Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Gordon fans ought to be fired up

PHOENIX - For the sake of a good championship battle over the final two races of the Chase for the Nextel Cup, I hope Jeff Gordon and his race team are as fired up as his fans are these days.

The Gordon faithful seem to be pretty stirred up that some of us who cover NASCAR are simply pointing out that it seems that Jimmie Johnson and his team are behaving pretty much like Gordon and his team did during the pinnacle of its success.

Matt Kenseth said after Sunday's race at Texas what a lot of us had been talking about.

Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have taken on the role as the sport's standard by which other teams measure themsevles. Most teams go to the track now thinking that if they want to win the race, they're going to have to beat the No. 48 Chevrolets to do it.

Now nobody is saying that Gordon and his No. 24 team, led by crew chief, Steve Letarte, are bums.

A lot of my colleagues declared Jeff the presumptive champion after he built a 68-point lead halfway through the Chase. And it's absolutely true that it has taken a Herculean effort by Johnson to erase that margin by winning the past three races.

But Johnson has won those races and he is the current points leader.

Johnson has won those races the way Gordon used to win them, taking two tires one time and four the next and winning either way, or rallying back when it seemed like he'd be no factor for much of the day. That stuff is straight out of the Jeff Gordon-Ray Evernham playbook from 1995 through 1998, when they put together one of the greatest runs in the history of the sport by winning three championships in four years.

I covered the final two years of that run, including the remarkable 1998 season when Gordon won 13 races and just destroyed the rest of the field in the title race. Back then, I used to joke to people that I should just change my e-mail to gordonlovingidiot@charlotteobserver.com to save people some time when they were sending their invective my way.

Now, apparently, that address is due for a little tweak. Maybe I need to be gordonhatingidiot@charlotteobserver.com.

Don't get me wrong. I like the fact that Gordon's fans are stirred up. They ought to be.

Their guy is having a tremendous year. He's got as many top 10s this year as he had in his 13-victory season, and twice as many as he had two years ago when he missed the Chase. He roared through the regular season and won back-to-back Chase races to build the 68-point lead that three weeks ago looked pretty darn good.

But if he's going to win this year's championship, he's going to have to beat Johnson and the 48 team twice, here at Phoenix and again at Homestead.

Gordon's average finish at Phoenix is 8.2. Johnson's is 7.2, but Gordon did win here earlier this year while Johnson finished fourth.

It's not being critical of Gordon to say that he needs a differential like that again this week to really have a shot at Homestead. If Johnson leaves here leading by 40 or 50 points, he's an odds-on favorite to repeat as champion. If Gordon had a lead that size, he'd be just as big of a favorite.

I can hear the Gordon fans screaming at me right now, telling me he DID have a big lead after 26 races, but that the Chase wiped that out. That's precisely right on both parts. He DID have a big lead AND the Chase wiped that out. Those points no longer exist.

It's like Gordon made a perfect 1,600 on the SAT to get into college. That's great, but that doesn't help his grade-point average. The first 26 races get you in the playoffs, but it's what you do from there on that determines a champion.

You don't have to like that, but that doesn't make it any less real.

18 comments:

Prospector said...

As much as I dislike Gordon I have to have just a smidgon of sympathy, but so has The King won and lost championships under different systems.

NASCAR makes the rules and all have to play their game.

Maybe Gordon should go to the IRL, the competition will be rather shallow there.

SteveH. said...

David,

Not stirred up, I just realize there's a lot of racing to go. At one point in the race at Texas J.G. was over 80 points behind J.J. As you know the points can change very quickly during the race. All it takes is one screwed up pit stop, or some other freak of nature and you can drop 35 points. This "chase" is far from over. Case in point, J.J. lead the points in the "chase" after weeks 1 and 3. J.G. lead the "chase' after weeks 2,4,5,6,and 7. So what if J.J. leads after week 8 at Texas. Do you honestly think that J.G. is going to roll over and just give this championship to J.J.? All I have to say is " May the Best Team Win" even if it is J.J.

Redvette said...

David,

Didn't you have a points system devised, where winning paid much more than consistency? have you figured the points with that formula?

Neither driver, nor Bowyer, would have to defend their "Chase" season. 3 teams came to play. A playoff is a playoff...if Johnson or Bowyer win, then legions of Gordon fans can join with legions of other sport's team fans who, think the best team didn't win.

That said, the playoff is a farce in racing. The best guy does it all season long. But, if you want to have a playoff, be prepared for the consequences.

E said...

What can you say when the guy who has won the most races (9) is leading in the points with just 2 events to go? I am not a fan of J.J. or Gordon. personally, I would love to see the miracle that would bring the 07 team with Clint Boyer to the top. Can he do it? Not likely, but he has a mathmatical shot at the title.

Vroom! said...

Both 24 and 48 have had A+ years, it's a shame only one can claim the crown.

On the other hand...both have smokin' hot wives!

N.C. race fan said...

Since it is down to Gordon and Johnson it seems many people are ignoring the fact of just how close the Chase is.

elena said...

I do not like the Chase. Having said that, it is what it is. However, NASCAR did a horrible job setting it up. They did not have an end to the "regular season." All that happened is that one day Jeff had a 300+ lead, and the next day he was 20 points behind in 2nd place. What was the point of the first 26 races?

If NASCAR had looked at the NFL or MLB, or NBA, it would be easier to take. Before they went to the playoffs, all these sports crowned a champion. You winn the Pennant before you go to the World Series. That way you acknowledge what that team has done before they go to the "chase" in their sports. As we saw with the Rockies, it doesn't matter what you did in the Pennant race.

Jeff and NASCAR fans were cheated out of a celebration of the regular season: the ticker tape parade in his hometown, the lifting of a trophy, the crowning of great acheivement.

What does it take for NASCAR to get on the ball and do something like that?

elena said...

I also think that NASCAR has missed a marketing opportunity to attract new viewers to the Chase.

I'm a sports fan and follow all sports. But most in my family only follow the "chase" in all sports. They don't have time in their lives to watch a whole season. Nothing is more fun than when we follow "March Madness", or when the world series starts, or the Ryder cup.

Anonymous said...

Well as a long time fan, The Chase is a big part of my losing interest in NASCAR. There are three things that have really impacted my view of the sport.

1. NASCAR's refusal to let the crew chiefs work in a few areas of the COT to make it a better product that would result in better racing.

2. The Chase. First, because it limits the attention that the little guys get even more. All you hear about are the Chasers. Second, the ridiculousness of the guy in 12th place, 900 and some points back, getting a chance to win the championship. Third, we used to crown a season champion - now we get a ten race champion.

3. The horrible TV coverage - ESPN is an all new low.

But I'm not a "new", casual fan so NASCAR doesn't really care what I think.

Monkeesfan said...

To pick up from Anonymous #9's point, what's impacted the sport for the negative -


1 - The multicar stampede and NASCAR's refusal to stop it; no sanctioning body worth its salt would not be forcing the immediate disbanding of some cars from a multicar effort like Hendrick and Roush. This sport needs more than 14 winning teams like it had 2001-2.

2 - The COT - a colossal mistake if there ever was one. Poorly designed and uncompetitive, it was an effort to address problems better addressed with cheap bolt-on solutions. Letting crew chiefs work on some areas is never a good idea because innovation costs too much money and adds nothing to the sport, as crazy as some people still think this point is.

3 - The gimmickization of the sport. The Chase has accomplished nothing positive for the sport because it is all a contrivance.

4 - Where are the lead changes?

5 - Speedway fratricide. Just as multicar teams need to be broken up, so too the speedway monopolies need to be broken. Atlanta etc. should be under local ownership, not SMI or ISC. And no track should ever lose a date - period. Dates should be permanent. You can add dates, you can never take a date away.

Shane said...

The chase is a disgrace. Jeff Gordon is a 6-time cup champion no matter what happens over the final two races.

The only thing the chase accomplishes is screwing the points leader. Basically NASCAR is saying "Well, since one guy is running away with the title, we should handicap him and allow the others to catch up". It's completely unfair. Apparently another thing it's supposed to accomplish is to be more "exciting". I guess the ratings have proven that to be true, right? They've only been down every single race, and will likely continue to drop each year in my opinion.


Here are some fun facts. Only one driver in cup series history has scored the most total points in a season and not won the championship. And he's about to do it for a second time in 4 seasons.

Not only did Jeff Gordon lose more than a 400 point lead over Jimmie Johnson, he was not even the points leader when the chase started! This is absolutely ridiculous. I've thought the chase was garbage since day one, and so have a vast majority of the other NASCAR fans I've talked to (at least 80%, probably closer to 90%).

So David, next time you run into Brian France could you please let him know that most fans think he's turned the sport into a joke?

Thank you.

Julie said...

If we had been used to a points system that rewarded winning we'd think nothing of Jimmie winning the championship this year, and would complain anytime the Chase rewarded a driver who hadn't won the most races, BUT... since we've been conditioned to evaluate championship seasons based on consistency our tendency is to feel that Jeff should have won the championship.

The fact is that we've been racing under this system for four years now. Everyone is well familiar with what it takes to win the championship, and like it or hate it it's not fair to try and compare it to an old system. It's not the old system, and the 48 team has earned this one. I don't see how anyone can claim that they don't deserve it.

NH_NascarFan said...

I agree with Julie...

Jimmy Johnson has won 10 races and the last 4 in a row, he has been dominant over the past few months.

Gordon has been consistant all year as well.

Imagine this - reverse the wins. JJ dominates the first half of the season, while Gordon dominates the second half. Fans would be screaming that JJ lost a big points lead to Gordon.

The problem as I see it is that in the 'old' system, whoever dominates the first few months of the season builds a huge point lead and the championship is essentially over (such as Carl Edwards dominating the Busch series this year). The entire second half of the season is rendered completely useless.

You can easily make an argeument that both JG and JJ are miles ahead of everyone else, and its only fitting that it has come down to the last few races to decide a champion.

I personally love playoffs in other sports, imagine what life would be like if the regular season champion was crowned the champion? The Atlanta Falcons would have won a Superbowl, the Red Sox would not have won the 2004 World Series... the list goes on and on. Imagine sports without a Superbowl, no Final Four, no World Series. Perhaps the media could 'vote' for a champion, like they used to in college football (not that the BCS system is any better).

Fact is there needs to be a playoff system in Nascar - it keeps things interesting for the fans. Yes, I know - the 'old time' race fans hate it, but they hate change no matter what (its human nature).

Gordon lost a 300 point lead? Big deal. The Patriots will probably end up with at least 14 wins this year, possibly more... but in January, they will be 0-0, just like everyone else. One bad call, one bad snap away from going home. At least in the Chase, they have 10 races to continue consistancy... and in the end, as in this year, the two best teams have come out on top.

Monkeesfan said...

One can complain that under the old system a driver would build up a huge point lead and then coast the rest of the year. Yes, the old Latford System had outlived its utility and needed change. But at least that system counted the entire season - it had no gimmick. That is what this Chase format ultimately is - a gimmick.

Arguing that the sport needs a playoff system to keep things interesting for the second half of the season makes the same mistake over and over again - it degrades the individual races. Racing is not the other sports because racing is about individual contests; you race the individual races and worry about what the points are later.

People think that the Chase is hated because people hate change. Spell out a proposed change that actually makes sense and addresses real problems, and people will accept change.

NH_NascarFan said...

Monkeesfan, you can easily make a case for every playoff system being a gimmick, as none of them truly take into account the 'regular season'. Other sports are also about individual contests, the difference is that they have had playoffs for such a long time none of us were around to know better. Without the consistancy and wins in other sports, you wont even see the playoffs. There are 16 individual NFL contests on each teams schedule, and they need to win at least half of them to have a chance at making the playoffs. The Patriots may go 16-0 this year, but one bad game that happens to fall during the playoffs means their run is over. New Orleans, on the other hand, could finish 9-7, squeak into the wild card slot, and win the whole thing - in fact, the 2001 Pats were also a wild card team, and they won the whole thing. Your argument could - or perhaps should - be that the St Louis Cardinals were the true champs because of their regular season dominance and that the NFL playoff system hosed them. You state that you race the individual races and worry about the points later... not true, of course, because if it were nobody would stay out to lead a lap - but the same can be said for every single sport: you play the individual game and worry about the standings later.

Your statement about people accepting change that makes sense is indeed a true point, however people are individuals and have individual thoughts and opinions... what may make sense to you may make no sense to someone else. To me, the Chase (or some form of playoff) makes sense, certainly much more than the old system; to you, it does not so you cant/wont accept it. You can come up with a different solution, which if NASCAR were to adopt, would make sense to you and make you happy, however there are still millions of fans that would find reason to complain.

I agree that there is room for improvement, however the current system beats the heck out of the old points system.

Anonymous said...

I admire Jimmie Johnson for incorporating my non-racing passion (technology) into success for himself on the track: http://www.baselinemag.com/article2
/0,1540,2216985,00.asp

Anonymous said...

福~
「朵
語‧,最一件事,就。好,你西.........................................................................................................................................................................................

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