October 4, 2011
By Doug Demmons
Wasn’t that a thrilling finish to Sunday’s race?
Two cars go wheel-to-wheel for twenty laps, neither driver able to clear the other. And in the end the defending champion loses by a nose.
No, not the Dover race. The one in Kentucky. The IndyCar race.
If you happened to tune in to the end of the IndyCar race on Sunday, you saw what NASCAR dreams of seeing at each and every one of its races -- Ed Carpenter going wheel to wheel with Dario Franchitti for the final five laps of the race.
It was the guy who never wins against the defending champion, the little team owned by Sarah Fisher versus Big Brother. Wherever IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard was watching it from, he wasn’t sitting down.
The odds are that a few fans might have switched over to the IndyCar race from the third race of the Chase for NASCAR’s Sprint Cup. Around that time, Jimmie Johnson was looking like he had just been toying with everyone the last two weeks and was ready to stomp the crap out of the field and claim title No. 6.
If you listened carefully before that last restart when Kurt Busch took command, you could probably hear remotes all across America switching over to the NFL.
Just when you thought it was safe to watch the Chase again, Johnson launched himself back into contention with a second-place finish.
Oh, it’s not Johnson’s fault that he’s stinking up the show ... again.
That’s his job. And it’s not his fault that America would rather see anyone win except him.
America got sick of Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon. And when Johnson is past his prime, they’ll get sick of someone else too.
It’s human nature. Even Johnson, who was watching the Jets-Ravens snoozer of an NFL game Sunday night, can appreciate a little competition.
“Man, the Jets are having some issues,” he wrote on Twitter. “I just want to see a good game, not a blow out.”
Of course, Johnson’s sudden resurgence wasn’t the storyline NASCAR was peddling after the race. It was how close the points standings have become.
The top eight drivers in the Chase are separated by a mere 15 points. It’s exactly what NASCAR wanted when the Chase was created after the 2003 season.
But getting to that point has meant sitting through back-to-back fuel mileage races and a less-than-spectacular Dover race. And that begs the question -- would fans rather see thrilling finishes and edge-of-the-seat exciting racing even if it means another Jimmie Johnson title?
Or is a down-to-the-wire championship fight with three or four drivers going to Homestead with a good chance to win the title worth enduring a 10-race stretch with a number of ho-hum races?
It touches on an issue that has long been debated in NASCAR -- what’s more important, winning races or winning titles?
I don’t have the answer to that. But I do know that long after I have forgotten who had a great points day in the second Dover race of 2011, I will remember the look on Ed Carpenter’s wife’s face as her husband finally won his first race. And the huge smile on the face of team co-owner Andy O’Gara -- Sarah Fisher’s husband -- as he dashed to get to Victory Lane. And the thrill of having Fisher -- whose sponsor Dollar General is leaving after this season -- finally make it to Victory Lane.
Those moments don’t come along every week, but that’s what makes racing such a thrill.
Doug Demmons is a writer and editor for the Birmingham News ~ he writes daily and weekly auto racing columns ranging from NASCAR to open wheel to Formula One, local tracks and more... you can read Doug's columns online at Blog of Tommorow
Follow Doug on Twitter: @dougdemmons
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.