I don’t think there is any doubt that the best team in NASCAR’s top series is the No. 48 car at Hendrick Motorsports. Recent races seem to verify this, and Jimmie Johnson has many fans, but after watching the NBA finals tonight, I couldn’t help to draw an analogy between not only the Miami Heat and the Lowe’s Chevrolet team, but to LeBron James and Jimmie Johnson. Stay with me here. It’s all about domination and how we deal with it. It’s not a pretty picture for some.
You win too much and people begin to just root for anyone else but you. The New York Yankees know this well and so do the Big Red Machine. Folks like a lot of variety and that rarely is the way it is in sports. The Yankees inspired a play called “Damn Yankees.” The 1970-1976 Cincinnati Reds team had people rooting against them. Jeff Gordon was maligned by fans when he was at the top of his game. Many hated the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. It’s just the way it is. So it is with Jimmie Johnson’s Lowes No. 48 Chevrolet team. They used to say “anybody but Gordon” and “anybody but the Yankees.” Today it’s “anybody but Johnson.”
Tuesday night, I’ve never seen so much wailing and gnashing of teeth after a game. LeBron James must have been the antichrist. The Miami Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs tonight in game five of the NBA playoffs, and all fans harped about was James and the Heat. Maybe it has a lot to do with confidence and maybe just a little arrogance. James, when he was changing teams from Cleveland to Miami, made boast about championships and during the season talking about domination. And then going out and doing it.
All the vitriol is aimed at Johnson in NASCAR, but a lot of it falls on Chad Knaus, the crew chief of the five-time championship team. Knaus is so calculated he seems like a character from some science fiction movie where the brilliant scientist is so smart that he seems not of this earth. Johnson doesn’t help when he calls every loss, “the one that got away.” The result is that many fans just root for anyone to win the race. Maybe I should change that to anyone but Kyle Busch, but that’s another story.
Greg Biffle won Sunday’s race at Michigan, but television and media in general spent little time with Biffle, a guy who led the points going into the Chase last year, and has a solid career in Camping World Trucks, Nationwide Series races and Cup. It seemed it was all about Johnson, Junior, Kahne, Jeff Gordon, and this week, Tony Stewart. Meanwhile Biffle was the lap leader and winner, but it’s like everyone knows when the final races comes along, Johnson is going to be there, just like last year and most every year for the last seven or eight years. He may not win every year, but he’s always in the background and he is ready to take the title.
This year, despite a couple of devastating races, he’s nearly an entire race ahead of anyone else in the points and many are rooting for anyone else to win at the end, just like those who would never be San Antonia Spurs fans are sitting with clenched fists to win the NBA title. Its normal and the way it’s been as long as I’ve lived (too long to tell you). Just like at Dover and Michigan, someone else won, but at Pocono, all the things moved into place.
Racing is a strange sport. Just as someone or some team seemed to be in control, another unlikely team comes out of nowhere to win. Witness the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011, the Cincinnati Reds in 1990, and the New York Giants in 2011. Nothing is a sure thing, but many will be rooting against Johnson and Knaus, just like they did Petty, Pearson, Yarborough, Elliott, Lorenzen, Waltrip, and Earnhardt. In the end, the cream will rise to the top. And that bothers some, but that’s sports.