By Darrell Waltrip
Well the Chase for the Sprint Cup rolls on and its almost like dj vu all over again.
Watching Jimmie Johnson dominate the last couple of weeks, its so reminiscent of the way he and crew chief Chad Knaus have gone about their business in the Chase. They are so methodical. Quite honestly, when I say his supporting cast, Im not talking about the people working on his car. Im not talking about Chad and the pit crew and all those guys. Im talking about the guys hes racing against.
Youve got to give Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, those guys a lot of credit because we know they are talented race car drivers. We know they are as good as there is in this sport today. What does Jimmie Johnson do? He beats them. I think that makes a statement. I think that makes a statement about how good Jimmie is. If you dont think Jimmie Johnson is a wheel man; if you dont think hes got desire or heart and is committed, just watch the last few laps of the race at Texas, just watch the last few laps of the race at Martinsville.
The guy is a pro.
Ive lived through these periods of dominance. When I came into NASCAR, Richard Petty was the most dominant driver in this sport. Richard was a little different. That was at a time when the sport was pretty much blue-collar and it was all in the Carolinas and Richard was a hometown hero.
As time when on, I lived through the personal era when I had my success. I lived through the Earnhardt era, when Dale was certainly not the most popular driver. He had a lot of fans and a lot of people liked Dale, but a lot of people didnt and he get boos all the time. Then I lived through the Jeff Gordon era and I never understood why Jeff Gordon got booed the way he did at that time, but it was because he was better than everybody else. He won a lot, he won championships and he was just better than everybody else.
Now Im living through the Jimmie Johnson era and its the same thing. All these guys have one thing in common most people didnt like it when they were dominating this sport. Its not like a football game. You go to a football game and youve got two teams. Youve got one side of the grandstands and theyre pulling for one team and youve got the other side of the grandstands and theyre pulling for the home team and so youve got a rivalry between the two teams, so youre team either wins or loses.
I've thought about this. Maybe we should divide the field in half. Maybe we should have Jimmie Johnsons half of the field against Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s half of the field and maybe more people would leave the track happy than are leaving happy today. Because if your guy doesnt win, if Dale doesnt win or if Brad doesnt win or Kyle doesnt win or Jeff or Denny Hamlin any of the guys that are winning races then if thats your man and he doesnt win, then youve had a bad day. You didnt like that race. The race was boring, the officiating was bad, they threw cautions when they werent necessary for debris, dont like the restart rule, dont like the wavearound rule. But if your guy wins, and he happened to get to take advantage of the wavearound or that double-file restart or the Lucky Dog rule, then you love the sport.
And thats kind of where we are these days. I dont know what happened to the time - I used to love to go to the race and I liked perfection. I used to love to go and watch the car and driver and crew and they would be trying to beat everybody, they get paid to beat everybody, thats their job, and the only way to do that was to be better than everybody, so your cars go to be better, your crews got to be better, your drivers got to be better.
Now we go to the racetrack, were looking for something spectacular to happen. Were looking for a spectacle instead of perfection. Quite honestly, all of us in the media, in NASCAR, everybody is trying to deliver that spectacular event every week and its just not going to happen that way. You cant orchestrate a race. It has to have its natural flow. If there are no wrecks, no blown engines, no tires blowing out, no reason for a caution, then you cant throw a caution and I dont think NASCAR does.
I think theyve got spotters around the racetrack and those spotters are telling them exactly what they see on the track. If a guy is sitting in the corner and sees something blow across the track or roll down the track hes got to report that. They cant take a chance, so they always err on the side of safety. So those caution flags that we always question, all the time they are calling those caution periods for safety reasons and to be cautious and to err on the side of safety. I understand that.
But as to the perfection thing, perfection is boring. When you see somebody that does everything right, does everything perfect, well thats kind of boring. And when you see somebody winning all the time and beating everybody because theyre better than everybody else, their car is better, their crew is better, their crew chief is smarter, car is faster, thats kind of boring. But its what we strive for.
As a team, as a driver, thats what we strive for. We go to the track every week trying to make sure we get the absolute magic setup and have the perfect car for 500 miles. Thats every driver and every crew chiefs goal and thats what you dream about is having a car that is a perfect car every week.
Do we get it? No. But what we do get is were better than everybody else. Then we have to leave it up to the intangibles, to the things we cant control, whether its luck or weather or tires or cautions those are intangibles. Those are things you cant control.
Thats what makes racing unpredictable.
When you go to a race, let your expectations be that youre going to watch for a crew and a team and a driver that on that particular day were better than everybody else. Thats what you want. Maybe youre not a fan, but maybe you should be because it takes a lot of things to fall in place for one driver to be better than the other 42. Trust me, its not easy. Like I said, Ive lived through it; I know what its like. I know how much work goes into building cars, preparing cars, racing cars and having the racing gods smile on you with some good luck.
Jeff Gordon is the perfect example of a great driver thats had nothing but bad luck this year. It bites him almost every week. I tell him all the time, and Ive told other drivers this, weve got so much luck in the luck bank, and when we finally run out of luck and were overdrawn in the luck bank, then things are not going to go our way. The thing I have not figured out is how we make a deposit, put that luck back in there. The only way I know how to do that is to keep trying. You know youre good, you know youve got a good car, you know youve got a good team, youve just got to keep trying.
Denny Hamlin is the same way. Bad luck hes had bad racing luck, particularly in the Chase. You cant give up, youve got to keep trying, fighting back. Youve got to rely on what you know. Stick to what you know. You know you can beat the other guys and everything goes right. On the days it doesnt, well youve got to suck it up and get ready for the next race.
So, lets break it down just a little bit. Weve got a good race car, weve got a great driver, weve got a great crew. Even the competition, rising above the competition, thats something that you have to be able to do to be perfect. Ive seen a lot of teams, Ive seen a lot of driver-crew chief combinations, but Ive never seen one quite as successful and quite as good and on the same page week in and week out as Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus.
Thats a winning team.
Oh by the way
People are always saying Jimmie wouldnt be as good if he didnt have Chad. I dont argue that one bit, but they know that and thats why theyve stuck together for 10 years. They know theyre good together, they know they can win a lot of races and championships if they stick together and thats smart.
Ill just say this. When those last few laps at Texas, when they dropped the green flag on that green-white-checkered, I didnt see Chad Knaus in that car with Jimmie Johnson. I just saw Jimmie Johnson in there, doing what he does best, wheeling a race car better than everybody else. Was he perfect? Well he was the closest thing to perfect that Ive seen in a long time. Why dont we just call him Mr. Perfect.
And oh by the way
The restart thing? Thats a crapshoot, thats a coin toss. NASCAR has convoluted up the restart zone so much with so many lines and boxes and cant go before here, cant go before there that its gotten almost out of control. Theres so many things you have to watch for and so many things that you can get penalized for that it truly has become kind of a crapshoot. Did he go too early? Did he go too late? Was he in the box? Was he out of the box? Was it before the line? Was it after the line? Did he spin his tires? Too many things are trying to be controlled over something as simple as coming down, cars side by side, the green flag comes out and you go.
Its pretty obvious to me that if one guy goes before the other, then that guy should get black flagged and sent to the rear. Pretty much solves that problem. Wouldnt have to do it but about once or twice.