Keeping Pace

History Being Made Deserves The Hype

Associated Press Jimmie Johnson will be on front row  at California 500: Fox 28 at 2 p.m. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Associated Press Jimmie Johnson will be on front row at California 500: Fox 28 at 2 p.m. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

It’s a pretty safe bet to say that the 42 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers on the track who are not named Jimmie Johnson probably feel the times they are currently living in are pretty interesting, although their descriptive term of choice might be a little more, shall we say, colorful.

Guest Column By Cathy Elliott

There’s an old Chinese proverb which says, “May you live in interesting times.”

OK, that’s not entirely truthful. It isn’t a proverb; it’s a curse.

“Interesting times,” you see, aren’t always good times. It just depends on which side of the fence you find yourself standing.

So it’s a pretty safe bet to say that the 42 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers on the track who are not named Jimmie Johnson probably feel the times they are currently living in are pretty interesting, although their descriptive term of choice might be a little more, shall we say, colorful.

That’s right. We’re going to talk about Jimmie Johnson again.

If there is one even slightly negative thing to say about the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, it is that once the 12-driver field of contenders is determined and the Chase gets under way, there is a decided lack of interest in anything else that is going on.

Yes, other non-Chase drivers can still win races -- although none of them have, headed into Martinsville. While that’s cool and exciting for those drivers and their fans and their sponsors, when Dec. 4 rolls around and it’s time to turn on the TV and break out the celebratory popcorn and dark chocolate M&M’s (don’t laugh, they make a yummy couple), those other drivers won’t be gracing the stage at the season-ending awards banquet in Las Vegas.

Look at it this way. If the Cubs, Red Sox and all those other beloved baseball franchises not currently contending for the 2009 World Series championship were still out there playing anyway, we as fans would still be watching the games, rooting for our team of choice to win.

But at the same time, we’d always have one observant eye trained on the Phillies and the Yankees (or Angels). And if one team were up 3-0 in the Series with home field advantage, the lion’s share of our baseball discussion time would be focused on that team.

Well, guess what? Like it or not, Jimmie Johnson is up 3-0 in the Chase, with home field advantage.

The current epidemic of JJ Eye-Rolling Syndrome is beginning to bug me. People are talking about the tune-out factor, saying that interest in the Chase is decreased because all Johnson really has left to do this season is find a spot in his trophy case for the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup. 

They facetiously wonder if he has all his Sprint Cups lined up in a row like massive Chia Pets, gleaming cheerily at him as he walks past. They say all this NASCAR deja vu is getting a little boring.

Deep, restorative breath ... ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?

How often have you heard, and probably used, the expression that history repeats itself? In athletics, that’s only partially true, because the sports world is a land governed by numbers and statistics. Records rule. And sports fans have the unique ability to recognize something special while it is happening, to celebrate their tacit participation in a feat never before achieved.

It is something to be proud of.

Remember the summer of 1998, when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire battled it out under the national spotlight in pursuit of Roger Maris’ home run record? Television networks would actually cut away from whatever they were currently broadcasting whenever McGwire or Sosa came up to bat. Yes, there was some subsequent controversy, but at the time, those two guys and their quest to break one of the most sacred records in all of sports were credited for the resurgence of baseball’s popularity in America.

Did we “tune out” in 2005 when Lance Armstrong attempted to become the only person in history to win the Tour de France seven times? Of course not. Do we even care about cycling? Nope. But we cared about that record, and our eyes misted up a little as the old one fell and a new one rose up to take its place.

Plus, Armstrong kicked some French derriere seven years in a row. Bonus.

Yes, it would be great for Tony Stewart to win a championship in his first season as a team owner, for Jeff Gordon to complete his Drive For Five, or for Mark

Martin to claim the title that has eluded him for so long. No argument there.

But right now, with Jimmie Johnson, we could be seeing something bigger than any of those things. With a fourth consecutive championship looking like a very real possibility, he may be about to accomplish something that legendary drivers like Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Cale Yarborough -- although he came closest -- were not able to do.

Boring? Ha. TV should be cutting away from its other sports programming at the end of every NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race for the remainder of the season to update viewers on Johnson’s standing. That could possibly generate some tuning in rather than out. 
 
History does sometimes repeat itself, but the times we remember best -- its most interesting times -- are the ones when it threatens to outdo itself.

This is one of those times.





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Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.






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