About Face: Who is NASCAR?
Guest Column By Cathy Elliott
When a model or actress signs a contract with a cosmetic or clothing company, she becomes what is known as “the face” of the product. If the marketing department is doing its job correctly, anytime consumers see that person’s image — in a movie or on a billboard, for example — ideally they will immediately think of the product being endorsed.
There are some among us who are still unable to watch Gordon Jump in “WKRP in Cincinnati” reruns without thinking of that hapless Maytag repairman, for example. And of course we have all known for years that nothing comes between Brooke Shields and her Calvins.
In an unusually fortuitous meeting of the minds — and the heads that house them — NASCAR has over time evolved into “the face” of corporate sponsorship. Statistics show unequivocally that you would be hard-pressed to find a more brand-loyal bunch than NASCAR fans.
But who, or what, is “the face” of NASCAR?
Well, one could make a strong case for Jimmie Johnson.
Unless you’re a fan of the last guy not named Jimmie Johnson to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title, it would probably require a couple minutes of concentration to come up with his name. (I’ll save you some time; it was Tony Stewart, in 2005.)
For the newest NASCAR fans, Johnson is the only champion they’ve ever known. His success in recent years has been so overwhelming that when his head pops out of that street drain in a popular Lowe’s TV commercial, fans of other drivers have been known to experience an irresistible urge to engage in an impromptu game of Whack-A-Mole.
His number five position in the driver standings headed into Bristol may seem dismal by JJ standards, but those who discount his potential to win a fifth consecutive championship simply have their heads firmly buried in the sand.
Surely Jimmie Johnson is the current face of NASCAR.
But what about Jeff Gordon?
I will never be swayed from my opinion that Gordon was a huge factor in opening the door for NASCAR to enter mainstream America’s sports consciousness. Handsome and articulate, he knocked ‘em dead on Madison Avenue, that smiling visage recommending the use of a cross-section of products ranging from Tag Hauer watches to tackle boxes.
To consider the four-time Cup Series champ’s No. 24 DuPont Chevy anything less than iconic would be an unforgivable disservice to his achievements, both in the sport and for the sport. The look of todayâ€™s NASCAR is the face of Jeff Gordon.
Well, maybe not. Gordon is already a legend and Johnson canâ€™t seem to do anything other than win, but both are eclipsed in popularity by their Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The Earnhardt name is one that may not exactly transcend stock car racing, but surely personifies it. Even those who are completely out of the NASCAR loop recognize Dale Jr. He ranks fourth on Fortune magazine’s list of endorsement superstars. Last year, he was 11th on Sports Illustrated’s Fortunate 500 list. He moves more NASCAR merchandise than many of his competitors combined.
He has been the Hamburger Helper Most Popular Driver Award winner for the past seven years, and there is no reason to believe that will change anytime soon. Fans are euphoric when he is racing well, and despairing when he is not. He affects people.
When millions of fans think about NASCAR, the face in their heads more often than not is that of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Unless they are true blue, dyed-in-the-wool lifelong fans. To them NASCAR’s face may be found in Richard Petty’s smile, Darrell Waltrip’s vocal enthusiasm, or Dale Earnhardt, Sr.â€™s mirrored sunglasses. Given the current state of things, it could even be the Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut.
The face of 2010 could turn out to be Kevin Harvick, who has already clinched a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, has led the driver standings for the majority of the season, and was recently announced the new face of Budweiser. It might be Stewart, who has a history of late-season success, or Kyle Busch, who is just scary good behind the wheel.
The face of NASCAR attends races; it watches them on TV and listens to them on the radio. It shops at Office Depot and Home Depot. It buys Corvettes and eats Hamburger Helper. It wears dog tags and Tag Hauers. NASCARâ€™s image is not a portrait of one, but of many.
Want a closer look? Head to your mirror.
There you will find the true face of NASCAR, staring right back at you.
Watch this short film starring Dale Earnhardt Jr about some of the strange happenings at Talladega.
Here is a quick video clip from NASCAR: The Game 2011. It’s coming in February 2011.
Jimmie Johnson saw his lead over Denny Hamlin shrink to 6 Points in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Standings following Hamlinâ€™s win in the Tums Fast Relief 50 at Martinsville Sunday.
That lead may vanish altogether by Tuesday if NASCAR issues a penalty for a part that was confiscated from the No. 48 Chevrolet before the race started.
Dale Earnhardt Jr led 90 laps in todayâ€™s race after starting from the 28th position. Juniorâ€™s No. 88 was just tight enough to make it fast and he rocketed through the field to the lead.
No. 48 crew chief Chad Knaus saw how fast Junior was coming. H e radioed to Jimmie Johnson â€œif you hear a great scream and roar youâ€™ll know that Dale took the leadâ€ as Earnhardt closed in on the top spot.
As the field closed in on lap 300 that roar happened as Earnhardt passed Jeff Gordon for the lead.
For 90 laps Earnhardt Nation cheered on their driver. But when Dale made a pit stop the adjustments made the car too tight and it would no longer turn in the corners. Earnhardt fell back to finish 7th.
Gordon turned by Busch
Jeff Gordon was a little too aggressive when he made contact as he passed Kurt Busch on lap 385. Busch immediately returned the favor and put Gordon into the inside retaining wall. I donâ€™t think the payback fit the crime. Do you?
Trouble between teammates
Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick had a little dust-up for several laps as both drivers complained that the other was bumping and banging them.
Part Confiscated from No. 48
Prior to the race NASCAR confiscated a drive shaft cover from the No. 48 Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson. The part is headed back to NASCARâ€™s Research & Development in Charlotte.
If the part is found illegal will they issue a penalty or let it slide? A drive shaft cover seems like a pretty insignificant part as far as a competitive advantage goes. But remember that Clint Bowyer was docked 100 Championship Points a few weeks ago for an height infraction that amounted to about the thickness of a quarter.
That penalty cost Bowyer the lead in the Championship standings. Will Jimmie Johnson get the same call?
In the media center after the race Johnson pleaded ignorance about the part in question. â€œI don’t know what you’re speaking about, to be honest with you. Is this before or after, Johnson asked. When told it was a pre-race issue Johnson responded: â€œI don’t have a clue. Not my job, man, as Juan would say. â€œ
Weâ€™ll see what NASCAR has to say.
Mark Martin went 2 laps down early in the race after a crash into the outside wall. Martin rebounded to finish 2nd in a wrecked race car. â€œReally a great time, great recovery from two laps down,â€ said Martin.
â€œThat last hundred laps was fun. I’ve had guys pass me and I wondered how in the world they did that. Now I see how. What an incredible race car that Alan Gustafson and everyone gave me.â€
As always your comments and opinions are welcome. What was your take on the race?
If Dale Earnhardt Jr had stayed with DEI Would He be Better Off Now?
If Dale Jr had stayed with Teresa Earnhardt at DEI would he be enjoying the same kind of success that Jamie McMurray is now.
McMurray drives the No. 1 Chevy for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. The No. 1 car is the Earnhardt half of the team. That car has 3 wins in 2010. Daytona, Indy and Charlotte. Not bad for a driver who was released from Roush Racing last year and for a while did not know if he would have a ride for this year.
McMurrayâ€™s 3 wins are 3 more than Earnhardt has scored with Rick Hendrick this year. That is also one more win than Roush Racing has scored with all 4 of its drivers combined.
You can ask Dale Earnhardt Jr if he should have stayed.
When Dale was asked if he still wanted to own 51% of DEI he didnâ€™t miss a beat. “Actually 100 percent would be nice,” he said bluntly. And he wasnâ€™t kidding.
What do you think; would Dale Jr have been better off if he hadnâ€™t made the switch? Should he go back now?
Today, October 10, 2010 is Dale Earnhardt Jr’s birthday. He is 36 years old.
If Dale Jr can win today’s Pepsi Max 400 at Fontana, California Dale Jr could become only the third driver in NASCAR Cup Series history to win a race on their birthday.
Cale Yarborough and Kyle Busch have done it.
Please leave your birthday wishes for Dale here in the comments.
Without a spot in the Chase Dale Earnhardt Jr has been tasked with helping his teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon win races and a championship.
Dale Jr wasnâ€™t doing a very good job of helping his teammates in the Sylvania 300 Sunday afternoon. He finished 4th â€“ ahead of both Gordon at 6th and Johnson at 25th.
If this is what it means to be the research and development team then Dale Earnhardt Jr needs some more of it.
The chassis setup that crew chief Lance McGrew put on the No. 88 Chevy didnâ€™t look so hot to start with. Earnhardt qualified 32nd. But by mid-race he had rocketed through the field to 6th.
McGrew made a strategic call to stop for fuel only on the final pit stop; a move that allowed Junior to maintain track position and gave him a legitimate shot to finish first or second.
Both Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer elected not to pit. That decision cost Stewart the race when he ran out of fuel â€“ and won the race for Bowyer when he did not.
As the laps began to run out and the leaders began to run on fumes Earnhardtâ€™s chances began to improve.
When race leader Tony Stewart ran out of gas on the white flag lap Dale Jr picked up another spot to finish 4th.
While 4th is not a win it is an improvement as big as the sky. Dale Jr needs those experimental setups every week.
Do you think Chad Knaus will be sharing any more secrets with Dale Jr and Lance McGrew?
Dale Earnhardt Jr uses one of my favorite quotes on this trip to Nashville: “Y’all take it Easy.”
Be sure and let everyone know what you think by leaving your comments.
It’s time for Dale Earnhardt Jr to go somewhere — anywhere — besides Hendrick Motorsports.
With one win in 95 races Hendrick Motorsports has not delivered for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
When Earnhardt signed on with Rick Hendrick he wanted a 3 year contract. It was Rick Hendrick who convinced Junior to sign up on a 5 year plan. Now we know why.
In a normal NASCAR contract Dale Jr’s contract would be almost up. He would be free to go in a few weeks. Instead Dale Jr has 2 years remaining.
Rick Hendrick needs to do the right thing and release Junior now. At least give Dale Jr the option to stay or go.
I say go. What do you say?
Tensions were running a little high in the garage area after the race.
Kevin Harvick secured his spot in the Chase with a win in the Carfax 400 at Michigan International Speedway Sunday.
Harvick chose track position over fresh Goodyears to secure the victory. When other drivers pitted during the final caution Harvick stayed on the track in order to remain near the head of the pack.
That gamble paid off when Harvick passed Denny Hamlin for the lead with just a few laps remaining to take the lead and secure the win.
Dale Jr Very Blunt About It
Dale Earnhardt Jr didnâ€™t appreciate being questioned about his teamâ€™s chances of making the Chase by ESPN reporter Marty Smith.
â€œI really donâ€™t give a shit about it,â€ said Dale Earnhardt Jr. â€œIâ€™m going home.â€
â€œI busted my ass all day â€“ so Iâ€™m gonna hit the house.â€
It was pretty obvious that junior was very angry about another 19th place finish. It was also very obvious that he was in no mood to talk about it.
But the banter made one thing crystal clear. Earnhardt very obviously does care about his teamâ€™s performance â€“ and he is not happy about it.
You have to wonder how much longer Dale Jr will put up with the crew and equipment Hendrick Motorsports is putting behind him.
Logano and Newman Tussle
Ryan Newman and Joey Logano went toe to toe for a few minutes following the race. The conversation when Logano poked Newman in the chest and Newman returned the favor to Logano. NASCAR Officials had to step in and separate the two just before punches were thrown.
Newman was unhappy with Logano after Loganoâ€™s Toyota clipped the rear of Newmanâ€™s Chevy sending Newman spinning into the infield.
After the incident Logano complained that Newman always races everyone too hard. But hard tracing is what built NASCAR â€“ itâ€™s what fans pay to see. There is no such thing as racing too hard.
Will the tensions carry over to Bristolâ€™s Night Race next week? What do you think?