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Saturday, August 4, 2012
Updated: August 5, 9:13 PM ET
So why not NASCAR in the Olympics?

By David Newton
ESPN.com

LONG POND, Pa. -- One of the arguments against NASCAR, or motorsports in general, being a part of the Olympics is that it's more about machine than man.

Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne can be in better shape than Ryan Lochte, but, if they win, it's about how fast the car was and not whether they can complete a triathlon. Tony Stewart can drink as many milkshakes and eat as many cheeseburgers as he wants and still win races and championships.

This isn't to suggest NASCAR drivers aren't athletes. They are. Johnson was voted the 2009 Male Athlete of the Year by The Associated Press after winning the fourth of his five consecutive Sprint Cup titles.

Michael Phelps
U.S. swimming sensation Michael Phelps strikes gold again in the London Olympics.

But this isn't Michael Phelps winning the 200-meter individual medley or Gabby Douglas winning the gold for best overall female gymnast. In those events, as is the case with most of the Olympic events -- outside of equestrian, where a horse is involved -- everything depends on the performance of the athlete.

This isn't even the "Dream Team," where athletes rely on each other to win.

In NASCAR, in motorsports, you can be the best in the world but not get credit for it unless you have the best machine.

Heading into Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway (1 p.m. ET, ESPN), Hendrick Motorsports is on track for the gold.

The crew chiefs and engineers apparently have found something with the "yaw" -- rotating the rear housing so the car appears to be crabbing down the track -- to give them a competitive advantage.

Brad Keselowski was among several drivers who pointed that out after Johnson won his fourth Brickyard 400 on Sunday.

"We're racing trucks; they're racing cars," Keselowski said. "And that's why they're winning. We've got to make a step up before the Chase to catch up to what they got there."

An Olympian can build up strength, endurance and all the other attributes that bring performance to a top level. An Olympian can't use some mechanical device to go faster or jump higher.

In 2009, after high-tech bodysuits led to 108 world records in the 2008 Olympic year, they were banned to limit technology in the pool.

In NASCAR, technology is essential. The only way to separate yourself from the field is to come up with something like the Hendrick cars, and do it within the tight box the governing body has created.

"Yeah, all the Hendrick cars have more yaw than the whole field," Kevin Harvick said. "That is what this sport is all about is finding an advantage and making it work on the racetrack. They have done that."

Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson doesn't have any Olympic medals, but he does have five Sprint Cup trophies and four Brickyard wins.

That might go against the Olympic spirit if NASCAR were in London instead of Loudon. Seldom do we see the best car or even driver win each week in racing like we do the best athlete in the Olympics.

Engine failure, blown tires, debris caution, fuel mileage … all these things play a role as big or bigger than that of the person behind the wheel. You hardly ever see a sprinter blow a shoe.

Even in the former International Race of Champions, where all cars supposedly were created equal, the best driver didn't always win.

"When I started racing, I thought it was great because I am a total control freak, and to me it was great because I controlled what happened," said Carl Edwards, arguably the most in-shape driver in NASCAR.

Now, after this season in particular, when mechanical failures and pit road mistakes have left Edwards winless and 12th in points, the Columbia, Mo., native understands he has less control than ever.

"There are days when I really wish we could just park the cars and get out and have a footrace or some other physical competition because I feel like my car is holding me up," Edwards said. "There are other days that my car has made me look like a great race car driver.

"It is all about people."

From that aspect, preparing for an Olympic event is no different from preparing for a NASCAR race. From that aspect, you can argue that Hendrick has created an advantage by hiring the best people.

And HMS does have an advantage.

In the past 10 races, a Hendrick car has won six times. Make that seven if you throw in Tony Stewart, who uses HMS engines and chassis.

Look at the standings, too. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is first in points. Johnson and Stewart have a combined six wins and would start the Chase tied with Keselowski if the 10-race playoff started today.

HMS is NASCAR's version of the Dream Team right now.

"I always look at speed as being the foundation for any team's success," Keselowski said. "Right now, they're at an A and the rest of us are at B's and C's, so we've got to step it up."

But the HMS organization wouldn't be there were it not for the technological advantages that would be frowned upon in the Olympics. That's why this sport might be invited to Athens, Ga., but never to Athens, Greece.

"In this sport, you can be as physically and mentally prepared as you can be -- you can be the best race car driver you can be, but if you car isn't good or someone at the shop isn't paying attention when they put something together, that can be bad," Edwards said.

It might not make for an Olympic sport, but, as Edwards said, "That is part of what makes the sport so neat."

"We talked about that while watching the Olympics," he said. "Why can't we have auto racing in the Olympics? Because if you won, you would have to give a gold medal to so many different guys."

That could be more than 300 employees at HMS. But seriously, the advantage the organization holds isn't like pitting four-time champion Jeff Gordon against Phelps in a pool.

"Sometimes I think some of those comments are made just because people are getting beat and they don't like it and want to try to bring attention to something that is probably not there," Gordon said.

Olympic athletes don't complain that they were beaten because another athlete outworked them.

And if NASCAR drivers were allowed in the Olympics, it would fuel the whole debate of whether they are athletes. As fit as Edwards is, and as impressive as his backflip is, according to Olympic coaches a few years ago, "I need a race car out there to jump off of to do any gymnastics."

"I don't know if the world is ready for a bunch of race car drivers in the Olympics," Edwards added. "I don't know if Bob Costas could explain some of the things we would do or say."

Translating Elliott Sadler's deep Virginia drawl might be tougher than interpreting a Russian gymnast. But the International Olympic Committee could get past that.

It can't get past the mechanics of motorsports.

And let's be real, that really isn't the biggest hindrance to keeping drivers off the medal stand. Just ask 2003 Cup champion Matt Kenseth.

"How could we do that?" he said of why NASCAR isn't in the Olympics. "We are supposed to be in Pocono."