Bowles Mailbag (cont.)
Didn't see any posts to this effect, but I believe with NASCAR's declining popularity there could be a "Junior" effect. If NASCAR's Most Popular Driver comes through next year, that could be what brings the fans back. The longer he languishes in the middle of the pack and misses the Chase, the more the fans will tune out. I should know ... that's been me for the past few years.
-- Brian Peplow, Toronto, Ontario
It's not the whole problem, but I think it could be a small part. How many games do you attend when your baseball team's out of the pennant race by June? I'll admit it; as a Mets fan, I've made far less trips to Citi Field the past two seasons with the team struggling and you're paying to see them lose. It's a nice concept in theory, that you support your team through thick and thin but, financially, it just doesn't play out in real life.
Surely, if Junior wins three races and makes the Chase you're bound to see the Nielsens go up a few tenths of a point. The man's a demigod inside the Southeast, yet has a charisma that transcends the traditional boundaries of popularity inside the sport. Who else in this crowd of political correctness could you see letting loose and racing Shaq on national television? I could name them on one hand.
The issue for me is Earnhardt's going to still struggle next year. If he makes the Chase, I'll be one-third surprised, one-third impressed, and one-third Googling how to wipe this column off the face of the Earth.
How dare you to throw down on The King, walk a mile in his shoes before you judge. Two cars in the top 5 at Homestead, and he was broke. Lots of others would like to be that broke.
-- Brian Turner, Ridgeway, Va.
He's not that broke anymore, Brian. An investment group headed by Medallion Financial and VeriFone Systems officially purchased Petty's racing assets yesterday, a move that ensures the stability of the organization for the foreseeable future.
You've got to be impressed at the backroom dealings of both Ford and the King in getting this one done. It's unclear how much debt had to be paid off to make this purchase happen, but the fact the company's keeping the same name (Richard Petty Motorsports) and they're still getting chassis and engines from Jack Roush tells me it's more than zero. Sure, VeriFone has some $3 billion in assets, so shopping for a race team in the millions is little more than a drop in the bucket -- even if that included paying off a chunk of the reported $90 million loan Gillett defaulted on with this program. But to get people to invest now, in a sport that's been on a downhill slide from a business standpoint, is impressive considering the Medallion firm spurned this very opportunity two years ago.
How will the two-car team turn out for 2011? We don't know quite yet. But it's important to note Petty will be assuming a much greater role in day-to-day operations than he's had during the past two seasons. The success of the new program lies squarely on the King, his support system (with longtime "aide" Robbie Loomis) and the decisions they make on keeping the best personnel from their former organization on board. The investors must also be prepared not to make any money on it, as the sponsorships in play (Stanley, Best Buy) are less than half what, say, AFLAC pays to be on Carl Edwards' No. 99. To stay competitive, it's going to take millions more, and you always worry that eventually it's going to tire out the businessmen behind the scenes. We'll see.
P.S. -- Glad to see A.J. Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose, two of the sport's up-and-coming talents, remain in their rides for 2011. NASCAR needs them badly.
I would like to point out that NASCAR fans would be best served to recognize the excellence happening in front of their very eyes. Five consecutive championships? First time ever in NASCAR's history. Plus, the way he won this year was not the work of an automaton behind the wheel. Excellence of this level is rare. Fans should recognize it while it lasts. I should point out that I am not a Johnson or NASCAR car fan.
In reference to your article naming athletes/teams winning five consecutive championships, I would like to add Valentino Rossi, winner of five straight championships from 2001-05 in MotoGP's premiere class.
We'll have more on Jimmie's dominance next week, with far too many responses to fit into one mailbag. The running theme makes me realize it's so hard to appreciate history as it happens. It would be easier if Johnson were a dynamic personality in front of the camera ... but we've been there, done that. At this point, it's going to be near impossible for change to occur.
Looking at the Hendrick crew swaps, though, you have to think this history kept the No. 48 from a major shake up. Even the champions themselves have admitted 2010 was an off year, making the driving skills of Johnson all the more brilliant under the circumstances. I think a second-place finish would have resulted in a major internal shuffle well beyond the over-the-wall crews: Ron Malec, the longtime car chief would have probably wound up with a head wrench gig within Hendrick somewhere.
As for Rossi, he wasn't the only driver I left off that list of five straight...
On your list of five-time or more racing champions in last week's mailbag you left out one very significant five-time consecutive champion, Michael Schumacher, who won the Formula 1 World Championship five times in a row (2000-2004).
-- Brent Harritt, Poway, Calif.
Have you ever heard of a guy called Michael Schumacher?
-- Andy Kidd, Chicago, Ill.
How on earth did you leave out Michael Schumacher's five F1 World Championships in a row???
Simple: I had him written down, then when I added Tony Schumacher of the NHRA, I had a brain fart and typed over him. So let's stop and give one of the best race car drivers in the world his due.
Though many did not agree with the rules at that time that allowed Michael to accumulate so many points to win those races, I feel he should be counted in your list since it is still a great accomplishment -- unfortunately, F1 is not very popular here in the U.S.
-- Tim Kelley, Boulder, Colo.
I beg to disagree, Tim. If you could take one look at my e-mail inbox the past seven days you'd see just how popular it is. In four years, I've never had so many fans chime in on a correction or addition to a column.
A few years back, when Schumacher retired from Formula 1, there were rumors he was considering a switch over to stock car racing. Could you imagine the impact if he pulled a Juan Pablo Montoya and went to NASCAR? The international impact would make Earnhardt seem like some unknown mechanic from Alabama by comparison.
There's just one caveat to such an agreement though: he has to be in position to win. The last few years, the sport's added Montoya, Danica Patrick, motocross Ricky Carmichael, and now X Games superstar Travis Pastrana to its roster. But the fans haven't all seemed to carry over ... why? The answer is simple: fans want to see these guys succeeding in their element, not dabbling in another genre to run 20th. Think about Jordan when he dropped the NBA for baseball: was it really attractive to sit there and watch him hit .200?
Schumacher and Jimmie Johnson did race against each other. The video is posted on YouTube.
-- Nate Wymer, Ledyard, Ct.
You're absolutely right, Nate. That video, where Johnson got smoked in the Race of Champions a few years back, feeds into an international theory stock car racers are inferior to Formula 1. Never mind that Montoya has been struggling in the Cup Series for some time now, and that Jacques Villeneuve's career over here has yet to gain traction three years after trying to make a switch. Maybe it's going to take a guy with overwhelming popularity -- like Schumacher or Lewis Hamilton -- to test the waters for those opinions to change.
What about Sebastien Loeb? He has now won seven-straight World Rally Championships. I would have let you off the hook if you had not included TdF winners. By including them, you opened the door to those who did not race in the North America as part of their championships.
-- Alexander "Sandy" Kunzer
Makes perfect sense. Well, now Sebastien isn't ignored anymore, and neither is Rally Racing, one of the fastest-growing series out there in terms of overall popularity. Dynamic personalities, drivers taking risks, cars that look a little like something you would see on the street ... seems like another racing circuit could learn a thing or two from it.
Time for me to take off. But before I do ... the out of left field e-mail of the week.
Hey as the most innovative person in NASCAR history, I will disclose how to save this sport, why it is losing its fan base, etc. Also, I am the same person that wrote the original tell-all book about the sport.
-- Michael "Mad Mike" Hughes, Oklahoma City, Okla.
The most entertaining part of this e-mail was actually going to the guy's website. Did you know he's going to jump the Grand Canyon, in a rocket, on Memorial Day weekend next year?
The people that read this column... (and no, I haven't read the book.)
"Today was a cool day, I finally asked Megan to marry me... It took only close to 7 years for me to finally do it..." - @Regan_Smith_, who proposed marriage to his longtime girlfriend, Megan Mayhew, over the Thanksgiving holiday (she said yes).