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November 22, 2014

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RON KANTOWSKI:

NASCAR running an uphill race with seasons that are too long

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Sam Morris

Jimmie Johnson talks to the media after qualifying third for the Shelby 427 Sprint Cup race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Friday.

Counting his days in stadium and other forms of off-road racing and the time we rented a convertible to travel to the NASCAR race at California Speedway “in style” (snowed on while going over the Cajon Pass near San Bernardino), I probably have seen Jimmie Johnson race an off-road truck, buggy or full-fledged Cup stock car about 25 times in person.

I don’t have grandkids. But if I did, I wonder if I would bounce them on my good knee and tell them that.

Before Sunday the only major pro sports organizations to have won at least four consecutive championships were the Boston Celtics (1959-66), the New York Yankees (1936-39 and 1949-53), the Montreal Canadiens (1956-60 and 1976-79) and the New York Islanders (1980-83).

You can now add Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet team to that list.

Had I been there when “Havlicek Stole the Ball!” against the 76ers in 1965 or when The Mick broke in with The Bombers, I know I would have told my grandsons and granddaughters about that. And if their old man got transferred to Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan to hollow out canoes, I know I’d also tell them bedtime stories about Rocket Richard and Les Habitants and Bobby Nystrom’s overtime goal in 1980 that beat the Flyers in Game 6.

Would I tell them about Jimmie Johnson, who won an unprecedented fourth consecutive NASCAR championship on Sunday to put his name alongside the basketball, major league baseball and ice hockey dynasties and tour de forces mentioned above?

Yeah, I probably would.

But when they got older, would they think what Jimmie Johnson has accomplished was as big a deal as Havlicek stealing the ball or The Mick taking one deep or the indefatigable Nystrom lighting the lamp in overtime?

Well, maybe if the Chiefs weren’t upsetting the Steelers or the Raiders weren’t shocking the Bengals or the Colts and Saints weren’t winning to improve to 10-0 they might.

Winning four consecutive NASCAR championships is a remarkable achievement, especially when you consider nobody in the sport — not Richard Petty, not Dale Earnhardt, not Cale Yarborough, not Jeff Gordon, not even Ricky Bobby in the movies — has ever done it. But when the Cowboys and Redskins are playing football on Sunday afternoon, all you can do is put the pedal to the metal and hope somebody notices.

This is why I am convinced they hold Election Day on the first Tuesday of November. If they held it on the first Sunday in November, somebody like Ross Perot might win.

This is why, in my opinion, the NASCAR season is too long. It also is why anybody who changes his own oil and/or has yelled “EARNHARDT!” when the man himself or his youngest son screamed by in Turn One probably thinks I am an idiot.

This is why the Indy Racing League, NASCAR’s distant cousin, no longer races on Sunday afternoons in the fall. Granted, nobody watches the IRL very much even when it is up against golf and tennis and the Washington Nationals. But give the IRL credit. When it was going head-to-head against Peyton Manning and Tom Brady it knew it was fourth-and-2 and time to punt, the va-va-vroom of Danica Patrick and Dario Franchitti’s wife (Ashley Judd) notwithstanding.

Anyway, NASCAR is being a bit more Bill Belichick-like on fourth-and-2 by stubbornly adopting and adhering to this series of “playoff” races known as the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

A few years ago, when it became a bigger sudden craze than Donovan’s electrical banana, they started building gargantuan stadiums for stock car racing, and they started adding races to the schedule, or at least moving races to the gargantuan stadiums and calling them “playoff” races, because gargantuan stadiums and playoff races impress TV networks that don’t have NFL deals, and gargantuan stadiums make a ton of money for the guys who built them — at least when the economy is good and people from Kannapolis can afford to fill up their RVs with gas.

Well, the economy is no longer good and people from Kannapolis can no longer afford to fill up their RVs with gas, so there are a lot of empty seats at these gargantuan stock car racing stadiums. NBC is no longer interested and so pretty much everybody who doesn’t change his own oil has gone back to watching Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on Sunday afternoons.

The silver lining in all this is that whereas tickets to the NASCAR race at gargantuan Las Vegas Motor Speedway used to cost a bazillion dollars, they now cost $49. Plus, the Las Vegas race is in late February, when Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are making television commercials and courting supermodels, respectively, so you can watch Jimmie Johnson run around in circles and yell “EARNHARDT!” when the old man’s kid screams by and not have to worry you are missing anything good on TV.

This is why, in my opinion, NASCAR should shorten its season or at least restructure it in the manner of golf or tennis, where there are four major events or races, none of which goes head-to-head with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and a bunch of other races which are sort of fun to watch when there’s nothing else going on. You know, like the Quad Cities Open or those clay court championships in Indianapolis or Houston or wherever they hold them now.

That way, we could all tell our grandkids what a stud Jimmie Johnson is and second-guess Belichick when he goes for it on fourth-and-2 at his own 28 and not miss a thing.

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