Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Ryan Newman again Mr. Friday...while Jimmie Johnson watches Twitter all atwitter over complaints he isn't a 'real' athlete

 Ryan Newman: NASCAR's Mr. Friday, back in gear, at track record speed, on Goodyear's new tires. But Sunday? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


    LOUDON, N.H.
    What's this, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart 1-2 for Sunday's Lenox 301?
    Yes, the struggling teammates, Newman and owner-driver Stewart, both fighting to stay top-12 and in the hunt for the championship playoffs, in what has been an up-and-down season, led a record-breaking day at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Newman, on the pole at 135.232 mph, was one of 11 men breaking the record.
   "It's a new tire, that's part of it," Newman said.
   "Two tires or four, on pit stops? We'll know more after Saturday's practice; some guys may take two tires on pit stops after 20 laps, some guys may take two tires (only) on pit stops after 60 laps.
    "I've always said this track is the birthplace of 'track position,' so we'll see how it plays out."
   This tire combination is new here but it's the same tire combination used earlier this season at Phoenix and Richmond.
   However what happened on the track was rather routine, compared to what has been happening off the track.
   There of course is the great Kentucky traffic debate, which is becoming increasingly contentious, and apparently playing up even more prominently the long-running political split between rival promoters Bruton Smith (who owns Kentucky Speedway and this track) and the France family (which also owns NASCAR itself).
   And then there is this Twitter storm......
   Jimmie Johnson brushes it off, the Twitter snub this week from little-known but now controversial NFL player Golden Tate.
   Carl Edwards, on the other hand, finds it all humorous.  
    When Johnson, who won AP Athlete of the Year in 2009, was nominated for an ESPN athlete of the year award, Tate Twittered some caustic comments….which rapidly changed as reaction poured in.

   -- "Jimmy Johnson up for best athlete???? Um nooo .. Driving a car does not show athleticisms."
   -- "I've driven a car on unknown roads at night at 90mph no big deal. No sign of athletism"
   -- "Guarantee he couldn't in million year play any SPORT"
   -- "man get these rednecks off me."
   -- "I'm just saying not worthy of best athlete award by no means."
   -- "I'm not saying NASCAR isn't hard I'm just saying u don't have to be athletic to do that..."
   -- "Apologies for my offensive comment to NASCAR fans. I actually read up on it and NO I couldn't race a car 150 mph"

   To which Johnson himself just laughed.

 Jimmie Johnson: Five-time NASCAR champion. But is he really an athlete? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   "I wouldn't know who he is….I didn't, prior to the whole Twitter thing," Johnson said.
   Then, magnanimously, as typical for Johnson, he added "I'd just like to show him around and see if we can show him what our sport is about and change his mind.
   "There might be other athletes out there who think the same, and they're all welcome to come out. We'd all love to host them and show them around.
    "I have no hard feelings. Everybody has an opinion.
    "I don't like it when people express their opinion without knowing. So if he comes and finds that we're not athletes and has a different opinion…if he was to attend a race, that's fine. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion.'"


Carl Edwards: NASCAR's backflip champion....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Carl Edwards, one of the sport's strongest athletes, says Tate's comments were "hilarious.
   "I thought it was pretty comical.
    "I personally would invite anyone -- including Golden Tate -- who thinks Jimmie Johnson isn't an athlete to come out and compete with him in just about anything. He might not be able to lift as much weight as those guys, but I have followed Jimmie Johnson on a motocross track and watched what he is able to do, and a lot of people don't realize how much of an athlete he is."
   Edwards does concede Tate had "the perfect topic to debate….because you don't have to be an athlete to drive a race car.
   "You don't have to be an athlete to be the best golfer.
    "I would argue there are positions in football where you don't have to be that great of an athlete to do well.
    "(But) there are people in this garage that are very, very good athletes.
    "Tony Kanaan in the Indy-car series -- I would put that guy up against anyone in an endurance endeavor like bicycling, running or swimming.
     "Until someone tries something, I think it is extremely arrogant to knock it."

     Johnson, at the ESPYs the other night (where he did win driver of the year), is no stranger to meeting other athletes. And he was able to joke about it all: "I was impersonating an athlete at the ESPYs.
    "Really, when you see how tall basketball players are, and then how big football players are…."
    Dirk Nowitzki was named best male athlete; ironically Nowitzki attended a NASCAR race a few years ago, and watched from Johnson's pits, complete with headset.
    So when Johnson saw Nowitzki the other night "I didn't think he'd remember me….but he was like 'I was at your race; do you remember?'"
    The question 'are racers really athletes?' has long dogged this sport. So Johnson says of Tate's complaints "I didn't take great offense to it."
    Of course Johnson also has watched NASCAR fans defend this sport in comments of their own aimed at Tate.
  "I took great pride in watching our sport and all the motorsports fans out there express themselves," Johnson said. "That was really cool."
    Johnson still remembers some of the reaction to his 2009 award: "I got a letter from Jim France…a handwritten letter telling me how important it was to his father and to his grandfather that drivers would be considered as athletes someday.
    "I feel that through the success I've had, and some of the opportunities I've had, and also some of the awards I've won, we've helped dispel that question.
    "I took great pride in seeing our NASCAR Nation kind of put him (Tate) in place. As you watched his timeline, he quickly changed his song-and-dance and is now saying he respects the NASCAR group.
    "So 'Good job, everyone.'
    "It's easy to make a comment when you don't know.
    "There is also a misconception of what a race shop looks like. When you take folks into Hendrick Motorsports…and they thought we were out behind a gas station working on our race cars.
     "There is just an education process that has to take place…across a lot of mediums.
    "I'm excited to see top athletes come in and see what we do, and also go for rides in cars, and be around. And when they do, they are our best advocates; they are out there telling the story.
    "Most recently it was Mark Sanchez (of the New York Jets). He is all about racing; he's been racing. He has the bug and enjoys it…and it all came from a sponsorship opportunity where he drove a car at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Then he came back for the All-Star race.
   "Those athletes really help with credibility for our sport."


Greg Biffle: a new crew chief (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)




   So the game plan now for Greg Biffle's new crew chief, Matt Puccia?
   Well, first off, Puccia and Biffle need to reverse the skid that has dropped them out of the top-12 since Kansas: 27th at Pocono, 15th at Michigan, 23rd at Sonoma's Infineon, 18th at Daytona, and 21st at Kentucky.
   To be fair, Biffle did lead 68 of the 200 laps at Michigan just a month ago.
   But Puccia says the team chemistry has been fading.
   "We've had fast cars every week," Puccia says. "We just lost the luster and team unity the team has had, and we're trying to get that back.
   "Our expectations are high – we are expected to make the chase, and we are expected to win races. And that is definitely in our reach; this is a group that can do it. We've just got to get that enthusiasm back.
   "I'm looking forward to it. I think we can do it right out of the box here and make that happen.
   "It's all about the right combination. You can have too much chemistry, and you can have not enough chemistry. It's finding that happy medium, something that works for the driver and the team.
   "Greg's enthusiasm and passion isn't an issue. He's been around this sport a long time. And I have that enthusiasm and passion too, and I think the two of us can make it work."
   And where is Greg Erwin now, Biffle's crew chief since midway through 2007? TBA.
   "Greg is standing by for reassignment," Roush says. "His contract is in effect; he's not being released. We've got to get our wits about us (about where to reassign Erwin), and figure out what to do.
   "But he's made a big contribution to what we are. He's on my technical steering committee. And he's a valued employee, and he's been a significant contributor to our success. So he's got a future with us; I just can't say what it is yet, because I'm not sure."
   The change in command? "It was chemistry between the crew chief and the driver," Roush said.
   "The thing that became a question was whether the best judgments were being made (during the race). Sometimes the decisions that were flawed came from the driver, and sometimes the decisions that were flawed came from the crew chief. The thing is they need to be helping each other, and I don't think they were doing that.
   "We have to focus short-term on how to get Greg Biffle into the chase; the cars are obviously fast enough, the engines have plenty of power, the (computer) simulations that Ford is giving us are working very well...but between the driver and the crew chief, we just weren't getting the decisions made, around the car and around the pit stops, that we needed."

   On another side of the Roush empire, the parts business that Doug Yates is running:
   Racing involves a lot of parts and pieces, and Yates seems determined to become the sport's new Banjo Matthews.
   And Yates is doing more than just warehousing and selling parts and pieces; he and his staff have created a considerable marketing machine to make it all work.
   Jeff Clark, former engine builder for Dale Earnhardt Jr., is playing a point role in Yates' parts machine:
   "The whole game plan behind the Roush-Yates parts operation is two-sided – parts and engines.
   "We're in a lot of markets outside of NASCAR. We're in Late Model, we're in Sprint Cars, we're in off-road trucks, we're in compact road racing cars. And we have parts to back up each engine category.
   "That's the message.
   "But the biggest thing is our people – we have people out in the field, at these races, in the trenches, people who know the racing, who know the market. We're out there racing with the people, turning the wrenches.
   "You've got to make a commitment, to earn their confidence. And we're doing that everywhere we can."
   On the other side of the picture is the marketing machine Yates has cranked up to make the pitch: "It's not only having people who know these markets but who can advertise to these markets," Clark says. "You have to change each ad specific to the market. We have that knowledge because of our people."

   On the TV ratings front, the Kentucky 400 pulled a 3.0 rating on TNT cable, with nearly five million viewers. (For comparison, last weekend's Indy-car race pulled a .5 TV rating on Versus cable.)

Matt Puccia, the new crew chief for Greg Biffle, and making his Sprint Cup tour debut atop the pit box. Can Puccia make the right race day calls to help Biffle make the playoffs? The cars are fast, the computers are good, owner Jack Roush says. So all Roush wants is for better race day calls on pit road. (Photo: Autostock)



Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com