Friday, October 30, 2009

Johnson needs a rival in NASCAR

Jeff Gordon is entering hostile territory this weekend: Talladega Superspeedway. His victory laps at the Alabama track have been met with beer bottle baths from the fans. The level of hate unloaded on Gordon dates back to the days when he and Dale Earnhardt battled for fan respect in 1990s. Earnhardt, win or lose, was the fan favorite at Talladega. To this day, whenever Gordon wins a race at Talladega, the fans express their disapproval. Even though Earnhardt died years ago, the rivalry lives on in Talladega.
No matter how many races he won, especially at Talledega, Gordon was never going to win the respect of the fans there.
Gordon was asked if people thought he was ruining the show when he was dominating NASCAR the same way Jimmie Johnson is now.
“It didn’t matter to me what other people thought,” Gordon said. “But there was a rivalry there and it was great. It built up that rivalry because it made people that were Earnhardt fans only hate me more and it built up the people that started to like me; it built that fan base up more. And it was really sort of divided and I think the more you dominate, the more they divide and that’s only a good thing for this sport as well as for Jimmie.”

Only problem is, Johnson doesn’t have a rival. It probably should be Tony Stewart. He is Johnson’s only contemporary with multiple championships.
This should be a natural conflict. Johnson is squeaky clean, the NASCAR good guy and hero to all.
Stewart is the scruffy-looking bad boy – a maverick, loner, outsider, wavemaker – the driver Earnhardt fans should gravitate toward.
Yet there is nary a rivalry between Stewart and Johnson. Drivers aren’t allowed to hate each other anymore. For some reason, Stewart fans don’t have a particular passionate hatred for Johnson fans, and vice versa. There needs to be some good hate brewing between these two to make NASCAR a little more interesting.
That’s one more criticism heaped on Johnson for making NASCAR hard to watch these days. Although Gordon said he doesn’t think Johnson is getting too much criticism for dominating.
“Oh, I don’t know if he does,” Gordon said. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that. There was a lot of criticism back then too.”

Photos: Top: Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt created a rivalry that still exists in some parts of NASCAR nation. Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama is one of those places. NASCAR needs Jimmie Johnson to find a rival to make things interesting again. (Photo Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Middle: Jimmie Johnson needs a rival. Jeff Gordon had Dale Earnhardt. Johnson fans need to start rooting against Tony Stewart as much as they root for Johnson. (Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Bottom: Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet, would be a perfect rival for Jimmie Johnson. At least it would make things more interesting in NASCAR this time of year. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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