Commentary

NASCAR's Heisman would go to JJ

Updated: November 13, 2009, 2:39 PM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

Prayers to Fort Hood. Unspeakable.

Marty,

If NASCAR gave a Heisman Trophy award, who are the top three on your ballot? Crew chiefs and drivers qualify.

-- Brad Knight, Atlanta, Ga.

This is a very cool question, Brad. Several factors ultimately determine the Heisman race every year, namely the stat sheet and the victory column. Great players on subpar teams don't win the Heisman. Standout players on championship teams do.

And quarterbacks win more than any position because they have the ball in their hands on every play. Likewise, drivers get the nod over crew chiefs since they're the stars and have the steering wheel in their hands on every play.

[+] EnlargeChad Knaus
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireChad Knaus is the best at what he does, but he loses too many votes to his driver Jimmie Johnson to contend for the Petty Trophy.

Therefore, big numbers and checkered flags matter in a NASCAR Heisman, which we'd call the Petty Trophy.

Petty Trophy finalists for 2009


1. Jimmie Johnson: The standard. Wins more than anyone in NASCAR. Performs as well in the clutch as any athlete in the world, in any sport.
2. Mark Martin: Five victories and indomitable will. Someone said he is 50 years old. Still trying to confirm …
3. Tony Stewart: Four wins, including the season's best race (the All-Star Challenge), the points lead prior to the Chase reset and a surge toward The Voice in NASCAR. All as a first-year team owner.
4. Jeff Gordon: There are years with clear-cut Heisman favorites, leaving other athletes with decent seasons to enjoy the festivities as finalists, despite having no shot to win the hardware. Gordon is in that group this season.

See a trend up there? Rick Hendrick rules the world, man.

Honorable mentions
1. Kyle Busch: Won several races, but failure to make the Chase eliminates him from Petty contention.
2. Juan Pablo Montoya: Stellar, breakthrough season. The surprise of 2009. But to be considered for the Petty, you must win races. He hasn't.
3. Chad Knaus: The best in the world at his trade. Loses votes to Johnson since they're on the same team -- happens to Heisman hopefuls all the time.
4. Kasey Kahne: Kahne and his team did a lot with a little in 2009. He's the Colt Brennan of Sprint Cup 2009.
5. Brian Pattie: Montoya's crew chief is a rising star in the garage. And he's funnier than you are.

Hey Marty,

Can we all agree that NASCAR really ruined one of their greatest shows of the year with the prerace edict of no-bump drafting in the corners and the reduction in size of the restrictor plate?

It seems to me that the Carl Edwards wreck in the spring race caused extreme overreaction by the governing body that led to a cautious and uninspired race, and those are two adjectives I have never used to describe this place.

Anyone who watched the Edwards wreck (which was replayed thousands of times) realizes that the car went airborne due to impact, not excessive speed or bump drafting in the corners. The fans want to see these guys race and it seems that many of the drivers echoed their sentiments. These guys are professionals and understand the dangers and risks involved in their jobs.

NASCAR built these guys a safe race car and a safer fence, now let them go out there and do their thing. That's what makes Talladega exciting, "edge of your seat" entertainment. Ultimately these new measures did nothing to prevent a big wreck or even keep cars from going airborne, so really what did NASCAR accomplish here?

It seems the only thing they did succeed in doing was alienating many fans and ruining one of their crown jewels of exciting racing.

-- Kyle, Albany, N.Y.

The Talladega situation has been debated ad nauseam. I'd leave it alone, but 90 percent of the e-mails fans submitted this week are Dega-centric. And they haven't slowed down. So here's my thought on it:

For 12 years I've been blessed enough to work inside the NASCAR garage. I do not take that for granted. From my perspective therein, the Talladega fall race is the best ticket in NASCAR. That is not debatable to me. That's why Sunday's event was so disappointing. It lacked the typical pizzaz to which we've become accustomed. Kyle is not alone. Fans everywhere were ticked. I, too, was disappointed.

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Most want to blame NASCAR for the parade, given they put skirts on the boys two hours before the green with the "sunshine" rule (officials wanted to see sunshine between the bumpers of the cars in the turns). Some drivers -- namely Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin -- lit into NASCAR. Others, such as Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne, told me after the race that NASCAR's prerace edict didn't affect their respective approaches to the race one iota.

Sure did look like it. Some folks ingrained in the sport, garage lifers, argue Sunday's race was no different than it's ever been. They're correct, to a degree. The drivers lined up, took their time, stayed patient and went when it was time to go. That's no different than ever.

But from where I was sitting it was a parade, far more obvious than normal. There was even debate that it was a collective message to NASCAR, though every driver asked has denied that. If I had it to do again, I'd put that big ol' Snoopy float from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on my fantasy team. I think he finished third.

Until Newman went on his lid, the Talladega race was boring. Talladega and boring in the same sentence? I need a helmet. A pig just flew by.

NASCAR detests the type of criticism being thrown its way this week. Anyone would.

The Daytona Beach brass does not take it constructively. Rather, they take it very personally. They do not seem to accept that most of the criticism comes from folks that care deeply about the sport and are concerned about it. Count me among them.

Does NASCAR think Newman and Hamlin called them out for no reason? Those two aren't stupid. They know where their bread's buttered. But they also know when it's time to stand up for what they believe is right. Newman said everything the fans were thinking.

I believe NASCAR does what it deems best for the sport and its fans. I really do. Why wouldn't it? Why would it ever even fathom compromising the product? That'd be just plain dumb. And NASCAR is not dumb.

On Sunday evening, I asked vice president of competition Robin Pemberton an elementary question: Why was the "sunshine" rule implemented in the first place? He noted that drivers had mentioned concern regarding excessive aggression while bump-drafting, and officials saw those concerns manifested during Friday's practices. So NASCAR responded.

Restrictor-plate racing is inherently dangerous and, by nature, dicey. That's what makes it so taxing for drivers and exciting for fans. We see enough strung-out fields at intermediate tracks. We can always count on short tracks and speedways to break up the monotony.

NASCAR needs traditional Talladega insanity. Especially now.

No-candy Kahne: Kahne was sitting in his motor home Saturday evening in the Talladega infield, face buried in a laptop as the Oregon Ducks laid the wood to Southern Cal on an adjacent big screen, when there was a knock at the door.

[+] EnlargeKasey Kahne
AP Photo/Cheryl SenterThat puzzled look on Kasey Kahne's face may be him trying to figure out what to stock in his motor coach for Halloween next year.

He looked up quizzically at his buddies. He wasn't expecting anyone.

One of his friends, Brad Little -- a docile, unassuming type -- hopped up to see who it was. He came back, facial expression suggesting concern.

Trick-or-treaters. A pack of them. Six, total.

And Kahne, ever the bachelor, had no candy. Not so much as a Tic Tac.

Panicked, Little ran to the pantry. Certainly they had some gum or Twizzlers or something. Or not.

Instead he emerged with … five packs of Nature Valley granola bars and a pack of orange nabs.

"One of those kids is gonna be pissed later," Little said.

The bus erupted in laughter.

Marty,

Will NASCAR, the drivers and/or the fans want to restructure the points system if the 48 wins the championship?

-- Karla Figueroa, Mooresville, N.C.

Absolutely, Karla. In fact, there is a growing sentiment in the garage that change is necessary whether Johnson wins or not.

Marty,

What do you think of the decision to put Brad K [Keselowski] in the 12 for the rest of the season? Your thoughts on how he'll do?

-- Amie in Beaumont, Texas

It stinks for David Stremme, but it's the right call for the organization. Given that you've already decided that Keselowski is your future in that ride, it only makes sense to make him "the present" in the name of jump-starting that future.

As for performance, I expect he'll do well, so long as he doesn't upset the entire garage with his aggression.

Marty,

OK, here's a non-Dega question: Could JJ possibly clinch in Texas?

-- Erik Perel, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Mathematically, yes.

If Johnson leaves Texas with a 323-point lead, all he'll need to do is start the final two races. For that to happen, he'll need to add 139 points to his lead. A driver can earn a max of 161 points per race -- 322 in the final two races -- over the competition.

Basically, Mark Martin would have to go into the tank at Texas for Johnson to clinch. This, of course, assumes Johnson and Martin start all three races.

(How good is my researcher, Chris Lees? That's some good stuff right there).

Marty,

Per Encarta, a race is defined as: contest of speed to decide who is the fastest, e.g. between runners or horseback riders (for our purposes we will use race cars).

Jimmie Johnson rode around 30th or worse at Dega. He benefited from wrecks and fuel issues of competitors late in the race. So without actually racing, he ended up sixth. He virtually has sealed up the championship and will be a great representation for NASCAR for the fourth consecutive year.

Is this what we want our NASCAR champion doing? I, for one, would like to see him up there competing and fighting for the win. If he wins, everyone will be upset but at least they can say he won racing. I think that's what is so frustrating about NASCAR right now -- no longer do we have side-by-side racing for the win -- instead we have this. Go Dale Jr.!!!

-- Jo Chmura, Hometown Unknown

Hey Jo … per Smithcarta: Go back and watch Charlotte -- or, better yet, the Texas fall race in 2007. That'll give you a fine idea just how bad Johnson wants it.

And was anybody really racing all day until the late stages? No. Johnson just happened to get through the mess at the end, and benefit from a genius pit call from Chad Knaus.

That's my time, team. Thank you for yours. Time to slide on the Justin boots and head to Pilot Point.

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

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