Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt have both won seven of them, Jimmie Johnson, five, but does the success of a racing career totally depend on wining a Sprint Cup Championship? Mainstream sports has demanded their heroes have Championship Rings in order to punch their ticket to the Hall of Fame, and keep their legacy intact. Dan Marino was one of the greatest Quarterbacks in history, and we always have to end every conversation with “he was great, but he never won a Super Bowl“.
The goal in racing for years, was to win races. Wining a Winston/Nextel/Sprint Cup Championship was instituted to award the team with the ability to race, and finish in the top ten every week, not necessarily to award the best driver. Unlike stick and ball sports, the success of a driver is in the hands of too many factors, and people that he can’t control.
Case in point. Terry Labonte won the 1996 Winston Cup title, by wining only two races, North Wilkes Barre, and Charlotte. I propose to you that the best drivers in 1996 were Jeff Gordon, and Dale Jarrett. Gordon won 10 races that year, and Jarrett four races including the Daytona 500. Texas Terry had 24 top ten finishes, with 23 of them being top five. He was without a doubt, the most consistent driver with the best team, and best luck in 1996. This was the season that led to the changes we see today.
Unfortunately, the NASCAR season ends at a bad time of year. The baseball season is into their playoffs, both the college and professional football seasons are getting underway, and these mainstream sports without a doubt steal uncommitted part time fans.
In their infinite wisdom, NASCAR felt that if they wanted to compete for fans during this time of year, they needed a playoff system that could create enough drama, and excitement that would compete for those fans. The Race For The Chase was born.
The chase, along with the anticipation of drivers being eligible for the chase generates some excitement, and drama, but in the end, some really good drivers get eliminated, and their season gets derailed. If they would have left the format alone, everyone would have something to race for right up to the end of the season.
Racing is a different type of sport than the stick and ball sports. Race fans were happy for years being able to watch great racing every week, and putting the importance of winning a cup championship in a secondary role. Only when NASCAR went mainstream, did the media that got involved, start to tell us how important winning that championship was. Now it has become the only thing that is important.
Mark Martin has had, in my opinion, a great career in racing. Unfortunately for Mark, and his career, it ran into Dale Earnhardt, and Jeff Gordon. Even though he finished as a bridesmaid five times, I think he was a great driver. Mark Martin has 40 cup wins, 49 Busch/Nationwide wins, and seven wins in the trucks. Mark has had 448 top 10′s and set on the pole 55 times. He is one of NASCAR’s top 50 drivers, but never won a Cup championship. In fact, he is number two all time in Nationwide wins, and his best title finish in that division was eighth in 1987.
There have been many more racers pass through NASCAR that didn’t win titles, and we still hold there people in high esteem. It is my hope that at some point, NASCAR wakes up to the fact that mainstream sports fans are fickle, and stop trying to cater to their need to have someone else tell them who is great in a sport they don’t understand anyway. That way they can get back to what made this sport great in the first place, good racing, and catering to fans that love racing.
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