Jimmie Johnson dominates again, plus more reader questions
Another race, another ruthlessly dominating performance by Jimmie Johnson.
Though Johnson didn't win the Brickyard 400 on Sunday, he once again had the fastest car in the field, leading a race-high 73-laps. If not for a flubbed 17-second final pit stop, which eventually caused Ryan Newman to seize the lead, Mr. Five Time would have easily cruised to his fifth victory of the season.
By my count, Johnson has now had the car to beat in more than half of all Sprint Cup races in 2013. He has a 75-point lead in the standings -- the biggest lead ever through 20 races under the current points configuration -- so he could sit out two races and still probably maintain the points lead. He's also led 1,093 laps this year, which is 978 more than Clint Bowyer, who is currently second in the standings.
Did Sunday's race at at Indianapolis Motor Speedway make for great racing theatre? Uh, no. Every pass for the lead except one was made either in the pits or when the leader was forced to stop for fuel. The nature of racing at Indy kicks off this week's mailbag.
For next week, I'd love to hear your thoughts on how NASCAR races can be made more compelling. Until the on-track product improves, I believe, the television ratings for the sport will continue to remain flat and attendance will continue to drop.
Now, let's crack open some mail:
"Just got back from the Brickyard and I am a big Tony Stewart fan. I enjoy his oft-surly disposition, but his comments post-race about looking up racing and passing in the dictionary (plus his past complaints about drivers racing too hard early in the race) really ticked me off. If NASCAR and the Brickyard 400 want to reclaim fan interest and enthusiasm, there doesn't need to be a lead change every lap or a Nationwide race the day before, but there needs to be interesting racing and passing happening somewhere for most of the 400 miles. Otherwise, I may as well stay at home and takex3 a nap on the couch from laps 2-159 or just catch the recap online the next day."
-- David, Wooster, OH
Those comments didn't sit well with a lot of fans, David. To recap: After the parade-style, ho-hum race, Stewart told reporters, "It doesn't have to be two- and three-wide racing all day long to be good racing. Racing is about figuring out the package you're allowed and making it better than what everybody else has. I've seen races here won by over a lap, seen 20-second leads here, and for some reason the last 10 years everybody is on this kick that you've got to be passing all the time. It's racing, not passing...I don't know where this big kick comes from. It baffles me."
In his defense, Stewart makes one valid point: the core job of the driver and his race team is to develop a package that properly balances the car in such a way that it can power through the corners faster than any other car in the field. I get that. Yet this is only one aspect of racing. To create an interesting overall event for the fans, there simply needs to be more side-by-side racing and more than one pass for the lead that actually occurs on the track.
The fact is, while Indianapolis Motor Speedway is rich in history, it's poor in fostering quality stock car races. For the two decades that NASCAR has visited the 2.5-mile oval, it's always been difficult for drivers to perform passes because of the aerodynamics the flat track produces. NASCAR needs to keep Indy on its schedule simply because of the track's iconic status, but just don't expect any Bristol-style bumping and grinding at the Brickyard.
"As a primarily TV viewer of NASCAR, I get bored stiff watching these marathon races, and often leave them until the last 50 laps. Yes, I might miss a few wrecks, but even those get old after a while. I think too many people forget the word, 'racing' and what it means. What it doesn't mean is playing "follow the leader" for four hours. And, now that the rules and technology have cloned most of the cars, Lady Luck and dumb moves by the Busch Boys and a few others are the dominant deciders."
-- Joe, Winfield, Kan.
Joe, you have articulated precisely the reason why many, many former rabid fans have either left the sport entirely or no longer pay close attention to NASCAR. This is why I want to hear from readers for next week about what can be done to revitalize the sport -- and the quality of racing.
Now let's move on NASCAR's new TV deal with NBC, which begins in 2015 and about which I wrote about briefly in last week's mailbag.
"The fact is that NBC needs NASCAR more than ESPN needs it, and therefore will do a better job in promoting it. Plus, with F1 and IndyCar already in place on NBC, they will be able to brand NBCSN as a major home for televised motorsports in the U.S. On ESPN, NASCAR was always going to be second tier."
-- Brian, New Orleans, La.
I spoke with a NASCAR executive late last week, Brian, and this was one of the main points he made to me. NASCAR is very excited about the prospect of being aggressively promoted on the NBC network (even when the upcoming races will be on the NBC Sports Network) and even more jazzed about being on NBC in the fall as a walkup to Football Night in America.
But there is a downside to this deal: It's still unclear how many of the 36 races will be on network television in 2015. (Fox must put the Daytona 500 on its network, but it hasn't said how many it will farm out to Fox Sports 1.) So it's still too early to decipher whether this will end up being a good deal for NASCAR or not in terms of growing the sport, but clearly it made sense money-wise. After all, the 10-year contract with NBC is reportedly worth $4.4 billion, which is a significant increase over the $2.74 billion, eight-year deal NASCAR signed with ESPN and Turner in 2006.
"NBC already has problems with showing just F1, IndyCar and Tour de France at the same time. How are they are going to pack in NASCAR?"
-- Steve, Oxnard, Calif.
The NBC Sports Network will now lay claim to being the nation's premier destination for motor sports, which it will be. I'd guess there will be plenty of motor sports-related programming that doesn't focus specifically on race coverage. Who knows? Maybe they'll re-air this piece I did with NBC on Dale Earnhardt Jr. last year.
"I agree with your assessment of Danica Patrick, but I believe you've missed a compelling argument. She's within 15 spots of Tony Stewart, her teammate. She's running Stewart-Hass equipment, like Tony. You get the drift. I believe if she is within 10ish spots of the elite driver on her team, any team, she's proven enough and will continue to improve."
-- Walter, Merrimack, N.H.
Nice point, Walter, although Stewart and Patrick are currently moving in opposite directions in the standings. Patrick's mission for the rest of the season is simply to try and finish on the lead lap of races and acquire as much experience and seat time as possible.
It's interesting that Patrick is only five spots in the standings behind Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. -- her boyfriend and the man considered by many in the garage to be a future champion. Stenhouse wills surely win Rookie of the Year honors over Patrick, but it's going to be lot closer than most thought.
"I have to take issue with the reader stating that Danica fell into great equipment and the others did not. So lets look at your list.
Brad Keselowski: Penske Racing, in car that Kurt Busch won consistently in.
Joey Logano: Joe Gibbs Racing, in car that had won championships with a championship crew chief in Greg Zipadelli. Did Logano really earn this ride? I don't think so. There was a reason they called him 'Sliced Bread,' and it kind of went stale.
Kyle Busch: Hendrick Motorsports, not too shabby. He's probably still there if Junior was not available at the time.
Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch: Both racing Roush Fenway Racing cars; wow that's a difficult hill to climb.
Is Danica going to be a consistent winner in the Cup? I doubt it. But she will improve and I honestly believe she will win some races when it is all said and done. Your thoughts, Lars?"
-- Wayne, Saint Augustine, Fla.
I agree, Wayne. I firmly believe that Patrick will eventually win at least one race in the Sprint Cup Series. Based on her performance this year in the Daytona 500 -- where she led five laps, stayed in the top three for most of the afternoon and finished eighth -- you have to consider her a serious contender to take the checkered flag in next season's 500.
Thanks for the questions, everyone. Please keep them rolling in. Pocono, here we come.