Race Weekend Central

Did You Notice? Who’s Making Fans Turn Away, Why Martinsville’s Lost & Marc Davis Debuts

Did You Notice? NASCAR’s TV ratings at Martinsville were down significantly this weekend, an overnight 2.9 as compared to a 3.3 in 2007? That low rating isn’t going to do the Virginia track any favors when it comes to whether it keeps a second date beyond the 2009 Cup season. Personally, it’s one of my favorite tracks on the circuit, a short-track bullring that epitomizes racing the way it ought to be. But just like with other tracks that have lost dates through the years, NASCAR fans need to start putting their money where their mouth is – or in this case, their remote – before it’s too late.

Certainly, I understand how the economy’s made it tough on everyone to attend events in person. But if you consider Martinsville your favorite track and you’re cutting down from three to one races a year, should that be the one you take the time to go to? Yeah, maybe a Charlotte or a Dover or a Pocono is closer, but what’s an extra few hours when it comes in the name of saving a speedway?

And for fans who absolutely love racing at this facility, using the remote control on your television set doesn’t cost a thing. It doesn’t take much to press the “on” button and turn to the channel the race is on. Why didn’t more people stick around? I have my own theory on that, which is…

Did You Notice? How Jimmie Johnson’s dominance turns fans off? Look, no one’s denying that Johnson’s a really nice guy. But his quest to win three straight titles for the first time since Cale Yarborough in 1976-78 really hasn’t resonated with the fans. For proof, you need look no further than the TV ratings or even the hits on this site. In the past few weeks, Johnson columns penned by our most popular writers have resulted in the worst-read numbers we’ve had all year.

See also
The Yellow Stripe: It's Jimmie Johnson's World - We're All Just Living In It

With Johnson, I think we’re all learning a hard lesson here. No matter how great a guy might be in person, no matter how critically acclaimed his actions are on the track, fans are either going to like him or they don’t. And for whatever reason, fans of this generation just don’t resonate with Johnson. When Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards were going at it, interest increased and all of a sudden people were taking a look. But the second Johnson moved to the fore, people wound up turning away.

I don’t know how you fix it, either. Johnson’s between a rock and a hard place. He’ll forever be labeled under the shadow of car owner Jeff Gordon and Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. within his own team. He’s not as vanilla as Gordon, doesn’t have the famous name like Earnhardt and he’ll never have the type of bonsai moves showcased by Busch, Edwards or even someone like a Juan Pablo Montoya or Kevin Harvick.

It’s a problem that leaves him a no-man’s land where there’s the possibility to create his own niche, but it just hasn’t happened. Honestly, sometimes it seems crew chief Chad Knaus, with his public visibility on SPEED shows and unquestioned control of the team, winds up more popular than Johnson is.

Of course, other sports have been through this dilemma before. The NBA, for example, couldn’t make the San Antonio Spurs popular with the national fanbase even though they had every conceivable good quality you want out of a champion. In the end, how did they fix the popularity problem? Simple: find a new champion that resonates with the fanbase.

So, after three years of Johnson on top, don’t be surprised to catch some NASCAR execs praying behind closed doors the No. 48 falls flat on its back in 2009.

Did You Notice? How ridiculous these “technical sharing” agreements are? This weekend, the No. 00 car of Michael Waltrip Racing magically becomes the No. 47 JTG Racing car driven by Marcos Ambrose. Are we really supposed to sit here and believe that car magically became “owned” by someone else?

MWR is doing everything on that car short of putting their name on the owner line on the entry blank. And you know why they’re not doing it? Because NASCAR has that whole four-team limit thing approaching by the end of ’09. Not only does Daugherty give the sport its first minority owner since Sam Belnavis in ’03, but it allows MWR the right to expand to five teams, not four, because someone else’s name is on the No. 47.

We’ve mentioned it several times before in this space, but that type of skirting around the system will allow us to have just six de facto owners with eight cars apiece within the next couple of years. Yes, I believe in a free-enterprise system; to the victors go the spoils. But every other sport has realized these last few decades that to survive, you’re going to have to undergo a revenue-sharing system that allows other teams to compete with the Big Dogs. Otherwise, in the end people get tired of watching the same old people win all the time.

I was watching a clip of the famed 1992 Hooters 500 championship battle the other day, and trying to remember what made that title fight oh so exciting. And what I discovered was you had six different drivers from six different teams fighting to take home the hardware. It wasn’t Roush A vs Hendrick C vs Roush B… it was Alan Kulwicki vs. Junior Johnson’s team vs. Felix Sabates’s team vs. Leo Jackson. It was a bunch of little guys fighting each other for the series’ top honor, giving fans a lot of different options to root for.

Did You Notice? JJ Yeley is looking to sell sponsorship for himself on eBay? Believe it or not, this isn’t a new concept… Kirk Shelmerdine tried it with his self-owned team a few years back.

That’s nice, but personally, I like the idea of marketing AJ Allmendinger’s using: going out on the racetrack and finishing in the top 15 more often than not. Which free agent would you rather sign, one with one top-20 finish all year or one with two in the last four weeks? If I were Yeley, I would keep that sponsorship ad running… but jump in some kind of racecar somewhere to show potential backers what he could do.

Did You Notice? No one’s blaming Goodyear for the rash of tire failures that occurred at Martinsville on Sunday? Based on what I’ve heard, everybody is blaming the heat of the brakes for melting the beads on these tires. Maybe I shouldn’t be bringing it up, but the whole thing just seems odd. I mean, we had the brake issues licked at Martinsville for 10 years, and we didn’t see this rash of tire issues when the Car of Tomorrow first came to this track in ’07. What’s so different now that we saw tires blow left and right? To me, the only difference is the Goodyears, but maybe that’s just me.

Did You Notice? When people talk mergers, it’s the names such as Petty, Earnhardt and the Wood Brothers who are fighting for survival. Sometimes, I think about what would happen in baseball if the New York Yankees were about to fold. What lengths would Major League Baseball go to in order to save the franchise?

I wonder why we don’t see that here.

Did You Notice? 18-year-old Marc Davis will make his Nationwide Series debut in A-quality equipment this weekend, driving the No. 18 DLP Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Although confused by why the car isn’t sponsored by FedEx as originally announced, the quality of car hasn’t changed any, and Davis is in prime position to score the highest finish for an African-American in the sport’s No. 2 division. With Lewis Hamilton poised to become a Formula 1 champion, it’s a weekend where NASCAR’s diversity is exposed to be a little behind the times. Let’s hope a strong run by Davis begins to turn that tide in the other direction.

Until next time.

About the author

The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.

You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.

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