Friday, July 12, 2013

Why Jimmie Johnson Won't (and Shouldn't) Change: Five Questions for New Hampshire

Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
Five championships. Sixty-four wins. Driver, husband, philanthropist and father.

And one of the most disliked drivers on the NASCAR circuit.

There is a collective loathing of Jimmie Johnson among fans, and it’s easy to decipher; they don’t like a dominator. They don’t like the same guy running up front every week. That’s not the unpredictability associated with racing. We watch, we mentally gamble, we cry as our gold coins are eaten by a slot machine.

Johnson has hit the jackpot. Unfairly, it seems, and people despise him for it.

The truth is, it’s not about luck. It’s not even about him. It’s about the fashion he wins in.

While doing an interview, it all came together for me. The person on other end of the phone talked about Johnson winning, how efficient and calculating he is when taking the checkered flag. When he wins, he dominates. Nobody is even close. He seems untouchable.

That upsets people, and I can definitely understand that.

But let me ask you this: if everyone is against the No. 48, then who are they for? Anyone who can beat him. The underdogs.

Suddenly, the way he rips through the field forms new alliances between fans and unspoken drivers. Together, they roared when David Ragan won the Talladega race. It binds the NASCAR collective closer to each other. The fans are strengthened, fueled by hate and disgust.

But the driver of that Lowe’s car is smiling. He simply doesn’t care. Why? Because he’s being hated for doing his job, something that he loves, very well. That would make me grin all the way to the bank.

The Golden Horseshoe. The slander. The constant “Chad’s cheating!” remarks. It fuels a unique fire within Jimmie Johnson.

I don’t think he’s ever going to change. That’s a good thing.

This week, I talk about falling behind, the lack of penalties after Daytona, and The Outlaw, all the while looking ahead at The Magic Mile, New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Who’s losing ground in The Race to The Chase? With eight races until The Chase begins, some teams are in a great position to be eligible for the championship. However, some drivers are in a downward spiral, and their chances on making the twelve-driver field are diminishing. Drivers like Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart are all struggling in the beginning of these summer months. Let’s not forget our champ, Brad Keselowski, whose whole season has been a bust. It’s difficult to think that these big-name drivers could miss The Chase, but it may soon become a reality.

How does the first half of the season rank? The first part of the season is over, and there aren’t many storylines to reflect on: Denny Hamlin’s injury, Five Time winning a lot and lack of storylines. We’ve seen the Gen6 car on the four distinct type of tracks, and it’s no surprise it shines at short tracks. The trials and tribulations of this design cannot resurrect a bland first-half though. I officially rank the first half of the season a solid C+, due to the fact that it hasn’t impressed or depressed.

Is anyone else surprised about the lack of penalties following Daytona? When news about illegal roof flap spacers broke, I expected Tuesday to be full of fines, penalties and crushed dreams. The entire opposite happened; no penalties were handed down. The press release included Robin Pemberton saying that NASCAR was going to work with the roof flap manufacturers to fix the issue. When that many teams break a rule, you know it has to be the product, not the human element. I was just surprised NASCAR acted somewhat consistent. But it was definitely a good call.

Are we all becoming Kurt Busch fans? Wait, who is that ninth in points? Yup, it’s The Outlaw, the eldest Busch, the single bullet in Furniture Row Motorsports’ chamber. With less than stellar equipment, Busch has flexed his muscle and shown what he can really do, and it’s remarkable. Many may not like Busch because of his attitude or his on-track rants, but that’s in the past. I see a whole new Kurt, one that is capable of winning and making Chase noise. The best part is that it’s a talented driver helping an underfunded team gain publicity. He’s the underdog. People love rooting for the underdog.

Does domination have a double standard? As I said before, Johnson has upset fans with his constant winning, claiming four trophies already this season. Matt Kenseth, though, has the same amount of wins, and nobody is yelling at him to go away. What about Kyle Busch and the smackdown he produces in NNS? The truth is, Kenseth and Busch aren’t on the same level as Johnson. Not even close. They don’t have as many wins or championships as him. They’re all on separate planets. Kenseth, in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing, is post amazing results, and everyone cheers him on. Fans boo when Busch wins in the lower series, but at least he puts on a show. It’s not the amount of winning Johnson does, it’s how he dresses it up, and he dresses it up in bland, tacky clothing. So yes, domination has a double standard, and it will always be that way.

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