Lots of people hate Jimmie Johnson's recent dominance, but let me tell you one group who doesn't: Vegas bookies.
Winning his fourth race in his last seven starts in Sin City kept them swimming in dough while the underdogs continued their long-suffering drought. (All of the track's 13 races have been won by powerhouses Roush, Hendrick, Ganassi, or Gibbs). The only thing that may have hurt the casinos last weekend were fans who bet on "Will caution lights randomly turn on in the middle of the race?"
Seriously, the chances of a pothole and a caution light malfunction in the first three weeks of the season have got to be at least 1,000,000-to-1. That's bad luck for a sport looking rather amateurish these days.
So what are the odds that someone's going to knock Johnson off his perch anytime soon? That's how we start this week's mailbag filled with complaints. To register yours, it's as easy as email@example.com or Tweeting Me at @NASCARBowles.
Alright, time to calm some angry NASCAR customers as Johnson Hate Mail filled my mailbox as soon as the checkered flag fell at Vegas. Some highlights:
NASCAR has gotten so boring with Jimmie Johnson winning all the time, I have not watched a race this year. It's the same old story, different year -- not worth my time anymore. Am I the only one that feels this way? How are the ratings? Not that I really care much. I used to want to go to a NASCAR race. Not anymore. Jimmie will win and Junior will choke again. Season over.-- Luke, Lincoln, NE
Something about that win [in Las Vegas), for the first time, really hit me about the 48 domination. It is starting to be a bit like Michael Schumacher winning seven titles and two seconds during 10 years racing Formula 1; the "why bother" effect starts to set in.-- John B. Myers
Thank God for the Olympics. Nobody watches the Hendrick Cup anymore anyway.-- John Schuster, Bremerton, WA
Another JJ Season: Yawn, Yawn, Yawn.-- Tommy Jostad
There's one thing these fans are right about: the ratings are down significantly the first three weeks of the season, leaving NASCAR reeling. (Sundays were down a record 25 percent competing against USA-Canada Olympic hockey.) Two of those three races have been won by the No. 48, giving him 31 wins since the start of 2006 (a win percentage of 21%, or just about once every five events).
But is the dominance of the reigning four-time champ the sport's biggest problem?
I think the answer's a mix of yes and no. Remember: Jeff Gordon was the one who dominated Vegas, turning the race into a stinker by leading 219 of 267 laps. At one point, he lapped all but 10 cars in the field while building a six-second lead over everyone not named Johnson. When any car runs away like that, chances are most fans will find the action boring unless it's their favorite driver who is leading.
But there's something to be said for the backlash on Hendrick Motorsports' dominance (their cars finished 1-3-4 Sunday, picking up right where they left off after last season becoming the first team in history to finish 1-2-3 in points). Read below...
Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports are the New York Yankees of NASCAR right now. If you are not a Johnson fan, there is absolutely no reason to cheer for him or Jeff Gordon. Better yet, you cheer that their motors will fall out of their cars on the backstretch of the pace car lap.
Domination is not the best thing for sports. Look at the NFL as an example of the good in sports, and look how bad the NBA's ratings are with the Lakers and Cleveland and Boston the only winners. Do you really want Johnson to win again???-- John G. Feltman, Menomonee Falls, WI
John's point about domination should be explored, because it's not like the Yankees have caused a baseball ratings and attendance decline. in order for fans to root for a dominant team, the team has to do one of three things: accomplish something truly extraordinary, triumph over adversity, or come armed with a personality that borders on one of two extremes (love or hate).
Johnson, for better or worse, doesn't accomplish any of that. He's set records that may never be broken (four straight titles), but too many fans feel they are tainted, either by NASCAR's Chase format or that crew chief Chad Knaus is cheating. (He had multiple suspensions from 2006 and 2007.) And since Johnson runs the best equipment money can buy, you can't really trot out the "triumph over adversity" factor. The only time that's worked is in the face of tragedy, the sport rallying around Johnson during a brief surge in popularity after the Hendrick plane crash in 2004 that killed 10 people -- including the car owner's son, Ricky.
That leaves Johnson's personality...and we've been over this many times. He's like the San Antonio Spurs: too vanilla for his own good. Fans like evil, quirky, and scandal. Why do you think Tiger Woods will return in the highest-rated golf tournament in history? I'm not saying it's right. I'm just stating facts.
Now, if all else fails, teams like the Yankees still remain popular if there's another team challenging them that fans can rally around. What would help disperse this anti-Johnson sentiment is if a non-Hendrick car stepped up to challenge him. Could you imagine if Kevin Harvick spun Johnson out last Sunday instead of hitting the wall? In an instant, NASCAR Nation would be polarized. The fans snoozing over his recent dominance would be jolted in an instant. But Johnson's so well-respected by his peers, there's no one's out there willing to pull the trigger.
One wonders how many races and championships he'll win until someone does.
In Twisted Sheet Metal: The Hallmark of Patrick's NASCAR Stint, you mentioned that she doesn't know the rules about passing on restarts. I thought with the new double-file restarts, drivers had to stay in line until the start/finish line? -- Kevin D, Yorba Linda, CA
Even with the changes made last June, the old rules on restarts still apply: if you're on the outside line, you can pass a car on the right. It's a failsafe for drivers to pass cars that miss a shift or fail to come up to speed, although the best ones (like Ron Hornaday in the Truck Series) can use it to their advantage and pass the car in front of them. All it takes is just the right level of acceleration and timing.
And since you mentioned Danica ... here's some of the last fan mail we'll have on her for awhile after she completed her three-race stock car stint.
Of course we will judge Danica instantly. We always do that to our sports stars and politicians, too, for that matter. I wish NASCAR had a true AAA-type series where she did not have to race against so many Cup drivers cherry-picking cash from the up and comers. I wonder if the Yankees would have Derek Jeter play in Newark and then in the Bronx on the same weekend. I hope Patrick does well; like in Indy a few years ago she stayed out of the pits a few extra laps to go up in the standings and people went gaga. She seems to have potential.-- George Vann, Columbia, SC
Good points. People forget that Danica finished top 10 in her only race without the Cup stars (ARCA, NASCAR's equivalent of single-A ball), so you wonder if more starts there would help build her confidence.
I think Danica is showing promise. I agree with Mark Martin, that she is doing this the right way. If she wanted to, she could hang that car wide open only to crash and not learn a thing. She's not. She's running until she gets comfortable. I have seen notable progress in just three races. For someone who did not have the testing time that Dario Franchitti and Juan Pablo Montoya did before they started an actual race, she is doing pretty well. She's right that she is not a wrecker. Most of the Indy wrecks I have seen her in have not been her fault. She has good car control. The three incidents she has been involved in in this sport have been the fault of someone else. I honestly believe you give the girl two years on a partial schedule and she will do fine. -- Will, Georgetown, KY
My one concern about the partial schedule is timing, Will. How can you establish a rhythm when you run three races only to disappear for four months? Danica's next stock car start comes at the end of June, and between now and then she'll be hopping in cars that run completely different. Even in TonyStewart's case, when he was running IRL, he made a schedule that had him in both types of cars every month. In 2011, I feel like she's going to have to make more sacrifices (like running on a week off between IndyCar starts and not taking the month of May off for Indy) in order to really step it up in NASCAR.
While Danica's on-track grade may be "incomplete," as a racing fan, I am encouraged by her improvement and believe she will eventually be where she needs to be. Her presence in the sport can definitely be graded with an "A". The attendance, TV ratings, and crowds around her merchandise trailer attest to that.-- Gordon Edwards, Boyceville, WI
It'll be interesting to see what the souvenir sales are for the first quarter of 2010. Based on crowds alone, she's easily jumped into the top 10 past longtime favorites like Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Harvick, etc. And people wonder why she's getting so much attention...
Yeah, I know... media types are tired of hearing about Danica. But I found this clip from the IndyCar test at Barber from this past week, where Danica is taking questions from city business people and gets one about a request of what a fan wants to see her do to Kyle Busch.-- Damong19
Thanks for passing it along. If NASCAR's looking for a rivalry, few stock car fights would be more popular than Busch and Danica getting into it off the track.
Tweet of the Week: "Surprise, surprise. ESPN showed me walking away givin the impression I declined interview. Negative, never even asked me. Thx camera man." - @kylebusch showing his discontent with Saturday's Nationwide broadcast over Twitter. He's been openly critical of media coverage of the series this season, chastising the network for Danica overexposure last month