Monday, February 22, 2010

California, Version 2010

I think I forgot to mention it last week, but congratulations to Jamie McMurray for winning the Daytona 500 in only his first points race for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.  I watched Jamie during speed weeks, and was surprised by how strong he seemed to be right out of the box in that number 1 Chevy.  He got a great win, and he deserves it.

Back to the present.  Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson for his win at California’s Auto Club Speedway, and though I’m not shocked that Jimmie Johnson won at California, he probably is.  The timing of that last yellow flag was perfect for Johnson.  Had it not been for that fortuitous series of events, it’s doubtful that he could ever have taken away the lead from the Richard Childress Racing duo of Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton.  Though Harvick charged hard in the last laps, a brush with the wall ended all hopes of frustrating Jimmie Johnson’s 48 team’s resurgence to dominance.

For one of the first times in several years, I was impressed with the quality of the racing at Fontana on Sunday.  I don’t know whether it was the tire that Goodyear brought to the track, or if it’s because the teams are starting to get a handle on the new car, but the race at California was worthwhile for a change.

NASCAR and track officials seemed to get a handle on the weepers that perpetually plague this track in the February race, and a wet track never really was a factor for a change.  I still don’t know that California really should have two race dates every year, but I have to say that I enjoyed the race I saw on Sunday.

Jimmie Johnson’s win was meaningful, because Sunday marked Jimmie’s 48th win in the Cup series.  Jimmie Johnson has won 48 Cup races, all of them in the 48 car.  That’s a milestone, because JJ’s first win came back in only 2002.  If I’m not mistaken, that first win also occurred in California.  For those of you who follow statistics, you have to think about a few things.  It’s possible that Jeff Gordon, who has won a ton of races and 4 championships, might have passed his peak as a driver.  Jimmie Johnson is younger, and he’s already won 4 championships as well.  Has Jimmie peaked yet as a driver?  I really don’t think so.  Jimmie might have a few more championships left in him.  Jimmie Johnson is the only current driver that could seriously compete to equal or even surpass Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt in Cup championships.  That’s food for thought.

I give at least 50 per cent of the credit to crew chief Chad Knaus for the 48 teams success.  Sure, Jimmie is a very talented driver, but Chad is an uncommonly exceptional crew chief.  The relationship between Johnson and Knaus is one of the best I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been watching for a long time.  I don’t know that Richard Petty and Dale Inman even had as good of a driver - crew chief relationship as Jimmie and Chad have.

Many would say that Jimmie’s victory at California on Sunday was a fluke, just a great piece of luck, and they would be correct in saying that.  Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson have that going for them though.  Part of it is instinct, part of it is pure luck, but the 48 team has it, and however they do it, they get the job done.

I haven’t read any estimates of the total attendance at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday, and I don’t have much of a feel for it, except that I do know that FOX seemed to avoid camera shots of the grandstands during the race, which tells me all I need to know: 

Many Californians missed a pretty decent race on Sunday.  It’s a shame, but there are valid reasons why, and I’m going to lay it all out for you in a future article here.  I have my theories about why major metropolitan areas seem to not generate great numbers for NASCAR events.  I’ll share them with you at a later date, God willing.

This week, it’s on to Las Vegas.  From Daytona to Southern California to Nevada is a brutal tour for the NASCAR teams’ logistics departments.  So many miles to travel in so little time.  My FDNY hat’s off to all the car hauler drivers, the team hauler drivers, the owners and drivers’ motor coach hauler drivers.  These guys are running a marathon every February, and they do it all very, very well!

I’ve got a lot more thoughts about Sunday, and I will share them soon.

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