NASCAR feels the Michael Schumacher effect thanks to Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson in action at Bristol Motor Speedway

Jimmie Johnson in action at Bristol Motor Speedway

Domination by one driver was the name of the game in F1 in the first half of the decade. Michael Schumacher and Ferrari swept all before them as he won five consecutive drivers’ championships.

But that sort of thing doesn’t happen in NASCAR, where every race is decided by a slipstreaming battle to the chequered flag and a 20-car pile-up. Does it?

Actually it does – Californian Jimmie Johnson is on the verge of an historic fourth consecutive championship win. But is it causing NASCAR fans to switch off in the way many F1 fans did in the Schumacher years?

Like Schumacher, Johnson has equalled the record for the most consecutive championship wins in his category. Schumacher matched (and later exceeded) Juan Manuel Fangio’s record of four. Last year Johnson reached Cale Yarborough?s previously unmatched three consecutive NASCAR titles.

And like Schumacher, Johnson is now poised to raise the bar even higher. With five races left to run in 2009 he leads the championship with 5,923 points to Mark Martin’s 5,833. (NASCAR’s complicated points system is explained here). Here’s how their seasons of dominance compare so far:

Michael Schumacher

2000: F1 world champion, 9/17 wins
2001: F1 world champion, 9/17 wins
2002: F1 world champion, 11/17 wins
2003: F1 world champion, 6/16 wins
2004: F1 world champion, 13/18 wins

Jimmie Johnson

2006: NASCAR champion, 5/36 wins
2007: NASCAR champion, 10/36 wins
2008: NASCAR champion, 7/36 wins
2009: NASCAR championship leader, 6/31 wins, five races remaining

Yes, Johnson’s race wins hit-rate is nothing like as strong as Schumacher’s – but that says more about the differences between NASCAR and F1. With a huge field of entries, very tight technical regulations, more than twice as many races as F1, and multi-car pile-ups commonplace, NASCAR is harder for one man to dominate.

One-driver domination rarely makes for an entertaining championship. F1 discovered this in the Schumacher years: even at Schumacher and Ferrari’s home races (all four of them) ticket sales began to dip and TV ratings suffered as the red team pole-axed their rivals week in, week out. Now NASCAR has the same problem.

F1’s governing body reacted by trying to make the championship harder to win. In 2003 points were extended down to eighth place and second suddenly became worth eight points instead of six, while a win remained valued at ten. The aim of the change was clear: the FIA did not want the world championship being decided in July again.

Will NASCAR follow suit and try to find some artificial means of putting obstacles in Jimmie Johnson’s way?

And will F1 one day see a repeat of Schumacher-like levels of dominance by another driver-team combination? Who among today’s drivers could do it?

I don’t follow NASCAR much beyond reading the race write-ups in Autosport, so I’d be especially interested to hear what NASCAR-watchers think of Johnson and how his championship streak compares with Schumacher’s.

NB. I’m not getting myself tied up in NASCAR’s sponsor-based title definitions. Suffice to say when I say ‘NASCAR champion’ I mean whatever the premier category was called in that year, be it the Sprint/NEXTEL/Winston/whatever Cup.


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79 comments on NASCAR feels the Michael Schumacher effect thanks to Jimmie Johnson

  1. JHunt said on 22nd October 2009, 12:50

    Seems quite a lot of people watching and chatting online and supporting 42.. maybe its just the channel i was on though who knows… many people thinks its only turning left in circles but you have to consider that JPM is probably one of the best drivers out there, already previously mastered ovals, and it takes him so long to get into the thick of things, then maybe its not as easy as it looks…. and anyway it beats the crap out of watching F1 cars going around Barcelona. The other thing is not sure Piquet’s ‘special skillset’ will be useful here, since there is so many yellows anyway …

    • luigismen said on 22nd October 2009, 18:04

      I agree… by the way, I’ve been watching nascar lately to see JPM (big fan of him) and I used to think that it was boring, but when you’re routing for some driver it really get exciting or kinf of.
      I’ve been enjoying the last races, that and because JPM has been getting good results, so, I think it’s not that bad

      • Very good- JPM’s emergence as a legit contender is a good thing for NASCAR. Just to see another quality contender is valuable in many ways, but it is quite fun to see a former F1 guy make it over here.

  2. TommyB said on 22nd October 2009, 13:13

    Ok Keith I actually didn’t guess the article right! Infact I got it the other way round! Good article though, I don’t really follow NASCAR because I don’t like it. Too many laps, too many ovals and I don’t like the cars.

  3. Why in some sports are great champions lauded, respected and revered but in others they are accredited with the stagnation and downfall of the sport?

    Manchester United have won six of the last ten Premier League titles and in that time Premier League viewing figures and revenues have risen along with their massive world wide fan base.

    Lance Armstrong won seven Tour de France in a row during which he pretty much courted as much controversy Schumacher yet was never viewed in a similar pejorative light and was generally idolized.

    Federer, Sampras, Tiger Woods, no one said Joe Calzaghe was bad for boxing because he didn’t loose, they didn’t say that about Marciano and I bet they didn’t say that about Fangio. No one said it was bad or boring watching Michael Phelps win any event he cared to enter in the Beijing Olympics.

    Media reporting has a big effect on public opinion and if news outlets decide to put a negative spin on a champions success then people will believe it without ever really appreciating what makes that champion stand out from the surrounding mediocrity, what it takes to be a really great champion.

  4. I been watching almost every Nascar race this season.
    Being a JPM Fan since his F3000 days :)

    It’s just really really different, but I must say I respect those guys. 3 to 4 hours racing. It’s just a very differect discipline. Keep your concentration and good positioning etc etc.

    It’s different but fun imo.
    But many can’t appriciate it (or haven’t even watched a few races)

    • Very well said! I am not a huge NASCAR guy, but I watch many of the races and follow the series…it’s impressive, just different in its own way.

  5. Keith I can break this down for you on how JJ is doing it. About 6 years ago a driver named Kenseth won the Winston Cup Championship with 1 win. But he was so consitant in top 5s and 10s that no one could catch him. The next year NASCAR came up wit a play off system. the top 10 cars and all other with in 400 points where in. The first season of this the title was one by 7 points (JJ was in second). The next year Stewart won it. The next year they changed the system again. Now it is the top 12 in points and after the 26 races with the final 10 you get seeded by how many wins you have. So you could be 500 out and have 6 wins and not be in the lead. JJ dose not dominate the regular season. He dominates the Chase. The last four years have been that way he just turns it up and no one catches him. Yes it makes people mad and people dont seem to like domination in motosports. In this year thought the first 4 races you had three guys close. However the next race you had them have issues and JJ had none in fact he won. People are quick to forget that this is nothing new in racing but just cant deal with it. Hope that explains the layout of NASCAR. BTW now that the championship is known is anyone going to watch the last F1 Race. I am on the fence about that.

    • AJ Ball said on 22nd October 2009, 16:20

      We going to watch it to see how a $36 billion track can look so boring?

      • Spot on AJ :) But NASCAR has their own versions of such tracks as well…nearly all of the newer circuits fall into the “cookie-cutter” designation. They typically are big and expansive, letting the field stretch out so much that the action is quite boring.

        Just like F1 fans love Monaco, Suzuka, Spa, and Interlagos…NASCAR people love Bristol, Richmond, Daytona, and the like.

    • Steph90 said on 22nd October 2009, 18:59

      Jess I am watching last race because I am an f1 fanatic, I have not liked this championship one bit but I did not stop watching and not it is over I certainly won’t quit it now.
      Thankls for NASCAR explanation/ :)

      • Steph90,

        Your welcome and thanks for reading it. I will propbly watch the race. For me it is this way. I love NASCAR for the Drivers. I love F1 (and AMLS) for the cars.

  6. MtlRacer said on 22nd October 2009, 18:29

    To clarify for those who are not aware:
    The NASCAR Championship is called the “Sprint Cup” because SPRINT is the corporate sponsor. SPRINT is the name of one of the biggest cellular companies in the United States. They’re like Orange or Vodafone.

  7. jason said on 22nd October 2009, 19:24

    i also have no idea how most people stay glued to the screen all thru the nascar season, but after doing some research somthing that we have gone through recently in f1 but is an old time favorite for nascar i’m talking about the piquet crash gate it seams that has done this for 10+ years in nascar. hey is a driver you don’t want at the front don’t worry in 2 laps we will have someone crash on purpose to bring out a yellow flag and SC and boom your right to the front, the only thing i can compare nascar to it’s like when you used to play with matchbox car and anything went no rules.

    it dosn’t help that almost every track is left left left left left left left left left left left left left left left left left left maybe only 2 tracks like infenion where there is the challenge of right and left turns heaven forbid

  8. (NASCAR’s complicated points system is explained here).

    Dear God!!!

  9. Travis R said on 22nd October 2009, 23:19

    Another aspect of NASCAR I’ve grown to dislike is the emergence of large teams. One of the appeals that I saw in NASCAR was that a single car underdog team could compete. That has become pretty much impossible.

    For example, Roush Racing currently has a 5 car team. There is a new rule going into effect soon (next year, I believe) that will limit a team to 4 cars. So, to skirt these rules, Roush then partners with another team, such as Yates Racing and supplies them with engines and chassis. I am not sure where Yates stands nowadays, but they had 2 or 3 cars at one point. This essentially builds a 7 or 8 car team, and next year Yates would just go to 4 cars and Roush would even move the driver over (although I am not certain this will actually happen anymore – sponsorship dollars have become difficult to gain in NASCAR with the economy). All of the Fords out there were Roush cars.

    Same thing goes for Hendricks Motorsports – they have a 4 car team (including Jimmie Johnson), and provide engines and chassis to Tony Stewart’s Stewart-Haas 2 car team. They probably supply other teams, too.

    So, then you have teams like Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI) merging, and also forming a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing (RCR) to fight these superteams. It gets really inbred – I’ve lost track of it all.

    Last I heard, even Petty Enterprises is no longer the team they once were, having been through a couple of mergers now, and looking at merging with Yates. These are a couple of old school teams that couldn’t survive. A one or two car team has virtually no chance of even a top ten finish. That irks some of the older fans who grew up worshipping “The King” Richard Petty, and they’re being driven away, too.

    Being a big fan of the underdog story, I don’t like this concept at all, but it’s what teams have to do to survive. Guys like Tony Stewart (who is a hell of a racer and a smart businessman, too) are applying some of this thinking to the lower grassroots series by. Tony Stewart formed the first two car World of Outlaws team (2 outlaws working together? That just doesn’t make sense! Then again, a league of Outlaws is kind of weird in principle, considering where the concept came from, but that’s another story…), and now his driver, Donny Schatz, has dominated the last few years. It just makes it harder for the underdog to even get a start. It needs to stop soon. If I were King of all Motorsports, I would like to see a two car per team limit placed, and something where a team can supply engines or chassis to other teams, but not both.

    This megateam concept also ushers in another bad thing – the “start and park” teams: A small team can’t compete, but they can still make money. They show up to the handier races with a driver, car, and a skeleton crew. They attempt to qualify the car, hopefully make the field, run a few laps of the race, and then park the car with some phantom mechanical issue. They do this because the last place money in NASCAR pays pretty well. If they get lucky and avoid a first lap incident, they might pick up a few more spots. I guess there’s really not much NASCAR can do to stop it, but it is very unsportsmanlike, I think.

    Anyway, sorry if I’m ranting – I sometimes find myself getting really frustrated with the state of motorsports.

  10. hamz0rs said on 23rd October 2009, 1:18

    geez, it’s 00-04, not 00-05!!!

  11. Paige Michael-Shetley said on 23rd October 2009, 4:23

    I would not say that the NASCAR championship is decided just yet when the race at Talladega is still yet to run. Restrictor plate races are massively unpredictable given the always very strong possibility of a massive 15-25 car crash, and historically they shake up the championship standings significantly.

    Johnson could lose as much as 50-80 points from his lead if he is caught in such an accident. This could put guys like Martin, Gordon, and Stewart right back in the Championship fight.

    And it’s not as if Johnson has a massive performance advantage right now. The aforementioned drivers are just as strong right now; they just haven’t quite had the luck.

  12. Praveen Titus said on 23rd October 2009, 7:02

    It does get boring in NASCAR with Johnson always winning championships. What’s happened to Jeff Gordon? Kyle Busch won a few races this year but his inconsistency has robbed him of a Chase birth. But my eyes are on Juan Pablo Montoya. If he could win the championship, he would finally achieve in NASCAR what he couldn’t in Formula One, though it looks unlikely.

    It’s not only the dominance of a driver in NASCAR, but like Ferrari in F1 from 2000 to 2004, there’s also a dominant team in NASCAR – Hendrick Motorsports. With the exception of Earnhardt Jr, all its drivers are in the 2009 Chase with Johnson and Mark Martin leading the standings.

  13. Arun Srini said on 23rd October 2009, 11:13

    I can only laugh at your dislike for Schumacher!! Just read ‘the edge of greatness’, loved it, loved the guy even more

  14. Ieuan said on 2nd November 2009, 10:01

    F1 fans did not turn off because Schumacher won 4 in a row, they turned off because the title was being decided in July mathematically but in reality it was all over in May.

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