Posted: Wednesday October 13, 2010 4:13PM ; Updated: Wednesday October 13, 2010 5:23PM
Tom Bowles
Tom Bowles>INSIDE NASCAR

Readers take stock of what's key to NASCAR's waning popularity

Story Highlights

If he can avoid a major setback, Denny Hamlin has a shot at Jimmie Johnson

The absence of stock cars that look like the street cars we love hurts NASCAR

Johnson's dominance, Junior's lack of success and too much strategy are boring

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Denny Hamlin's No. 11 team has stayed in the title hunt by going into a survival mode.
AP

On a track once named for his sponsor, the fifth race of the Chase is also the pivotal one in whether Jimmie Johnson will capture a fifth straight Cup Series title. There's a reason they named Charlotte (formerly Lowe's) Motor Speedway "his house." It's a place where he's won six times -- including four in a row at one point -- and scored 13 top-10 finishes in 18 starts.

But for those who are grasping at straws to find some reason, any reason other than injury or death, that will prevent JJ's record-breaking season from becoming a mere formality, I bring you hope. Here's how many points Johnson and second-place Denny Hamlin scored over the second half of last year's Chase:

Johnson: 729

Hamlin: 779

Yes, believe it or not, that's actually a 50-point edge that breaks Hamlin's way, an A+ performance from the No. 11 team that should show up again this year. Already, it has victories in hand from the spring races at Martinsville and Texas while retaining the title of Homestead's defending champ from last year's season finale. Three more of those trophies down the stretch should be enough to make a game of it with the No. 48, if there isn't some sort of catastrophic DNF Saturday night that always seems to doom Joe Gibbs Racing's championship chances. It was in this race one year ago that the Charlotte catastrophe -- a faulty engine and 42nd-place finish -- officially put Hamlin's title chances on a Priority Express to nowhere. Johnson emerged victorious, and that 158-point swing proved a nice little cushion down the stretch.

The No. 11 team has done a great job of playing survival mode these last few weeks, collecting as many points as it can while the Lowe's Chevy goes on a spree at the tracks that are best suited for it. Keep Johnson in their sights one more week, and maybe, just maybe we finally have a championship battle that goes down to the wire.

Time to get to your questions and comments. If I didn't get you in, well, hope should spring eternal in two electronic forms of communication: tbowles81@yahoo.com and Twitter at NASCARBowles. There's still six weeks left to go on the season, plenty of time left to make the cut!

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On Sunday, Tony Stewart won the last Chase race at Fontana for the forseeable future.
Jason Smith/Getty Images

I'm 22 and I love NASCAR more now than when I first began following the sport in 1997. Sure, Jimmie Johnson has been dominant to the point some fans are turned off, the cars look like boxes with wheels, and the Chase is altered every three years or so, but I still love it and I am upset that Fontana won't be in the Chase next year. Why? The two-mile easy-to-drive track gives the elite teams an opportunity to flex their muscle.

The racing at California is only getting better with age, but it's too bad the developers built too many seats. The majority of the stands are filled when I go, just not in the turns where they made the additional seats. There are hardcore NASCAR fans in southern California and the surrounding areas, but I have problems finding those who are in my age bracket. I don't have any fellow NASCAR-loving friends younger than 50 or older than 13, which is something NASCAR should address if they want sustained success in the L.A. market.

Does California deserve a Chase race? Probably not. But hopefully, NASCAR will look into reinstating a second Fontana race. Sure, southern Californians have "tons of other things to do" than watch NASCAR, but there is a large portion of us who spend our Sundays in front of the TV watching cars drive in circles instead of football games.
-- Ryan Baltazar, Riverside, CA

Believe it or not, I got a couple of passionate emails from fans last week leading into the "fall finale" of a track that's cutting back to one Sprint Cup date in March next year. In a touch of irony, Sunday's race was possibly one of the best we've seen at the track in recent memory, the age of the speedway evident as three, four, and even five grooves allowed cars to race side-by-side for more than just a couple of laps on restarts. A decent fall crowd was in the stands as well, with attendance accurately listed at 70,000. If anything, those two developments should combine to attract a stronger crowd with the one remaining date next spring.

But one outstanding day doesn't erase an overall body of work, and I agree that the sport had to backtrack a bit, start from square one out in California and try a new marketing strategy to get people headed to the speedway. Do I still think they'd be better off tearing it down and starting over? Yes. But I hope that whatever happens, we'll be able to keep some form of Cup Series racing out West.

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The Dodge Challenger COT in the Nationwide Series is a step towards a muscle car feel that strikes a deeper emotional chord in fans.
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

I go to at least two races every year and watch/DVR almost every week. In my opinion, it's not the number of races or laps that are hurting NASCAR, it's the dang cars. They suck! When I began watching NASCAR full-time (1998/1999) the racing was awesome, the cars where sleek and fast, and they looked like real cars. Now its just plain boring and they hardly finish a race that I watch or record. I wait with great anticipation every offseason that NASCAR will make changes to the POS COT that will allow the drivers to actually race each other and not fight their own cars the entire race. Cutting the number of races, laps per race or cars wont change a thing. Fix the cars and the fans will return!
-- J. Montgomery, Chandler, TX

One thing that'll help is the new noses implemented in the Cup Series beginning next year. Gone are those ugly splitter braces that make the front of the car seem like it's behind bars. Instead, uniquely manufactured noses for Toyota, Dodge, Chevrolet, and Ford will make them ever-so-slightly closer to the cars you see out on the street.

I think there is a long list of changes that NASCAR will have to make in order for the next generation car (still hearing 2013?) to firmly resemble its showroom counterparts. Remember when even a Lincoln could be raced on the Cup circuit in the late 1990s? Now we're stuck with not only spec cars, but generic ones, the type of Impala-Fusion-Camry models your 50-year-old mother-in-law takes to the grocery store. There's no variety anymore, no lifetime infatuation hook you get the first time you see a Lamborghini zipping down the street.

A move towards the Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang, and other "muscle cars" in the Nationwide Series was a step in the right direction. The next one is to make sure that strategy gets brought up to Cup.

 
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