Thursday, November 12, 2015

JJ Crashes the Party!

                                           Image result for jimmie johnson wins texas 2015

I know I've been slacking but my heart just hasn't been in it. I've learned since becoming a NASCAR aficionado (first race - 2008 Brickyard 400) that sports fans are a strange lot, giving their total loyalty to their race teams or ball teams,  and I don't exclude myself from that. Non-NASCAR friends try to tell me - "don't get so emotional, it's just a sport, it's just a race." But, of course, it's way more than that to that us. NASCAR is an integral part of our lives.

In the beginning, older fans told me I needed to pick a driver to root for so I decided whoever won the first race I watched would be my guy. That was the infamous exploding tire fiasco in Indy which Jimmie Johnson won. I didn't know any of the drivers at the time so I had no idea that I was jumping on the bandwagon of a champion but wow, am I glad it turned out that way! Jimmie has given me so many hours of pleasure and triumph since then.

And its not just because of his winning ways. Turned out, he is exactly the kind of athlete I admire. I prefer scalpels to Bowie knives. I respect grace under pressure versus fiery-tempered passion. I lean more toward clean competition than "whatever it takes to win". As in - the finish of the Texas race. Watching two champions plan their strategy, lap after lap, at almost 200 miles an hour, without damaging either car is as good as it gets for me.

This has not been a great last half of the season for 48 fans. After four wins, the team seemed to be stuck in the 7th to 12th range while JGR, Penske and the 4 car showed phenomenal speed. Still, Jimmie entered the Chase fifth in points until the disastrous part failure at Dover did him in.

I still watch the races. I'd never quit doing that but I admit, it's not as much fun when my driver is out of the running. My other preferred teams started to fall one by one. First, it was Junior and then it was Matt. I still have Jeff and Martin Truex, Jr. though.

What a great story it would be if Jeff won in his final year. Or Martin and Furniture Row, a single car team based out of Colorado. I would thrill to either of those championships.

It is difficult to talk about the last few weeks without bringing Matt and Joey into it. I've avoided it because I'm a Matt fan but not particularly a Joey fan and I'm not sure how much that colors my thinking.

To me, Joey wrecking Matt was the opposite of the finish of the Texas race. He'd already won a race in the Contender Round so it wasn't desperation that drove him. I understand that race car drivers want to win every week. I understand that it would be irritating to be blocked by a slower car. But instead of displaying the patience of a Jimmie Johnson and waiting to make a clean pass, Joey chose to spin out his competition. He justified it because he said you do what you have to do to win.

I don't agree. You do do what you have to win...up to a point. Granted, it is a fine line but there is a line - last lap, no wins and a driving need to remain in the battle. Yes, I could understand that but that's not where Joey was. He knew he was moving on to the next round. I'm not saying roll over but I believe in Joey's position, you should fight as hard as you can but stop short of wrecking the other guy. Sometimes, honor is more important than even winning.

And what did it gain him? Another win he didn't need to accomplish his ultimate goal of a championship. And retaliation by a furious colleague who believed you'd done him dirty. A loss of respect from your fellow drivers. Now Joey has to win in Phoenix to make it to Homestead. He'd have been better off to have taken the second place in Kansas.

And as for Matt, it seems he simply decided that what goes around comes around. Was he right to wreck Joey at Martinsville?  Probably not but sometimes, the paybacks are worth the price you have to pay.

And what about NASCAR itself? I'm certainly not the first to note that in some instances, this being one of them, they are inconsistent. I remember back when Carl Edwards deliberately came back on the track 105 laps down and stalked Brad K and then wrecked him, NASCAR was in their "boys, have at it" mode then and did nothing. And that was at a super speedway whereas Matt chose a track that was less likely to cause real harm but he got a two-race suspension anyway. We've seen other instances of retaliation, some of which brought penalties and some not.

My own opinion is that NASCAR functions too much as Big Brother, not only in these cases, but in the ever tighter box they put the teams in regarding both building and setting up the cars. When it all comes down to thousandths of inches, it's over-kill.

We either want a sport that is regulated to the nth degree in all areas or we want one that allows for innovation and creativity and passion and drivers policing themselves. I vote for the latter.

In the meantime, I'm glad Jimmie played spoiler in the Chase party.