Much of the talk this week will center around two heavyweight combatants, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, the two picked at the beginning of the year to go toe-to-toe for a Sprint Cup title come Homestead. But in running through Twitter late Sunday night, I couldn't help but notice a complaint lodged by the race's third party, a "long shot" to win the title at 46 points back but seeking his time in the spotlight nonetheless:
"Disrespect is what has been given for 10 weeks to our team from all the media so the heck with them all!"
The man's name is Kevin Harvick, and all he's done in the course of 10 months is go from the verge of an ugly divorce with the only Cup team he's ever known to stock car superstardom. While Jamie McMurray's rags-to-riches story is grounds for a Disney movie, in part due to the driver's PG-rated personality, Harvick's step for step with him in what would be a barnburner for NASCAR comeback driver of the year. Take a moment to compare his 2009 stats with the '10 version, with still one race to pad them before the checkers fall at Homestead:
'09: Zero wins, five top-5 finishes, nine top-10s, 19th in points
'10: Three wins, 15 top-5 finishes, 25 top-10s, third in points
Those top-10 numbers are both a NASCAR and career high, setting the standard that last week would have clinched a title under the old point system. Sure, this team hasn't run up front -- he's led 357 laps compared to over 1,000 apiece for Hamlin and Johnson -- but Harvick's learned that all-too-crucial championship mentality of consistency, building the best finish possible out of a day that used to be an automatic 20th, maybe 25th-place result.
Sure, the rebuilding process has been plenty ugly along the way. As late as April, Harvick was hawking deals to go elsewhere in 2011 with sponsor Pennzoil, only for the company to head to Penske Racing. That put him in position to re-sign with RCR, but he still often treats owner Richard Childress and his crew as pupils of Bobby Knight, berating them whenever the opportunity presents itself. His on-track shenanigans with drivers like Joey Logano have raised eyebrows, a "firesuit" comment over his wife raising millions for charity while highlighting the ire Harvick draws from many of his garage competitors. A practical jokester, he's the guy who steps over the line and then questions why the rest of the room is taking it all so seriously.
The bottom line, though, is no one expected this team and this driver to stay together for 2011, let alone be in position to steal a title only two others have a chance to nab at Homestead. Unless the top two have intentions of taking each other out, Harvick's chances to win are about as much as hitting Lucky 7s on the slot machine. Yet, considering where Harvick's team could have been, no matter what happens in Florida, everyone involved with this team has already won.
Time to see if your e-mail won the Mailbag lottery this week. As always, don't forget a simple click on email@example.com or Twitter @
Well, yes and no, some crazed other version of myself. On the surface, sure, the new crew did its job in ensuring Johnson's mistakes were purely limited to on-track incidents instead of the not-so-simple task of putting on tires and fuel every 50 or so laps. The old No. 48 crew simply took Gordon out of the running all day, a sign it took the demotion hard or proof it just wasn't up to the task all season long.
At the same time, considering the lack of speed at a place this team has dominated in recent years, I still maintain the whole process was a distraction for both crew chief Chad Knaus and the guys back at the shop. How could it not be? Two teams taught to work together but whose unbalanced success is clearly creating a true pecking order within the organization? Knaus continues to struggle in finding the right adjustments to make Johnson faster, and the duo just hasn't had that "magic touch" in making that last tweak to give their car extra speed. Instead, at races in Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix during the Chase's second half, you could argue the car was at its worst -- tough to handle in traffic, something that has haunted Johnson's teammate Gordon for years.
Surely, if this team goes on to win Homestead -- and it clearly has the momentum right now -- Knaus will be lauded a genius for this move. But I'll stick in the minority and say this change never had to be made.
This e-mail is exactly what happens when the boy cries wolf too many times. For once, according to Chad, NASCAR lets a race play out naturally and people are wondering if the result got manipulated just to ensure a tighter championship race. Fans were also wondering if Hamlin was suffering payback after making "mystery debris" comments this summer, claiming the sport intentionally bunched up the field late to ensure an exciting finish at both Pocono and Michigan in June.
My answer to both concerns? They're hogwash, but NASCAR has made its own bed in this department. For many fans, their mind is made up and they'll always believe something's amiss. In this type of situation, the only change that usually works is new leadership, unconnected to a past comedy of errors, a fresh start where fans can wipe old judgments aside. But since that's not happening anytime soon ... I don't know how you fix the problem.
I do know the Chase just isn't catching on as expected, another 24 percent decline in Phoenix tv ratings, perhaps a sign no matter how close the championship race can be, fans are playing this 10-race playoff under protest -- turning off the television on a system they're no longer in favor of.
Moving on to non-Chase topics ... and there are plenty of them. We'll start with the Richard Petty situation, where my
And ... we're done. Some great, opinionated e-mails in this group. To Colin's and Steven's point, I do think the second Petty steps away from the sport for good, a number of longtime fans will lose their generational connection to the sport. The man hasn't driven since 1992, but his mere presence keeps people connected to simpler NASCAR times. There is undoubtedly a fan base whose median age is skewered older that hopes The King can rise to the top in an ownership capacity before riding off into the sunset.
But for Petty, the interest of others doesn't necessarily jive with his own personal well-being. He needs to take a step back from his love of fans and his passion for the sport to look in the mirror, stop and ask a simple question: What's best for him?
You wonder if owning a NASCAR team, with all the responsibilities that come with it at 73, is the right answer anymore.
Great question. First, you have to understand the scope of these deals are far less than, say, the $26 million AFLAC is paying to be on the side of Carl Edwards' car. Best Buy's contract, for example, has been rumored to be in the $6 million - $10 million side of things. The difference, though, is the organization is being run as if it does have Hendrick- or Roush-like sponsors on the side to keep up with the Joneses. Deals like the chassis and engine supplier (Roush), wind tunnel time, and all the other outside testing they make to keep the team competitive costs money.
Also, consider Gillett's initial purchase of the organization was an investment in its own right, one in which he might have used a loan, not straight cash up front, to make the purchase. From that point on, the team now becomes an asset that could later be used as leverage when making other deals with soccer, real estate, whatever else millionaires like to make in their personal playground of wealth.
But there's a risk involved in that. Once the money bubble bursts, those investments sour and Gillett could have easily pulled money from his racing program to achieve equity elsewhere. Suddenly, you're playing with money you don't have in the same type of scenario that doomed Bobby Ginn's organization in NASCAR a few years ago. Loans are taken out, some that don't even have to do with the team but are used to pay off other interests that are suddenly struggling to stay afloat. Before you know it, the playground has crumbled, the kids are turning into creditors asking for money and the whole darned thing is about to use its sand to bury you.
I can't guarantee that's what happened here, but know once you get sponsorship money it isn't tracked to a certain point. Heck, you could pocket that $6 million deal, move to Switzerland and screw all your employees if you so desire. Hope that helps.
Wow! Gotta wipe off my face with all that venom you spit in my direction. With that comment from the mailbag last week, I meant both drivers were even on the
By the way, for all the fans still looking to come down on Edwards over this issue, both he and Brad have been getting along great ever since that day, on and off the track.
And finally, our out of left field email of the week...
Another great example of how the beauty of sports can bring two people from very different worlds together.
"Hornaday (Kevin Harvick's Truck Series driver) was 57 behind going to homestead and won championship in 2007. We have been here before! Watching all the racing championships unfold this year, it's like no one who has been leading the close ones has gone on to win in the end. Everyone at RCR is ready to go brand new car and the best motor to ever leave the shop need I say anymore????" -
"There is something to be said about a man who can take a punch and not give up or go down..." -
"Just landed in charlotte. I told u once, I'll tell u again.. It ain't over." -
"I'm pretty disappointed.. It;s my last week of my 20s. I can think of a good birthday present though!!" -
And from Jimmie Johnson's PR representative (Johnson is not on Twitter):
"At least it's still alive." -