Tuesday, May 23, 2006

It would be news if Johnson didn't win at Lowe's

Jimmie Johnson might very well win his fourth straight Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday.
If he does, it would be his fourth straight victory in major Nextel Cup events at Lowe's Motor Speedway and his eighth win in 11 such events there since the start of the 2003 season.
After every one of the seven victories he's had, including Saturday night's in the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge, somebody will call or write telling me that Johnson wins at the Charlotte track because his No. 48 Chevrolet is also sponsored by Lowe's. What's funny about it is that most of the people who share that opinion with me seem to believe they're the first person to whom that thought has occurred.
I imagine some of these folks are the same people who drive by a golf course and yell "FORE!" out the window as though they're the first to ever think that'd be hilarious.
I like a good conspiracy theory as much as anybody. But it at least needs to make sense. And the last thing that makes sense right now would be for anyone to "rig" it for Johnson's No. 48 car to win another race at Lowe's Motor Speedway. If NASCAR would allow it, in fact, I promise you that H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler would revert to his short-track roots and place a "bounty" on Johnson this week.
That's often done when one driver starts winning a little too often for a weekly track's promoter, who offers a little extra money to anybody who can halt the dominant driver's hot streak.
Above all else, running a race track is about selling tickets. Wheeler and his guys at Lowe's have a bunch of them to sell, with grandstands holding around 150,000 fans. They put about 125,000, maybe a little more, in there Saturday night for the all-star race and now they're trying to sell them all again eight days later for the 600.
NASCAR is popular, but that's still a very tall order. The Charlotte track works hard to sell its tickets, but no amount of effort on its part would help as much as having a thrilling and/or controversial finish to the all-star event would have.
Fans wavering on whether to come out for the race on Sunday, on whether to buy up the final 10,000 or 15,000 seats that might still be available, might have been bumped off that fence by something dramatic.
Johnson may not win again Sunday night, but it'll be news if he doesn't. You'd have to think that just about anybody who's really eager to see Johnson win a race at Charlotte has already had several opportunities to have that itch scratched.
If a race's outcome could be fixed, and if NASCAR let Wheeler pick somebody to whom "the call" would go, it would unquestionably be Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt Jr. is not only the most popular driver in the sport, he's also the hometown hero. He grew up in Mooresville and still lives there, and Earnhardt Jr. has said many times that winning at Charlotte is something he very much likes to do.
If Earnhardt Jr. had won the NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge this weekend, Wheeler would have instinctively called in extra staff in his ticket office for Sunday and Monday shifts. And they would have been kept busy.
Johnson's dominance at Lowe's Motor Speedway has been phenomenal. He's won seven times on basically three different racing surfaces. He has dominated races and he's come from behind.
He's had nearly perfect evenings and he's had to overcome obstacles. He's won from the pole and he's won from as far back as 37th. But if you think he's done all of that because it has all somehow been carefully arranged, you're certainly not thinking like somebody who's trying to sell tickets.
After all, it's hard to market a foregone conclusion.


Anonymous said...

Good call on the Allstar event in your column and also here on the Johnson dominance.
NASCAR and Goodyear went soooooo far conservative on the tires and fuel it was impossible for real racing. This wasn't necessarily for safety but rather, I believe, to avoid the embarassment of last year. There'll be tons of lead changes announced this weekend but the proof of the track is in the racin' and we pay to see racin' on the track not on pitroad.

Monkeesfan said...

Keith, we may see a massive increase in passing anyway, because cars will be fighting harder to get to a good position to pit under green than they usually do with the bigger fuel cells - that's the lesson of the use of the smaller fuel cells at the plate tracks; they wound up increasing the ferocity of the racing, which is always a good thing.

David, just to briefly switch gears here, on your piece about aeropush at Charlotte - you wrote by saying that the COT is intended to combat the aeropush - all the testing and wind tunnel work so far have shown it does the opposite.

See here