Info sharing, the secret of Junior's appeal, more in my mailbag
Speaking of that historic achievement, it seems that many are still struggling to come to grips with how the No. 48 dominates the Sprint Cup circuit. Their angst becomes the focal point of another SI.com Mailbag... but before we begin, just a reminder to keep those questions coming.
It's an interesting theory, Wayne. I did some research and came up with driver win totals for the 88 Car of Tomorrow races that have been won so far. Here's the list of the top eight since its debut in early 2007:
If you look at the names on that list, they're all drivers who would be contenders whether the new car was around or not. But I understand where Wayne's coming from about Gordon. The sport's winningest active driver is just seventh-best on this list ... and consider who's above him. In just one year driving a Hendrick-supported car, Martin has more wins than Gordon has in the last three. The driver we once called "Wonder Boy" is wondering where all the magic went. He's won just one race in the last two years during the worst Victory Lane slump of his career.
So, did new equipment and the different way to drive it fuel Gordon's decline? A little. But I still think Gordon's created his own monster with the way his team has constantly shared information with the No. 48. Contrary to popular belief, it hasn't always been that way at Hendrick. When Gordon was paired with crew chief
"One of the big influences was when the 48 came on and the 24 shared everything with them seamlessly in that way," Gordon admits. "That's what really changed things. It may have taken a little bit of an advantage away [from us]; but I think it gave a bigger advantage to Hendrick Motorsports as a whole."
The numbers back Gordon up, with Hendrick recording more CoT wins (30) than anyone else. But it's cost Gordon individually, as the No. 48 team has utilized the information it discovers from the No. 24 better than anyone else.
So why has Junior not benefited from that Hendrick philosophy? Keep in mind that his organization with
Still, whenever you have a rule change, it's going to benefit certain driving styles more than others, and it's obvious that Earnhardt struggles to maintain a feel for the handling of his Chevrolet during a race. The big complaint from drivers about this car is that it lacks downforce, and it seems that Junior struggles with the loose condition that often creates. As a guy who loves the top groove at most tracks, he can't break loose and save it; the second he's out of control, he's hitting the wall. How often have we seen Junior scrape the outside wall while driving this new car?
That's why a rule change like bringing back the old rear spoiler to add downforce (currently being discussed) can only benefit NASCAR's Most Popular Driver. People forget that the man won 17 times with the old car, so wouldn't that talent return with the change in equipment?
One thing that worries me, Dave, is Danica's concern about running the Nationwide race at Daytona because there are too many Cup stars in it. As we talked about last week, it's not like
However, for all those Cup drivers who think that running for a championship elsewhere is the way to go, more practice doesn't always make perfect. The top six Cup drivers in last year's point standings combined for just 11 Nationwide Series starts, which averages out to less than two per driver. Perhaps being able to focus on one series gives them a leg up when it matters most, compared to those who have to worry about two or more series over a course of the weekend. Isn't it common sense that you're more successful when focusing on one thing at a time? I'm just sayin'...
Junior's popular for several reasons. Even though he's 35, younger fans in the 18-34 crowd relate to him. He owns his own bar (Whisky River), his house has appeared on MTV Cribs, and he's got the type of laid-back, well-rounded personality that appeals to fans well beyond NASCAR's Southern roots. Yeah, he likes to hunt and fish, but he's also a self-confessed computer geek, spending late nights racing online in simulation leagues all over the country against Joe Shmos like you and me.
That makes him relatable to all sorts of people, and when you add in his shy, introverted personality, he carries a special charisma that few in sports ever have. And while Junior hasn't won recently, he had a stretch from 2001-04 where he won 13 times -- including a Daytona 500 - and contended for the championship twice. That's going to earn you some loyal fans regardless of how long you've been slumping.
Keep in mind, too, how popular his dad was during his final years in NASCAR. After Dale, Sr.'s death at Daytona in February 2001, millions were left in mourning and searching for a way to honor their favorite athlete's legacy. Rooting for his son is one way for them to feel like they're doing that.
"They're giving us the ring... The gloves... Now we have to put on the show."
Does this mean we'll see him and rival
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