The Final Word – A new champion is not going to solve NASCAR’s problems
By Ron Thornton On Tue, Nov. 20, 2012
Well, that was rather anti-climatic. We gathered in front of the television to watch the action from Homestead to see if Jimmie Johnson could make up the 20 points he trailed Brad Keselowski in the season finale for the Sprint Cup title. It even got interesting for a few minutes, then frustrating for Johnson fans, then downright ugly moments later. At least Keselowski was happy.
Keselowski not only defended his lead, he built on it. He avoided running out of fuel, watched misfortune strike his only challenger, and finished 15th to claim the 2012 championship. In fact, even if Johnson had maximized his day it would not have been enough. As it turned out, the new 28-year old champion could have won it even if he had sat in the stands chewing down hotdogs.
When the rear gear burned up on Jimmie’s car, the only guy happy about that turn of events on the Lowe’s team had to have been the rear tire changer. With just over 50 miles to go, Johnson was pretty much where he was behind Keselowski as when he began. They stopped for tires and fuel, but a lug nut was left behind. End of the day, one thought, but we were wrong. When the car filled with smoke a few laps later, that was truly the end as Johnson went to the garage while the engraver finished putting Brad’s name on the trophy.
With Jimmie going up in smoke, while Kasey Kahne and Junior, even though he finished 10th, on nobody’s radar last Sunday, at least Jeff Gordon left happy. He even managed to beat Clint Bowyer, as in out running him rather than wrecking him, to win his second of the season and 87th of his career. I think it has been real nice of Team Hendrick to loan out their championship the past couple of seasons, but does anybody think they are done quite yet?
Danica Patrick is back on the market after it was announced that her seven year marriage is over. That is all I will say on the matter, as I don’t want to give my wife any ammo to kick my butt back out onto the market. She could do better while I probably would end up with a cat.
So, the nine month odessey is over and we have a new champion. 2013 brings us a new car, and hopefully that will equate into more passing, more excitement, more visual stimulation than the televised version produced for much of the campaign. I know that being at the track, surrounded by that special atmosphere, is a far different experience than what we get watching from the couch. Still, the numbers in the stands continue to drop, and the television audience has plummeted by 25% over the past five years. There once was a time my extended family would get together to watch a few races each season, but that no longer is the case.
Sprint Cup has just one offering per week and if it is not stimulating enough to watch there is no backup plan. That is not the case in baseball or football, where there are often more than one game to chose from at the same time. If the game you are watching isn’t doing it for you, one on another channel just might, but in NASCAR what you see is all you get. If one car dominates, if the action is just a series of cars going round and round with little or no drama, there is always another channel to watch, but it won’t be NASCAR. I think that is exactly what has happened, and that does not bode well for the future.
By the way, what happened to those classic television commercials that provided outstanding visibility to some of the sport’s stars? Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr sitting around talking about NAPA, Mikey’s Bristol car all in pieces, Kasey Kahne and the young lasses who stalked him, even Jeremy Mayfield’s date all covered in sweet smelling oil. Even the sponsors no longer act like they care. I miss the days when Waltrip, Ken Schrader, Johnny Benson, and Allan Bestwick sat around like they were in our living rooms to shoot the breeze about the past week’s events, informing us and making us laugh. I miss those days. The erosion of what helped make the sport popular seems not to be isolated to the action, or lack of it, out on the track. There once was a winning formula in place, but somebody somewhere thought they had a better idea. They didn’t. NASCAR isn’t about spit and polish. It features people we can relate to, ordinary folks doing extraordinary things. They went uptown on us, while the rest of us stayed down home.
For those thinking that by having a new face hold the title we somehow are going to keep our current fan base and add to it, they are dreaming. Talladega might not exactly be everyone’s definition of what racing should be, but at least it is exciting to watch and that is the name of the game. No excitement, no fans, and we are back racing primarily in the south like in the good old days. We don’t need beating and banging, but there better be some slicing and dicing, or NASCAR will wind up being as much a draw as hockey is in Tupelo.
Tweeting from inside the car or Go Daddy cheese cake is not going to reverse the trend. I miss my NASCAR. I wish it came back, or a few more of you might not. Enjoy the winter of my discontent.