I haven?t posted a blog in about two weeks, so I figured I should say something. My recent absence in the blog section can be attributed to a number of factors, but perhaps the primary reason is that, frankly, I don?t feel as though I really have had much to contribute. NASCAR?s season opener has been analyzed, critiqued, and dissected in every imaginable form, and I gave some brief thoughts on the race?s comment board. As we now head onwards to the marrow of the 2010 NASCAR season, I have to say that I am enjoying the season so far, and it appears as though the offseason changes have this far had a positive influence on the on-track product. Nevertheless, it appears as though the sport isn?t reaping the full benefits of these changes, as television ratings and attendance figures have both been disappointments.
As that old French proverb goes ?the more things change, the more they remain the same.? Even as the calendar flips to a new decade, the headlines remain the same. With just three races in, it is clear that the top of the leaderboard will read ?J. Johnson? quite often. While many within the sport believe the impending changes to the Car of Tomorrow could result in a jumbling of the standings, one must remember that it was Hendrick Motorsports who held the initial advantage when the CoT was introduced three years ago. Let us also remember that Joe Gibbs racing also had initial success when the CoT first rolled out. The addendums to the car might be what Hamlin and Busch needed to revive their rather anemic 2010s.
It appears as though Johnson?s legacy and impact on the sport has recently become a hot issue. In the past few weeks, the debate has shifted from ?How good is he?? to the more difficult question of ?How good is he for the sport?? I say more difficult because it has become quite obvious that Johnson (and Knaus and the entire 48 team) is one of the greats, regardless of the points system.
Yet there is a great schism over whether the sluggish enthusiasm for the sport is derived from the dominance of the 48. We have the ?history is being made? camp, which notes that watching this period of dominance is not unlike watching a John Wooden Bruin team at its peak, and that Johnson?s dominance elevates the sport?s platform on to the main sports stage. Others believe that the sheer predictability of the most recent Chase episodes has resulted in a mass exodus of bored and disgruntled followers of NASCAR.
I suppose both sides have good points. It really isn?t any fun to watch any sort of sport in which you know who will win before the event even starts. Add that to the fact that Mr. Johnson isn?t exactly Mr. Charisma, and it can?t be too farfetched to say that most would want to see the forty-eight eighty-sixed.
Still, I can?t help to think that blaming this whole disinterest matter on one driver is just as lazy as when every company blamed 9/11 for their woeful business moves. I remember even more vitriol being thrown at Jeff Gordon during his ass-kicking peak in the late 90s. It was also during that era that ratings and attendance reached record highs, and more money was being pumped into the sport than ever before. While most of the major sports saw interest precipitously decline throughout the decade, NASCAR stuck out like a sore thumb with its never-failing period of success. It was on the on this record of achievement that NASCAR signed the TV deal which cemented NASCAR?s place amongst the ?big dogs.?
Obviously, it was inevitable that NASCAR would cool off at some point. But the fact of the matter is NASCAR reached the stratosphere when its biggest star was despised by the majority of its followers. While watching Jimmie Johnson cakewalk to immortality may not be helping the cause, I don?t think he deserves the lion?s share of the blame. Perhaps instead the blame should be directed towards the 42 others who somehow can?t seem to stop him. It is a competition, after all.
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