Sunday, November 24, 2013

Next Up - Seven Up!


In every era of NASCAR, there has been a superstar - Petty, Earnhardt, Gordon, Johnson. That's not to say, there weren't others inside the sport who were just as good or who were equally, or even more, beloved of fans. But there was one name that came up over and over when you asked the man on the street who they thought of when they thought NASCAR and it's the four I have named. They were the ones who took the sport beyond itself and into the wider world. They are the stuff of which legends are made. NASCAR tries constantly to create "parity" but their efforts are in vain. There is always a team that stands out from the rest, a team that takes the the few opportunities for individualism NASCAR gives them and turns them into superiority. They are the first round draft picks for the Hall of Fame.

It is good for NASCAR to have these men who out-perform the others? Many fans appear to think not. I see their comments that Jimmie Johnson is ruining NASCAR, stinking up the show, winning too much, making racing boring. But is what they desire for their sport a kind of generic mediocrity in which every team wins its allotted "share" of races? Do they think this would make for a more exciting racing? Is this what NASCAR needs to attract attention and fans?

I'm a Team 48 fan, pure and simple. I want Jimmie to win seven and then eight. I want him to break Petty and Earnhardt's record for championships. I want him to go where no NASCAR driver has gone before.

But, then, you know what? I hope our new young crop of drivers flies even higher. I hope Kyle Larson comes in and wins Rookie of the Year, then begins a campaign to threaten Jimmie. If Jimmie wins eight, I hope Kyle wins ten.

I was never a rabid sports fan until NASCAR but I think sports should always be a quest to be the best ever and I hope there is always a superstar exceeding the records of the old superstars.

The King is dead. Long live the King....into the future.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Just What I Wanted

The politically correct thing to do would be to say how much I wish the Phoenix race had ended differently for Matt Kenseth because what I really want to see is the excitement of a 7th game moment for the NASCAR championship....but that wouldn't be true and all my NASCAR friends would know it wasn't true. What I was hoping for was exactly what happened....Jimmie coming out of Phoenix with a nice points cushion. Even at that I don't feel totally safe. I'm one of those worriers who think about everything that could go wrong. I think about a Homestead race like Jimmie had last year.

I like Kenseth a lot, I really do, and I feel badly for him but not badly enough.

I was lucky enough to be at Homestead in 2010 to watch Jimmie win his fifth championship and I'd give anything to be there again. I don't know why so many people suggest moving the final race to another venue. Homestead is a terrific track. It is beautiful and the weather in southern Florida in November is perfect, neither too hot nor too cold. The racing is good and you can see the action all the way around the track. If you want to stay in the area while, there is much to see and do in the Miami area or maybe go on down to the Keys to salute your team or drown your misery at the outcome in the happy revelry Key West is famous for.

I don't care what the JJ haters think or say. Let them spew their vitriol if they can't recognize that they are watching something spectacular as The King and the Intimidator and the Boy Wonder....those other NASCAR heroes - a team that has spent 10 years at the top of its game. I'll laugh all the way to Las Vegas.

Some people want to give the bulk of the credit for the 48's success to Chad and he deserves a lot of it but if, as Carl Edwards said, you saw those two incredible saves on Sunday and can't admit sheer mastery behind the wheel, then you're deliberately refusing to be impressed. Some people want to give the bulk of the credit to Mr. H. and his money and he deserves a lot too. Without his commitment to giving his teams the best resources available, they couldn't compete on the level they do. The pit crews come in for praise as well. As people constantly say, NASCAR is a team sport. It is the combination of driver, crew chief, pit crew, owner and everyone else involved that have created the 48 team as the powerhouse of excellence that it has been for the last decade.

I didn't become a NASCAR fan until 2008. I know that makes me a newbie in the eyes of all the old hands. I've felt the sting of their contempt a time or two...or more. I realize I missed the years of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon and I regret that I didn't come to NASCAR sooner. Nevertheless, I feel fortunate to have been able to celebrate most of the Jimmie Johnson Era.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Muses and Patron Saints

Jimmie Johnson

A Muse is a goddess who presides over one of the arts - painting, music, dancing, writing. Creative types believe that their inspiration comes from their Muse. When she is giving you her full attention, everything goes right. The words flow; the poetry sings; the music exalts; the picture seems to paint itself. The artist is the conduit from the Muse to the art itself. It happens only rarely that your Muse shines her light directly on you. It is a wonderfully exhilarating moment when it happens.

I don't know if auto racing has anything comparable to a Muse. Drivers do have a Patron Saint, Elijah the Prophet. He was given his designation because he was taken to heaven in a flaming chariot. I'm not sure I like the connotation behind that but there you go. it Muse or Patron Saint, whoever that spirit is had his or her eye on Jimmie Johnson on Sunday at Texas. The 48 car was in complete control of the race from start to finish. No one else could get close to him. He ended up with a perfect driver rating of 150, which are pretty hard to come by. This is only his forth in a rather illustrious career.

Someone on one of the television shows made the connection of the Sixes. This is JJ's 66th win over all, his 6th win this season and he's going for a six-pack. I'm not much into superstition but on the other hand, if there can be Muses and Patron Saints, why not numerological portents?

I still consider this championship too close to call. Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth are so evenly matched, it will probably be small things that make a difference of a few points one way or the other that will be the deciding factor - a slightly slow pit stop, being on the outside on a restart, the set up that's off just a hair, a few spots in qualifying.

Jimmie and Matt are a matched set in temperament too. They are both funnier than they are given credit for. They are both more passionate than they are given credit for. They both stay cool in the face of adversity. They are both devoted family men. They both have outstanding crew chiefs and extraordinary owners.

I make no bones about being a 48 fan. If I got to make the call, Jimmie would win Number Six. But I won't feel too badly if it turns out to be Matt. Either of these two drivers will make an admirable champion and role model for NASCAR.

Of course, if Jimmie is the ultimate winner, there will be no end to the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the haters, no end to the cries of "cheater", no end to the number of comments on the NASCAR sites informing the rest of us that the writer will NEVER WATCH NASCAR AGAIN! So be it. Don't let the door hit you in the butt on your way out.

In other NASCAR news, hurray for Martin Truex, Jr. getting the ride in the 78 Furniture Row car. It must have been scary to be without a ride so close to the end of the season. He got shafted royally in the whole Richmond fiasco and didn't deserve it so I'm glad to see him land at FRR. Maybe he'll actually enjoy being The One to get all the attention and resources.

Once again in Nationwide, the Cup teams didn't even bother to give the Nationwide drivers a kiss before they screwed them over. I hope NASCAR does something about this next year. It's not about championship points, it's about trophies and money and W's on a resume.

I loved watching the 48 dominate in Cup but I hated watching the 22 dominate in Nationwide. Why? Because Jimmie was racing against his peers and Brad was racing against lesser funded and lesser experienced drivers. It's apples and oranges.