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Monday, November 16, 2009

Keeping up with the Johnsons

As much as I dislike Darrell Waltrip as a live race broadcaster (I’m not a fan of the “boogity boogity” atmosphere on that network), the man is pretty insightful if you’ve ever heard him talk about NASCAR and its drivers in a different setting. His knowledge, gained from decades of history in the sport, give him insight into NASCAR most commentators don’t have.

For example, prior to this season he predicted Juan Pablo Montoya would make the Chase this year … despite the fact Montoya was racing for a brand new EGR team with so many unknowns. DW may be annoying at times, but he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the drivers in this sport.

As I watched DW appear on a SPEED program Sunday night, he made an interesting point about how to stop Jimmie Johnson’s dominance in the sport. To paraphrase, he said that you don’t drag down the quality of Jimmie Johnson’s team, you bring the level of the competition up to the level of the #48 team.

And he is right. Jimmie and the #48 team are not going to get any worse. So now we are presented with a critical question: How can this raising of the bar for the other teams be accomplished?

What can be done by Jack Roush, Richard Childress, Joe Gibbs, and even the other Hendrick teams, to get them up to a level that would allow them to derail the Johnson championship train, which appears to have no end in sight.

Here is my game plan for the competition.

Get their crew chief/driver relationships to a new level

One of the major reasons that Johnson wins so much is that Chad Knaus and him are so well in tune with each other. Knaus knows how to set the car up so Jimmie will be comfortable, and the communication from Jimmie to Knaus about how the car is running is detailed enough for Knaus to make the proper adjustments to improve the car and improve their position during races. The other teams need to reach this level of understanding between their two main players if they hope to compete with Johnson.

Start up front, out of harm’s way, and stay there
One reason Johnson wins titles is that he doesn’t wreck much. That’s why the Texas wreck was such a shock to see. So how does he do this? Easy – he starts up front and stays ahead of most of the wrecks, which rarely occur among the leaders. The only reason he got in the Texas wreck was because he didn’t qualify well, and that only happens a handful of times each year. Most weeks, he’s in the top-5 or top-10 to start the race. For anyone to take his crown in 2010, they’ll need to do well on Fridays and Sundays.

Pray that the law of averages eventually applies to Johnson
No matter how much the other teams step up, there still isn’t a guarantee anyone will topple Johnson. His 4-year run goes against all the odds, even beyond what the last wonderboy Jeff Gordon did in the late 1990s. Gordon at least had his title runs interrupted by Terry Labonte, Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte. Johnson isn’t letting anyone crash his party. I would say it’s unlikely anyone will take 5 in a row, but I’d be lying. Last year, I was optimistic and said Carl Edwards, coming off 9 wins and a second-place points run in 2008, would claim the 2009 title and end JJ’s run. I guess that didn’t work out.

No. This year, I am not going to make a prediction based on hope, and will look at the facts. Until someone shows they can beat Jimmie Johnson, he will be the title favorite, in 2010 and beyond.

But I wish the other teams good luck. All the fans are rooting for them to catch up, to save us from the Johnson bore machine.


Blogger Julie said...

I appreciate you acknowledging that your 2009 championship prediction was based on hope. If you recall, Johnson was offended that he wasn't the media's pick for the championship at the start of the year. It seems he was justified.

Not all fans find this boring.

November 17, 2009 at 7:36 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not bored. I find excellence to be exciting. It's fun to watch how smoothly Jimmie and Chad handle every situation, be it triumph or adversity.

November 17, 2009 at 1:38 PM 

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