CONCORD — Those of you who contend that Jimmie Johnson is the product of a superior team rather than a superior driver need to watch the last 10 laps of Saturday’s Sprint All-Star Race.
Of course, Johnson by now doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody. He is the best driver of our time and perhaps of all-time. He won five straight Cup championships. On Saturday he became the first driver to win four all-star races.
The race wasn’t interesting, but that’s not Johnson’s fault. The selling point was: What would a driver to do win a million dollars?
Watch the back of Johnson’s Chevrolet, apparently.
There’s more passing on I-485 at 4:30 p.m. than on Saturday’s final 10-lap segment. Johnson went low to break away from Hendrick teammate Kasey Kahne early on the segment and that was it. Nobody was catching him. Nobody does.
Johnson’s team was as fast as he was, delivering a precise pit stop that put Johnson in position to do what he does. They gave him four tires in 11 seconds. Try that at home.
Johnson wasn’t as dominant as he was in last year’s all-star race. But he didn’t have to be.
During driver introductions fans booed him even more loudly than usual. Perhaps they are still angry about the all-star race in 2012. But fans booed almost everybody but Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the various Sprint race queens. Fans never boo race queens. The drivers they didn’t boo they ignored.
Most of the evening, there was more interest in the weather than in the drivers. Fans might have booed it, too. Along pit road, you could find flat screen TVs turned to race coverage and flat screens TVs that offered radar. The radar drew bigger crowds.
The race offered story lines, but a wet track tends to water them down. Because of the rain, the race started 40 minutes late. Eight laps in rain halted it for 41 minutes and 28 seconds.
The prevailing story line became: find a way to dry the track more quickly. Borrow NASCAR’s Air Titan, which relies on compressed air. Or invent mini-helicopters with giant blades that fly above the track, but not too high above it.
Among the story lines: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. raced his way in by finishing second in the evening’s play-in race. His girlfriend, Danica Patrick, was voted in.
There’s no shame in receiving the fan vote. If fans voted you in, you’d accept, too. All-star races honor athletes but they also honor fans. Fans invest their money and their emotion. They’re entitled to a vote. This is their reward.
Fans have the opportunity to vote one driver into the field and they chose Patrick.
Some fans will claim the vote was rigged. A conspiracy in NASCAR; are you kidding?
But there are thousands of fans who don’t follow the sport who follow Patrick. Their votes count, too.
And how could Patrick have cheated? Even though she has an occasional glass of wine with Chad Knaus – Johnson’s crew chief – they don’t work together.
After the race, team owner Rick Hendrick leaned into Johnson’s car, and Johnson offered him a ride. Hendrick declined.
That was Johnson’s only failure of the evening and one of his few of the season.