Commentary

JJ, Brady share common ground

Updated: October 30, 2009, 11:58 AM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

I wonder what will produce worse heartburn this weekend at Martinsville: the florescent-pink, road-flare, roman-candle, glow-stick, gum-cigar hot dogs or the double-file restarts. The jury is out. Good thing Tums is on board to sponsor that mess.

Marty,

How the [heck] can you even begin to suggest that Jimmie Johnson is the greatest driver ever? You're a total idiot! The only reason he's any good is his equipment! He never did [anything] in off-road or Busch but wreck! Wake up, [dummy]!

P.S. -- I'm a huge Ricky Craven fan. Say hey to him for me!

-- Jason Mitchell in Maine

You're a New Englander so let me put this in terms you can understand:

That's like saying Tom Brady sucked before Bill Belichick became his coach. And Randy Moss and Kevin Faulk and the league's best offensive line and Rodney Harrison and Richard Seymour and Tedy Bruschi and the league's best defense became his teammates.

So what if he sucked beforehand? It's all about what he's done at the highest level in the clutch -- which is win. A lot. The fact that he was the 199th pick in the draft is now sealed in Brady lore and only adds to his legend.

The very same could be said about Johnson. He didn't have much growing up, and busted his tail for everything he got. He was handed nothing -- until he proved to Jeff Gordon that he could drive. So what if he was then handed Gordon's cars? Good for him. He made the most of it.

The equipment argument holds zero water with me. You may be given a golden opportunity, but you have to grab it by the throat. Could other drivers excel as Johnson has in that equipment? On paper, yes. But paper and asphalt are very different things.

There's a lot more to it than just hopping in and turning left. Does he have great infrastructure behind him? Unparalleled. But his ability to offer feedback and a demeanor that offsets Chad Knaus' are key to the team's success, too.

Michael Jordan made some jaw-dropping highlight reels before Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson came along. But he didn't do a whole heck of a lot of winning. See what I'm saying?

Marty,

Honestly what do you think about Jeff Gordon finishing second eight times this season? As a driver it must be pretty frustrating knowing that you are just that close. Which track do you think he could possibly break though and get career victory No. 83?

-- Brandon, Cranston, R.I.

Martinsville, Va., Brandon. This weekend is Gordon's opportunity to get it done. Granted, Johnson owns the place, with five wins in the past six events at Martinsville, six total victories, and a ridiculous 14 top-10s in 15 starts -- 11 of which are top-5s.

But Gordon isn't so shabby himself, with seven wins and 27 top-10s in 33 races. He sat on the pole there in the spring, but hasn't gone to Victory Lane in Martinsville since 2005. Coincidentally, that's when Johnson started dominating the place.

Door-To-Door
with Marty Smith
Do you have a question for ESPN NASCAR analyst Marty Smith? Go to Smith's SportsNation page to submit your question or comment for Marty, and check back regularly for the column in which he will provide the answers.
Ask Marty

(If I'm Gordon, I'm beginning to ponder what my résumé looks like had I never found Johnson. Hmmm … six championships? Ninety wins, maybe?)

As for this season's rash of runner-up finishes, I'd presume it's partly welcome and partly mind-numbing for Gordon. He has more second-place finishes than Susan Lucci, which begs the question: Is he willing to lean on Johnson for a win right now, given what's at stake? You can look back to the 2007 spring race at Martinsville to see how hard he'll race Johnson. But there's a difference -- that was the spring race.

When the two went rounds back then there was no imminent championship with which to be concerned. Does Gordon change his approach when his protégé is in the catbird seat to make history?

I'd sure hope so. He shouldn't hand Johnson anything.

Marty,

I've long been a fan of NASCAR on TV, and always felt like the more laps the better. I went to my first race this last weekend at Charlotte and have to admit 500 miles is way too many to sit in the stands for. It was a great experience, but I feel like 300-400 miles would make for a better overall experience for the fans in the seats. What do you think?

-- Kevin D., Parker, Colo.

I couldn't agree more, Kevin. The sport has evolved. It is a marathon investment in a sprint world.

For the overall stability of the sport and quality of the product, the races should be shorter. So should the season, for that matter. It should start in February and end on Labor Day, with 24 300-mile races, five 500-mile races and one 600-miler.

Shorter races make for fewer adjustments and a greater sense of urgency. Get to the front now, because there is no later. And the reasoning behind shortening the season is very simple: football.

It's easy to sit and suggest these changes, but instituting them is quite a challenge. Existing contracts -- and moreover, politics -- make it a bear, and probably impossible.

Marty,

Anything to read into Bobby Labonte out hunting with the Childress group this week?

-- Chris Brach, Minooka, Ill.

Yes -- that Labonte likes to climb into trees in the frigid predawn hours wearing clothes that look like sticks and sit idle for long periods of time and stare at rustling bushes at the chance he might see a beast to slay.

Marty,

Love your column. I couldn't help but laugh at the sewage truck sign you saw in Race City, USA. Here's a picture from down behind pit road when I attended the 2008 September Dover race. I will also add I met Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, David Reutimann, and Patrick Carpentier, while waiting in line for a restroom break before the race started.

-- Meleesa Wohleber, Cape May, N.J.

So wait … there are two No. 1s in the No. 2 business? P.S. -- I love Cape May.

Hey Marty Smith,

Every year the Chase is always mocked and I do agree this is the best Chase yet. But I see an area that could be improved: the tracks. Every year it's the same tracks in the Chase, with the exception of Auto Club this year. I would like to see NASCAR let the fans or someone vote on the 10 races that will decide the championship.

With 10 possibly new tracks each and every year, I believe it would prevent one driver from dominating each and every year, and would give other fans and drivers no reason to complain about the Chase being built for one particular driver.

-- David Wilson from DeFuniak Springs, Fla.

I have a sneaking suspicion Jimmie Johnson's competitors would like your idea, David. That's the one thing Johnson always points to in regard to his Chase dominance -- the tracks in the Chase suit his style very well.

But look, there are only six tracks currently with Cup dates at which he hasn't won -- Bristol, Chicago, Homestead, Michigan and the road courses.

Of Johnson's 46 career victories, 34 have come at the 12 tracks that currently host, or have in the past hosted, Chase races. He has 29 total wins at the tracks that make up the Chase, and five total wins at Atlanta and Darlington, which hosted Chase races in the past. Insanity.

Marty,

That "Balloon Boy to the R&D Center" line last week almost made me spit out my afternoon coffee at work. I almost got in trouble, man. Throttle back some.

-- John in Baltimore

Pop-culture idiocy can be hilarious and sad. Balloon Boy is both. That poor little dude won't ever live it down. Imagine him working the ladies at, say, age 22 …

Balloon Boy: "Hey, I'm Falcon Henne." Prospective Date: "Ohhh … do I know you from somewhere?" Balloon Boy: "No. Why?" Prospective Date: "I just feel like I've heard of you." Balloon Boy: "Well, maybe you remember my name from back when YouTube was cool. Fifteen years ago, when I was 6, I climbed up in the rafters of my dad's garage, leading the international 24-hour news cycle to focus its collective drivel on a flying saucer-bubble -- invented by my publicity-infatuated father to drum up some controversy and make him famous in his own head -- which they presumed had carried me 7,000 feet into the heavens and was doomed to crash with me inside. But then I outed my dad to a guy named Wolf when I said it was all for the show. All of a sudden my name and the haircut my mom gave me were everywhere." No-Longer-Prospective Date: "Mmmm … hmmm … that could be it."

Marty,

There have been rumors this week that Kevin Harvick is leaving RCR when his contract is up in 2010. RC said he isn't worried about it right now. Given Kevin's frustrations, and RC's response, where do you think Kevin will be after next year? I can't think of many teams that could afford another car, or have open spots.

-- Ryan Marsh, Glendale, Ariz.

This is a wild guess, Ryan -- I repeat, a completely unfounded guess -- but it stands to reason his top two choices would be Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Red Bull.

I figure Stewart will add a driver in 2011 since two of his close buddies -- Harvick and Kasey Kahne -- will be on the market and looking for rides, can attract sponsorship and would jump at the chance to drive at SHR. Budweiser would love to stay with Kahne, and vice versa, past the current contract. Could Bud get a better coup than to continue the relationship with Kahne and in the process secure Tony Stewart's brand, too? Talk about a no-brainer two-for-one …

The second Red Bull seat is a coveted one, and if Scott Speed doesn't pull a JPM he might get an AJ Allmendinger. Brian Vickers has done quite well there without the luxury of a teammate with whom he could communicate.

But what if neither of those situations materializes? What then?

Here's all that's certain: Attempting to make predictions of more than a month out in this sport serve only to make one look dumb. Too much changes too quickly.

Marty,

Huge Casey Mears fan. I've heard all the words from RC stating they need full-season funding, no partial schedule, etc. If they don't find the necessary funding, any word if Mears will be offered a ride in the RCR Nationwide car?

Wouldn't RCR want to keep him in the fold, with Harvick basically out the door after 2010? Would Mears head to yet another team (No. 1 at Ganassi?) again? What have you heard out of the Mears Gang camp?

-- Mike Mills, White Plains, Md.

Nothing. It doesn't look very promising right now for Mears. There just aren't any rides available.

And the guy just lost his crew chief, too.

Hey Marty,

I have not missed a race at Fontana since '02. While the crowds have been down the last few years, it is not the only track failing to sell out. The sparse crowd at Lowe's for Saturday's Chase race was pathetic!

Is Auto Club Speedway the whipping boy for the East Coast media? Why do they rip that track every time we fail to sell out? Think anyone will have the [guts] to rip Lowe's for its poor turnout?

Come on, man, attendance is down at most tracks! Blame the weather … late start … economy … COT … .or maybe it's the fact that Cup racing has become Johnsonville. What's the deal, man?

-- Ted Lorz, Sacramento, Calif.

That's a fair beef, Ted. We do have a tendency to pile on when it comes to Fontana's inability to attract fans. Not that it's inaccurate. The reason no one showed up at Lowe's was that it was 12 degrees and we're in a recession. The reason no one showed up at Fontana is no one cares. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's something else. But I doubt it.

That's my time. Thanks for yours. Time to hit the pumpkin patch and repay the young'uns. I took them last Sunday, got them all fired up for a hayride with their very own pumpkin and, alas, it was closed. Nice work, Dad.

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.

ALSO SEE