NASCAR Mailbag -- JJ, Earnhardt, Jr., Busch questions answered
Happy Holidays! Hopefully by the time you're reading this, your shopping is done, the presents are wrapped and you're sitting back and congratulating yourself on a job well done. I sure hope so ... that could be one less person I have to fight in line come Christmas Eve.
But before I begin my shopping, I'd like to give you a present: the first SI.com racing mailbag. Starting this week, I'll be counseling you through an offseason filled with uncertainty about everyone from NASCAR's Most Popular Driver to its unpopular CEO. Tumultuous times call for tough debate, and I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the sport's past, present and future.
Of course, there's no way this column's going to work if it's not a two-way street. So please send your questions, comments and Christmas cards to firstname.lastname@example.org. I can't replace that lump of coal in your stocking, but if you're nice enough, I can put your name in print.
Speaking of print ... let's get started:
Rodney's reaction seems to be typical of hardcore fans sick of the Jimmie Johnson hype after he dominated -- again -- en route to his record fourth straight title. But those caught up in the hate need to take a step back to understand what the love of the mainstream media can do. Johnson's AP recognition is historic in its own right; it's the first time in the award's 78-year history that it's been won by a driver. 78 years!
So the breakthrough is newsworthy, and a national acknowledgment of Johnson's success helps a sport struggling to market itself. While you might be tired of him, Rodney, there are millions of others who've never even watched. People are intrigued by history, and hearing about JJ in the national news and on sports shows across the country may force a few to take a first look come February. Look at
Of course, to capitalize on those new fans Johnson has to A) develop a personality and B) remain in contention for five straight. But if someone rises up to challenge Johnson's dominance -- like
Moral of the story here: newspapers may be dying, but the respect for the AP remains the same. It's about time NASCAR got some good news...
As Earnhardt's season wound down, I got at least a few questions a week from readers screaming that Hendrick was letting Earnhardt sink. In particular, fans pointed to a Texas race in November, in which the No. 88 car ran out of gas with three laps left, stalled on pit road, while Earnhardt's team lagged in getting him jumpstarted and back in the race. That "Three Stooges" incident occurred on the same day teammate Jimmie Johnson crashed and the entire four-car organization bonded together in the garage to put the No. 48 back on track -- showing us an ugly comparison of what it's like to be first versus fourth on the totem pole at Hendrick.
A further look at the numbers makes you wonder why crew chief
One thing that bothered me this Fall was Earnhardt's assertion that he likes McGrew because "he's fun to hang out with." Um, wasn't that the problem with cousin
But Marybeth, Steve Addington wouldn't have been the fix Earnhardt needed. He spent almost two years placating
That means for now, Earnhardt's going to make do with what he's got. However, if Junior struggles out of the box in 2010, Hendrick needs to make a run at either of those two names above -- either that or he should try to get
You bring up an intriguing pattern, Rebecca, but I don't know if there's a real correlation. I asked
It's hard to believe the pressure is getting to these guys, because everyone you mentioned has won at least one Nationwide championship during their careers. I will say it's notable that two of the drivers you mentioned, Biffle and Edwards, run for Roush. Despite having a five-car team for most of this decade, the Roush organization has never put together two consecutive seasons with 10 or more victories. Compare that to Hendrick, who's done that with Johnson and
I'm not saying Roush doesn't share; they just aren't as good at it as Hendrick is. Their team is more susceptible to the cyclical process because individuals are going in different directions and aren't pooling together their resources. As for Stewart and Busch, well, those drivers are hard chargers. Stewart's mellowed a bit now that he's an owner/driver, but the "Checkers or wreckers" philosophy doesn't bode well for consistency in the long-term. Both would have made the Chase during years you mentioned if they had dialed it back a bit and kept themselves from wrecking.
Well, how about that! Just two weeks after I wrote about Kyle Busch's free agency in the
Sources at Joe Gibbs Racing could not be reached for comment by press time, but it appears that they have addressed the top priority on their Christmas wish list by stabilizing Busch's contract and by rebuilding the No. 18 Toyota this offseason. Busch can now focus on establishing a positive relationship with crew chief
Someone isn't making Danica's Christmas list. Look, Milton, it's not a crush -- I just know a good driver when I see one. Why are so many piling on about Danica's track record in IndyCar? She's posted four top-10s in five Indy 500 starts, finishing a career-best third in 2009. Ranked fifth in the end-of-season standings (another career high), she was also the best driver for
Yeah, Danica has virtually zero stock car experience under her belt. But we never know how these types of conversions are going to turn out. For every
Guess who that driver was?
Speaking of JJ, Milton's question is the perfect bookend to Johnson's Athlete of the Year comment. Longtime fans are sick of Danica and think her entrance into the sport is nothing but a sideshow. But for every one person to complain, there are five new fans. Danica is attracting an entirely new demographic.
During this year's Super Bowl, GoDaddy.com will also have some ads. Do you know how big it'd be for the sport to have Danica marketing NASCAR in front of billions of people? No question about it, her presence in the Nationwide race will draw the highest ratings the sport's second-tier division's ever seen. Love or hate her, she's the only new draw keeping NASCAR fresh heading into 2010.
Happy Holidays, everyone, and I'll see you after the New Year!