Friday, November 21, 2008
Updated: November 22, 3:44 AM ET
It's time to reflect on what went right, what went wrong in 2008
By Ed Hinton
This will be an offseason of mixed emotions for me
On the one hand, Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus, Rick Hendrick and their hundreds of workers pour their lives so completely into winning that you can never say they don't deserve championships.
On the other, it always bothers me when the season title doesn't go to the man who won the most races. Carl Edwards won nine to Johnson's seven.
On the one hand, I agreed with NASCAR chairman Brian France at the outset of this year's Chase, when he told me he was glad the seeding was determined by only 10 points per win, rather than up to 30 per win, as some had suggested.
"Considering what Kyle Busch [eight wins] and Carl Edwards [six at the time] have done this year
I would have hated to have 30 points," France said at the time.
But on the other hand, as it turns out, Busch would have fallen by the wayside even with a 240-point seed, eight wins times 30 points.
Edwards, starting the Chase with a 60-point cushion over Johnson (180 for six wins to 120 for four) rather than a 20-point margin -- a 40-point difference -- still would have lost the championship by 29 points.
The seeding aside, had NASCAR added another 30 points to the basic award for each win (currently 185, plus five for leading a lap, plus five for leading the most laps), then Edwards, at nine wins to Johnson's seven, still loses the championship by nine points.
You'd have to add 40 -- making it 225, plus five, plus five, with a total 235 possible -- for the man who won the most races this year to win the championship.
On paper, Edwards would have won by 11 points, in the final race. But that assumes Johnson would have laid back -- and he wouldn't have. Johnson and Knaus both said they had a car capable of winning the race, but were afraid to risk it.
Under my scenario, they'd have run for it. And had Johnson won, then he, Edwards and Busch would all be tied for most wins this season, with eight.
And so, Mr. Chairman, there's still plenty of room for rewarding winning races more.
By the way, an additional 40 points would total the 50-point cushion for winning over second place that many of us suggested in the first place, back when NASCAR started to tweak the winner's total up from the long-traditional 175.
On the one hand, it sticks in my craw that so much of this title was determined on the world's largest roulette wheel, aka Talladega Superspeedway, in only the fourth race of the Chase.
On the other, arithmetically, the fact that Edwards caused the "big one" (with a tiny mistake) and Johnson missed it (by a miracle) didn't change the championship outcome. Edwards lost 62 points to Johnson at Talladega, and lost the Cup by 69.
But what if Edwards had bump-drafted Greg Biffle just a foot more toward the center of Biffle's bumper, and they'd both continued straight, and there'd been no "big one" at that point?
Would Edwards and Biffle have gone on to higher finishes at Talladega than Johnson's ninth, and would the remainder of the Chase have been a tighter cavalry charge to the finish?
Or, what if Johnson had been caught up in it -- and you can review the video all day and still not believe he missed it -- and not gained nearly those 62 points on Edwards that day?
With a 36-race season and a 10-race playoff, you just hate to see one split second at Casino de Alabama determine so much and negate so much.
On the one hand, Biffle was right when he said Talladega should be removed from the Chase tour.
On the other, the fans would howl to no end upon losing their 190 mph rasslin' match.
On the one hand, you see this crushing economy as a dose of strong, foul-tasting medicine for NASCAR and its teams -- ultimately good for them -- forcing them to scale down, cut back, resimplify and generally tumble off their high horse.
On the other hand, you feel deeply for all those mechanics, engineers, fabricators and others who are being laid off from the various teams.
Estimates are running as high as 1,000 jobs lost in the NASCAR industry this offseason alone. That's about 10 percent of what the state of North Carolina estimates to be the payroll generated by NASCAR in and around Charlotte.
On the one hand, you figure this shakeout will tell us who the real racers are, and leave only them standing.
On the other, you see NASCAR's two most storied surviving teams, Petty Enterprises and the Wood Brothers, struggling terribly for sponsorship.
On the one hand, you'd hate to see them go and take their rich history under with them.
On the other, you figure they've been but shells of themselves in recent years -- actually, recent decades -- and that it's been just as sad to see them running poorly as it would be to see them gone entirely.
On the one hand, every time I'm in Greater Miami in November, I remember that this is a fine place for Super Bowls and Orange Bowls, but think it's not much of a place for a NASCAR finale.
Miami can be divided into two groups: those who don't like NASCAR and those who don't understand it. Thus, Homestead-Miami Speedway never finds it easy to fill its little 65,000-seat grandstands, far from the core NASCAR fan base as it is.
Though Miamians have embraced street sports-car racing, they can't grasp oval racing way down at the end of the Florida Turnpike, in real gator country more deserving of the name "The Swamp" than that stadium up north in Gainesville.
Homestead-Miami Speedway president Curtis Gray and his staff do the best they can with what they have -- essentially what started as a makeshift little CART track that has been improved in increments but still is no Lowe's Motor Speedway or Daytona.
On the other hand, you can't argue with Miami weather in November, and the setting sure looks nice for TV, which is no small factor.
By and large, though, Miami is as forced a venue for the finale as New York is for NASCAR's awards banquet -- the hosts just don't care at best, and they're put off by their guests at worst.
Best solution I've heard was from our motorsports editor at ESPN.com, the inimitable K. Lee Davis. His idea: Move the finale to Las Vegas. You'd have warm weather, and everybody could just stay out there the following week for the awards ceremonies, in a city that truly does welcome NASCAR and its fans.
On the one hand, I've worried a lot about you, the fans, this season, as I've received your steady stream of discontent by e-mail. You seem overwhelmingly unhappy.
On the other, I keep returning to the truism articulated by an old drag racer many years ago: "The roundy-rounds [the stock-car crowd] would rather fight than [fornicate]."
Controversy, booing, complaining, arguing, reminiscing that it isn't what it used to be
one thing I've learned about you over the years: You wouldn't be happy if you couldn't find anything to be unhappy about.
And neither would I.
Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.