Race Weekend Central

Happiness Is… Rookie Class Hype

Last Sunday, Jimmie Johnson matched the win total compiled by Dale Earnhardt, and now they sit tied at 76. Johnson accomplished this feat in almost five fewer seasons, which statistically points to just how good he really is.  That Johnson is just one championship behind Earnhardt says something – but with the ever-changing format of how a championship is earned, comparing the two is ruse.  

Wins v. Championships isn’t necessarily a battle worth hashing out here either.  We can save that for talk radio or something.  

But reaching 76 wins in just 15 years of full-time racing, or 509 starts, is pretty amazing.  Yet why was there a collective ho-hum about Johnson reaching the milestone.  

Is it because he wins so often that people are just accustomed to it?  Is it because he seems to leave less of an impression that other drivers?  Does it have to do with how clinically he has amassed the wins, especially driving for the corporate mega-team Hendrick Motorsports?  

Perhaps it’s all those things.  Throw in a little bit of crew chief Chad Knaus, and there’s a recipe for malaise from much of the public.  Sure, Johnson was feted, and rightly so, but there was still something so matter-of-fact about the win.  

One of the difficulties here is that Johnson never raced Earnhardt.  There’s no connection between the two, no back story, no rivalry, no on-track action to go over.  And as Earnhardt is not around to offer congratulations or bemoan the feat, it’s just something that is.

Perhaps that will change when Johnson passes Jeff Gordon.  At this point, he’s only 17 wins behind matching that mark, and seeing as how he continues to rip off about four or five wins a year, it shouldn’t take him all that long to get there.  

Of course, when the two go and talk about it, and you can be sure it will be broadcast, Gordon can always mention that he reached Earnhardt’s win total in only 481 starts.  

BEARDEN & FESKO: Who is the Greater Driver, Jimmie Johnson or Dale Earnhardt?

Happiness Is… Busy-ness.  The ratings are in for the race at Atlanta and the numbers indicate that no one gives one freakin’ iota, that the drivers should just park the cars, and they wouldn’t be missed and everyone can just go back to following Beyonce or something.  That would make things easy.  

The ratings game continues to make it seem like the sport has collapsed and the continual examination and mention of these numbers that don’t equal those of 2005 question whether it can go on.  But you know what is different since 2005 – a whole lot more people are plugged into the matrix.  

The cell phone (har, why is it even called a phone anymore when it’s really a handheld computer?) and tablet (not mass produced in 2005) have taken over in various ways.  Our Mark Howell noted that the Oscars had a bum year this go run, with its numbers down, but he also pointed out that while NASCAR’s ratings may be down, its “social impressions” Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the like, were up 63 percent during the Daytona 500.  

People seem busier, or are trying to cram more into their lives these days, and being able to dedicate the hours to watch a race 36 weeks out of the year is a thing of the past.  There are so many options now to keep up with a race, there’s no need to.  Heck, even just using the DVR cuts a race down to about an hour when skipping commercials and caution laps.  The TV numbers may say one thing, but they’re not saying everything.  

Happiness Is… Hype.  This year’s rookie class has been singled out as being one of the better ones in recent memory. Chase Elliott. Chris Buescher. Ryan Blaney.  Some other people.  A couple of them will probably go on to have fine careers.  The statistics would point out that one will probably become Casey Atwood.  It seems that the rookies, really, are no different than those in any other sport: some succeed, some fail.  

What this notion also indicates is that scouts also mess up.  Not long ago, Jack Roush and his organization starred in a reality series giving a glimpse into the world of finding the next talented driver.  For all the track time measurables and split second differences in time, there’s still a question of whether or not a driver will truly make it.  That aspect is best left to the immeasurables, or something better known as mettle, or pun intended, drive. 

Currently, the rookie class looks to be decent.  None of the drivers have been told to hit the pace car (it being the only car not banged into), but none of them have popped a headline yet.  Maybe that’s for the best, because early success might blow the hype way higher than it needs be.  

Happiness Is…Aero.  The new lower downforce package debuted at Atlanta and those fans in the stands apparently saw some good racing.  Unfortunately, those of us stuck with the Fox broadcast saw a lot of the leader and missed out on the side-by-side action happening further back in the field. The close racing was exactly what the new aero set up was supposed to produce.  Just as enjoyable was the fact that the race ran green for so many laps.  

Atlanta, however, is a bit of a perfect situation owing to the surface that chews up tires like Pac-man does pellets. This weekend’s race at Las Vegas may, however, be the one that showcases whether or not this new racing setup really does wonders.  Fingers crossed it works out (and that Fox shows it if it does).  

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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I wish they would do a reunion of Roush Racing Driver X. It aired about 10 years ago. I remember watching it when I first started following NASCAR closely. It was a very interesting show and taught me a lot about the inner workings of the sport. The only two I think that are still around at the top levels are David Ragan, and Matt McCall as McMurray’s crew chief. It would be a nice segment for Race Hub or NASCAR America.

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