Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sprint Cup 2010: Race 36 -- Jimmie Johnson Wins 5th Consecutive Championship!!!

If there were a NASCAR Mount Rushmore, there is now an absolute guaranteed third spot. When we talk of the greatest drivers of all-time, there’s Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with their seven championships. Add Jimmie Johnson, the next in line with fie championships, but all five won in a row. By the way, 2010 was only Johnson’s 9th season; he’s only 35 years old with easily another decade to be considered right in the prime of his career. Isn’t it ironic that Jeff Gordon, once seen as the most likely person to challenge the seven championship barrier with his four championships, four years older than Johnson, serves as Johnson’s co-owner with Rick Hendrick and actively encouraged Johnson to join the Hendricks team.

By the way, Carl Edwards won the race, his second in a row and second for the 2010 season.

2010 was the most hard fought championship chase Jimmie Johnson faced, losing his points lead with three races to go against Denny Hamlin, Hamlin’s pit strategy put a big dent in his lead after last week’s race at Phoenix giving Johnson only fifteen points to overcome. Having qualified in the second half of the pack, Hamlin went into today’s competition with much ground to make up to regain his points lead. Johnson raced a strong competitive race while Hamlin had difficulties including a bump with the #16 car which was enough to impact the #11 car’s handling ability, by midway, it looked like Johnson’s championship barring catastrophic consequences while having Hamlin or Harvick in a position to take advantage of it.

Let’s not forget that Johnson won three of the first five races in 2010. He looked darned near invincible with the championship only being a formality back in March, but when the wing was yanked off and the spoiler put back on, suddenly the #48 came back down to earth.

During the main stretch of the season, Johnson did not look like the dominant driver on the circuit, but one should not discount the team had three wins in the first seven weeks of the season often standing atop the standings before having a series of misadventures in late spring and through much of the summer. Still, Johnson stood one win short of Hamlin and the standings were adjusted to begin the chase and when all was completed, Hamlin continued the top driver in victories. At year’s end, Hamlin would finish with eight wins to Johnson’s six.

The 2010 season was difficult for NASCAR, but who couldn’t argue that the racing was generally exciting and very competitive. The “Let’s have at it, boys” philosophy led to more of a race to win philosophy than play it safe and pile up points approach. Sadly, it would seem that the fans might not have noticed since ratings dropped off significantly this year. But of that might be from the Brickyard forward, the ESPN produced segments are now almost exclusively on ESPN not ABC over-the-air local stations. The NFL has enjoyed incredible viewership, but by contrast, the World Series was a dud. Media publications have suggested a direct correlation between viewership and how well Dale Earnhardt Jr. is performing. Is there any denying the 2010 season on top of a frustrating 2009 season has been a horrible embarrassment to the Earnhardt brand and the Hendricks operation? Aside from Junior’s bold victory in a #3 Wrangler Chevy in the Nationwide series at Daytona in July, when has Little E been a factor in a race?

Most long time fans agree ESPN’s current coverage is terrible compared to the coverage up to the end of the 2000 season with Bob Jenkins, Ned Jarrett, and the late Benny Parsons. The current approach is way too over produced, too many talking heads, way too much chatter away fro the competition and not much good natured humor.

NASCAR’s continued financial issues have weighed on the general sense of well-being this year as well. Last winter saw the Gillette financed, Richard Petty Racing merge with Yates racing and switch to Fords, but by fall the Gillette fortunes had vanished and the four car team has been in on-going financial peril through the fall hastening Kasey Kahne departing early to Red Bull, his ride for next year. The RPM operation has plenty of outstanding IOU’s and big questions about what 2011 will hold.

The start and park phenomenon rose to absolute embarrassment with as many as seven cars showing up to do nothing more than spin a few laps and drive off into oblivion to collect a loser’s share of prize money. NASCAR is a sport not a charity. The start and park entries must go away in 2011. They are an insult to the integrity of real racers.

Ford cars were almost no-shows through most of the first 2/3’s of the season bringing in their new engine program at a painfully slow pace. Ford neither did well in competition or qualifying until the last dozen or so races. That Carl Edwards won the last two races for Roush Fenway certainly brightens hopes for 2011.

The off-season will determine new sponsors, where some drivers land and perhaps some changes in manufacturer for some entries as Team Red Bull appears headed to Chevrolet while Earnhardt-Ganassi turned down a lucrative deal to switch to Ford. Ford surely needs another stable team given the uncertainly with Richard Petty Racing.

Kasey Kahne’s move to Hendricks for 2012 came early in the season, then it was a matter of what to do next year which was settled when the Red Bull operation gave him a one year deal. Paul Menard moves to Richard Childress with his family brand as his sponsor. JTG Daugherty will provide a seat for past champion, Bobby Labonte, while their previous driver, Marcos Ambrose was and perhaps still is slated to run with Richard Petty racing teamed with A.J. Allmendinger. Elliott Sadler is looking for work on the Cup level but will pursue a much bigger roll with Kevin Harvick in the truck series.

Much to the delight of many, Phil Parsons and his partner announced they are disbanding Prism Motorsports so their will no longer be the potential of early race clutter from the 55 and 66 rides.

Truthfully, aside from Hendricks, Gibbs, Roush-Fenway, Childress, Earnhardt-Ganassi, Michael Waltrip, and Penske, all remaining operations have some very grave issues to overcome to remain viable next year.

Clearly, NASCAR must entertain the possibility of allowing starting fields with fewer than 43 cars. It could make for better racing on some tracks. What is lost to the sport at large?

While it looked like a forgone conclusion during several parts of the season that the #48 car would win the championship, how Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus got there was far more interesting this year given one little mistake could have seen a #11 or #29 car getting the glories. Nevertheless, looking at the year ahead, who would be a better pick to be the 2011 champ?

Gibbs and Childress cars will definitely look to seize the glory in the season ahead and yes, maybe the fellow from the same garage in the #24 car will vault into the picture too. The last two weeks also suggest that the mad-hatter, Jack Roush could have some fellows like “Cousin Carl” ready to go to. Never the less, it’s Johnson’s trophy to lose. While they could almost be considered an extension of Hendricks, never rule out Tony Srewart and the Stewart Haas operation. This is big sports history in the making. All fans should appreciate that and salute the defending five time champ.

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