer Casey Stoner next season in the Repsol Honda garage. Expect little love lost between the two.
James Toseland: Don't hate me because I'm beautiful, baby
Speaking of unloved men in motorcycle racing, it seems like James Toseland has alienated another teammate. American Colin Edwards couldn’t stand Toseland after Toseland orchestrated a swap of his crew chief with Edwards’ before the start of the 2009 MotoGP season. The Texas Tornado got the last laugh, as he clicked better with his new crew chief, Guy Coulon, and kicked Toseland’s ass so thoroughly that the Brit lost his ride and dropped back to World Superbike.
Well, it appears that Toseland’s WSBK teammate, fellow Brit Cal Crutchlow, also doesn’t have Toseland on his Christmas card list this year, either. Crutchlow was asked if he sought Toseland’s advice on MotoGP in advance of jumping to MotoGP in 2011 with Toseland’s old team, Monster Yamaha Tech 3. Crutchlow dropped a hammer on Toseland with his answer!
I sure hope Edwards remains at Monster Yamaha Tech 3 next season. The verbal volleys coming from that garage will look like Volkswagen Beetle-sized shells being fired from the USS Missouri.
In a very classy move Thursday, Moto2 points leader Toni Elias suggested in the pre-event press conference at Aragon that the Michel Metraux Trophy, presented to the best privateer rider of the season in the Moto2 class, should be presented to Shoya Tomizawa, who was killed in a Moto2 racing crash Sept. 5 at Misano.
Formula One is off this weekend, but the news and rumors never stop in the “pinnacle of motorsport,” as Nigel Mansell used to call it.
Joe Saward writes that it makes little sense for Renault to dance with Kimi Raikkonen despite reports that the Kimster and the French team are courting for 2011. Joe also throws cold water on the rumors that Lotus will switch to Toyota engines, instead writing that the shadow of the once-colossus fronted by Colin Chapman and Jim Clark will switch to Renault engines in 2011.
Sorry, but if a Cosworth DFV isn’t in the back, it’s not a real Lotus regardless of the paint job or team name.
Finally, Michael Schumacher is excited about the first night race of his career at Singapore on Sept. 26. Be careful what you wish for, Weltmeister: The spotlights of Singapore only will more brightly illuminate both the decline of your career and a possibly ham-fisted, lethal attempt by you to stuff a faster driver into the numerous concrete barriers of the street circuit.
On the surface, it would have appeared that two of the three major worldwide motor races last weekend were compelling as hell, and one was not.
The Le Mans 24 Hours featured its usual overload of drama and strategy, most of it coming when three of the four dominant Peugeot prototypes were forced from the second half of the 24-hour race with apparently the same engine problem. This let archrivals Audi claim a sweep of the podium positions in the premier P1 class and in the overall race.
Formula One put on its best dry-weather race of the year, with ease, at the Canadian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button finished 1-2 for McLaren in a race packed with action, passing and fascinating strategy.
Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin dominated the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan, leading 126 of 200 laps and pulling to 10-second lead late in the race before a late caution bunched the field.
There’s no doubt that Le Mans and Montreal were thrill shows. But I found Michigan to be quite interesting, too, because it was a rare sight of a team and driver in NASCAR simply crushing the competition.
Nobody wants to see races in any series decided by double-digit margins of victory every Sunday. Nobody wants to see winning drivers lead more than half the race every Sunday.
But what’s wrong with seeing it every once in a while? People appreciated the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who won 72 of 82 regular-season games en route to the NBA title. People appreciated the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who won the Super Bowl as an unbeaten team. People appreciated the 1927 Yankees.
And I appreciate that Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing are on an incredible roll right now, winning two in a row and five races together since the end of March.
So one question must be asked: Why was there a debris caution with less than 20 laps to go, when Hamlin led by 10 seconds? Did that make the end result of the race, Hamlin pulling away to a comfortable victory over Kasey Kahne after the final restart, any more thrilling for the fans?
Sorry, but I don’t think a team or driver should be penalized for brilliance. If Hamlin won by 10 seconds without a debris caution that Hamlin even admitted was dubious during Victory Lane interviews, it’s because he and JGR kicked everyone’s ass, fair and square. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Speaking of brilliance, Audi must be commended for its 1-2-3 finish at Le Mans. The German marque’s top two finishers ran like diesel-powered metronomes for 24 hours at the La Sarthe circuit in France, and the crew working on its third finisher showed fantastic resolve to keep the car running after an early accident while trying to lap a crippled BMW GT car.
It took a special kind of discipline for Audi to stay calm while rivals Peugeot ran ahead into the distance with its fleet of bubble-top diesel prototypes, seemingly headed for another victory. But Audi and steely team boss Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich know the ebbs and flows of Le Mans better than any team. Ullrich is one of motor racing’s great tacticians and hard men. He rules that team with an iron fist. I know I wouldn’t cross him.
Peugeot lacks that tactical nous. There was no need for it to push its prototypes to the limit on every lap, gaining three or four seconds per lap over the Audis. An advantage of one second per lap is more than enough over the span of a 24-hour race, but Peugeot boss Olivier Quesnel doesn’t seem to get that. Even after flames belched from the right side of the first Peugeot to fall out of the race, the team’s other cars continued to blister around the French countryside.
Davidson was on a tear in a Peugeot 908 late in the race, trying to catch the leading Audis after losing four laps due to an electrical problem. He approached the GT2 class-leading Corvette in the Porsche Curves and ran it off the road, forcing the Corvette to spin and back heavily into the wall. The American-based Corvette team did a remarkable job to replace the back half of the car in just 31 minutes, but an engine problem later in the race sidelined the car for good.
The incident was so unnecessary. And the diminutive Davidson couldn’t help show a Napoleon complex and a lot of “I’m a former F1 driver” attitude when he took absolutely no blame for the accident and even had the gall to say “I don’t care” about Corvette losing the GT2 lead during an live, in-race interview with SPEED.
Get over yourself, Ant. Yes, you were in a faster car. Yes, you were driving it like you stole it in an effort to catch the Audis. But you also were trying to overtake a much less nimble car with much less downforce at a part of the circuit where passing is tough even for two high-downforce prototypes.
You screwed up, Ant. Man up and at least share some blame.
Speaking of blame, it would be hard to blame Michael Schumacher if he hung up his helmet for good after this season. His comeback tour has been a disaster, with the Canadian Grand Prix last Sunday in Montreal a new low point.
Seven-time World Champion Schumacher never has been the most ethical driver in F1 history, mastering the chop block to hold rivals at bay, famously ramming Jacques Villeneuve off the road in 1997 at Jerez and parking his crippled Ferrari on the circuit in qualifying in 2006 at Monaco to prevent Fernando Alonso from winning pole.
But Schumacher’s weaving and blocking last Sunday at Montreal were different. They were the signs of a desperate driver with no answers for the speed of his younger rivals, starting with teammate Nico Rosberg. Mercedes changed the wheelbase of its car to better suit Schumacher, whose driving style is different than Rosberg’s. But Nico still is beating him.
It’s a sad sight, much like watching Willie Mays fall down in the outfield while fielding a routine fly ball during his final year with the New York Mets. Hang it up, Michael, before you become the butt of too many jokes that cause people to forget your brilliance.
•This weekend: All three series that compete at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are in action this Sunday. So put down your World Cup vuvuzela and check out MotoGP at Silverstone (9:30 a.m. ET, SPEED), the IZOD IndyCar Series at Iowa (1:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS) and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Sonoma (3 p.m. ET, TNT).
•Song of the Week: Here’s a song I would love to see Peugeot’s Anthony Davidson sing karaoke-style in a tune-o-gram sent to Corvette Racing manager Doug Fehan and the entire team – the blistering “I Was Wrong” by the great Social Distortion. I don’t think Doug and his incredibly talented crew should hold their breath for a rendition by Ant, though.