Monday
Nov232009

Greatness Personified

My feelings about the France family’s NASCAR “circus” are well known. I find the byzantine, “go along to get along” NASCAR “way” of conducting business as they stoke the fires of their marketing machine to be, for the most part, reprehensible. A closed-minded enterprise based on greed and fueled by the relentless desire to perpetuate the status quo, Brian France and his minions who run NASCAR provide a textbook example of how not to do it week-in and week-out as they trundle along with their “yester-tech” mindset and their ingrained philosophies fundamentally based on change as anathema.

Peter M. De Lorenzo is a national columnist who founded Autoextremist.com, a highly-regarded website devoted to news, commentary and analysis of the auto industry. He is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.That otherwise well-intentioned and for the most part savvy marketers and manufacturers go along with the France-manufactured bullshit and hype is at times incomprehensible, and their feeble explanations as to why they’re involved border on being nothing more than excuses for the fact that they’re totally incapable of coming up with even a hint of a genuinely new marketing idea involving cars and racing. It’s good to finally see that at least some of these marketers are realizing that their messages are getting lost in the cacophony of messages that bury each and every TV broadcast and that their “return on investment” is as much fiction as anything quantifiable. Especially as they see in-person race attendance and TV viewing numbers plummet.

But all of that said, I have never quibbled with the fact that I believe the drivers, crew members, technical people and engineers who are involved in NASCAR are first-rate talents. That many of the technical people in the NASCAR garage these days have experience in IndyCar, Formula 1, the ALMS and other top-flight series is well known and well documented. And I believe that several of NASCAR’s top drivers could populate the front of the grid in any racing series they choose to compete in, without question.

And that brings me to Jimmie Johnson, who has just won his fourth consecutive NASCAR championship, which is, by any measure, an incredible achievement. Especially when you stop to think that a typical NASCAR Sprint Cup starting grid is separated by less than a half-second from front to back, and that NASCAR’s entire raison d’etre revolves around the dogma of strict adherence to template-driven, equalized “spec” cars.

Whether or not Johnson is better than Petty, Pearson, Earnhardt, Yarborough or Gordon is really not something I relish engaging in because debating different drivers from different eras (although Gordon is of Johnson’s era) is somewhat of a fool’s errand. But I will say this: I believe that Jimmie Johnson will end up being considered the greatest NASCAR driver of the modern era and that he very well could get at least three more championships before he hangs it up. Or maybe even four, which means he would pass Petty and Earnhardt, who managed to win seven titles each.

Johnson is clearly the best of the best of a core group of NASCAR’s very top drivers who could win in anything and on any race track. Johnson is fierce, focused, blindingly fast, exhibits stupefying car control and has a will to win only matched by his brilliant crew chief, Chad Knaus, who is also at the very top of his profession. Yes, Johnson has had the finest technical resources to work with at Hendrick Motorsports, but no driver has done more with what he’s had to work with, and no driver has been more consistent at winning than Johnson.

So appreciate what you’re seeing, folks. Watching Jimmie Johnson win races is like watching Tiger Woods win golf tournaments. We are witnessing greatness the likes of which we’ll be talking about for generations to come.

My sincere congratulations to Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization for yet another superb effort.

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