Ingram: His Fans Are Not Exactly Fanatical
By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer
Greetings from the Monday Morning Crew Chief:
In a very unofficial nationwide survey, I recently tried to find some Jimmie Johnson fans. I checked out bars and honky tonks in Atlanta. I talked to the neighbors. I called those I knew to be NASCAR fans on the East Coast and the West Coast.
A recent survey by Taylor, a well-known public relations firm, turned up similar results. Five drivers – including all three of Johnson’s teammates at Hendrick Motorsports! – were considered more popular and Johnson’s name wasn’t even mentioned.
All this seems strange to me, because Johnson himself said during his stretch drive to an unprecedented fourth-straight Sprint Cup championship that his fan base was growing.
It seems odd, too, that when Cale Yarborough won three straight titles in the 1970’s, people hailed the man from Timmonsville, S.C. as a very worthy hero. Way back when, while writing for the newspaper in Durham, N.C., I compared Yarborough and team owner Junior Johnson to Stengel’s Yankees, Auerbach’s Celtics and Lombardi’s Packers. In general, there were huzzahs all around for Yarborough from the grandstands, press box and garage.
After my own recent informal survey, I now realize the problem.
Jimmie’s fans are like Jimmie. They may love winning, but they’re unassuming and humble, like a good next-door neighbor. They’re also aware that Johnson tends to get some of the blame for all that is perceived to be wrong with NASCAR. This may make Johnson’s fans doubly shy compared to those of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, and Kyle Busch – the five drivers mentioned in the Taylor survey.
Entering this season, Johnson wasn’t even considered the favorite by many despite winning three straight titles. Carl Edwards, he of nine victories in 2008, was nominated to take the championship mantle. Didn’t happen, but like the fan base of Dale Earnhardt Jr. I doubt Edwards is losing fans during his winless campaign.
I also doubt Johnson is losing fans during his winning streak. So it again comes back to the idea that Johnson’s fans are less boisterous, don’t have his decals on their personal vehicles as often as Earnhardt Jr. and and don’t boo the opposition, whether it’s Gordon or Kyle Busch.
Judging by the responses to Monday Morning Crew Chief, Johnson’s fans tend not to respond to the comments section and instead send a private e-mail whenever they have praise for Jimmie. One e-mail I received was typical. It recounted the first time the sender had ever seen Johnson race and why Johnson has remained at the top of this fan’s list of favorite drivers.
In the survey by the Taylor firm, which addressed the question of how sponsors can best use their presence in NASCAR, it was pointed out that different demographic segments have different responses to drivers. Those under the age of 24 find Kyle Busch most popular. But he doesn’t beat Earnhardt Jr., Gordon, Martin or Stewart when all the survey votes are counted, especially among older fans.
To coin a phrase, Johnson’s fans might be likened to the Middle Majority. His fans are somewhere in the middle, not so old, not too young. They show up and they wear the colors but without the same missionary zeal of those from the days of Gordon versus Dale Earnhardt Sr. Or Tony Stewart versus the world. Or the current era of Kyle Busch versus the older generation – and anybody else who gets in between him and victory lane.
So what does this all mean? The last thing the 2009 season needs is another hacking, dicing and fileting of the perceived problems of NASCAR via a big “think piece”. So this is not it.
Back in the day when he was still driving and winning, writers used to gather around Richard Petty to take up the subject of the state of the sport. “The King” while puffing on one of his slender cigars, would sum it up with some of his usual country wisdom as the smoke curled into the air but the idea became clear.
The imparted wisdom often became the general consensus because most of the writers who followed stock car racing from week to week were from the Southeast, there was no television and the unhinged opinions that go with it, most of the fans came from a similar background, the sport was not quite yet major league, but Richard Petty damn sure was.
It’s a more diverse sport these days with more opinions in the garage, media center (which has replaced the press box) and grandstands. Despite all this, I bet every fan who showed up at Homestead with a camera took a picture or two of Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy. They then went home and saved the photos for posterity – but probably bragged more about being at an historic season finale than having a photo of Jimmie Johnson’s car.
Stats of the Week: This info comes from a forum and a contributor who goes by the handle of amalycke. I couldn’t help but admire this person’s diligence, a sure sign the end is not nigh for NASCAR.
During the 2009 Sprint Cup season, the driver who drove the cars with the most different numbers was David Gilliland (in part because he twice drove different cars for TRG Motorsports and Robby Gordon Motorsports). In all, Gilliland drove seven cars with different numbers.
The crew chief who worked with the most different teams in the Sprint Cup was Doug Richert, who had four different stops.
The car owner with the most different drivers – I guess this means he wins the wheeler dealer award – was none other than James Finch, who had eight wheelmen.
The only stat missing was which driver competed under the most different sponsorships or paint schemes over the course of the season.
Another interesting stat would be this one. Given the rather loose reins exercised by NASCAR on the number of cars per team, which team had the most entries, i.e. chassis and engines, in any one race.
Quote of the Week: Englishman Steve Hallam, who moved to Michael Waltrip Racing this year from the 2008 world championship Formula One team of McLaren, has recently finished a long and fruitful first season in NASCAR. His job as director of race car engineering for MWR, said Hallam, had its early moments of confusion.
“My first impressions were at the Bud Shootout in Daytona. I had a crib sheet to explain to me, that I would refer to on a daily basis, that whole three weeks of Speed Weeks. The process of taking part in the Daytona 500 is a very drawn out affair. It’s a traditional process. I would think that in 2010 I should enjoy it. In 2009 I didn’t know what was coming at me from which direction.”
Tech Talk: It’s no secret why some teams have been more dominant in the Car of Tomorrow. Those in front have learned how to use the bump stops and shocks to get better compliance from both front tires in the corners. Before the COT, teams just put the cars on the deck with aerodynamics, no longer possible with the front end spoiler, which forces teams to keep the cars at a minimum ride height or risk breaking the all-important spoiler.
As always, weight transfer and rate of weight transfer all enter into the equation of getting the COT’s through the corners, not just the abnormally high center of gravity, as well as coil-bound springs and anti-roll bars in addition to the shocks, bump stops and Goodyear’s tires.
NASCAR officials have found everything from Super Balls cut in half to purpose-built plastic pieces used as “stoppers” in the pursuit of front-end handling in the corners. All teams keep a large box of shims on their trucks to adjust their shocks by the tiniest of increments.
Whatever you do, don’t ask crew chiefs to share info on shocks or bump stops. Some teams have entire crews of engineers working in this area.
From the looks of things at a hotly contested Homestead race, including the performance of some Fords, Toyotas and the Chevys of Richard Childress Racing, more teams have figured out that equation. Should make things interesting in 2010.
See ya! …At the races.
– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments