NASCAR feels the Michael Schumacher effect thanks to Jimmie Johnson

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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.


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

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  1. 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.

    1. SPRINT is the name of one of the biggest cellular companies in the United States. They’re like Orange or Vodafone.

      …except their phones don’t work

      1. so true.

  2. 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

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

    Dear God!!!

  4. 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.

  5. geez, it’s 00-04, not 00-05!!!

  6. Paige Michael-Shetley
    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.

  7. Praveen Titus
    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.

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

  9. 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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