Digital NASCAR Heading for Disaster?

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NASCAR has recently shifted to online racing and it has been awesome. I am thankful for it and have been enjoying it greatly. I have always thought this should have been a bigger deal and it is interesting that it has taken a worldwide event to make it happen. However, there are some strange circumstances that need to be addressed if even the future of e-racing is to continue.

My thought about the sport was that all the current drivers would be racing virtually and continue the season online. NASCAR fantasy could continue, drivers points would be awarded, and at the end of the season, we would have a champion. Even if when we do get back to real-life racing,  maybe it can be used for weather canceled races. Just a thought, but continuing on. Just recently, some issues have evolved that are beginning to blur the lines between real and digital racing.

At first glance, NASCAR moving online is a great idea. However, not all the current active cup series drivers are racing virtually. There are some retired drivers and other series drivers in the mix as well. What is the reason for this? Is it just for fun? I do understand that many of the drivers are not as familiar with virtual racing as others, so maybe they don’t want to race online. Is it for entertainment and for fans to enjoy until we can get back to real racing? Well, the next paragraph is going to make you ask what truly is “real” racing.

Bubba Wallace apparently “rage quit” after wrecking out of the virtual Bristol race on April 5, 2020. Blue Emu, a longtime real-life sponsor of RPM, did not take kindly to that action and fired Bubba. While there are many factors that go into this on all sides, ego, attitude, and expectations, one can’t help but wonder…what now is the point of this virtual racing?

If you can lose your real-life sponsor in a digital event where non-cup drivers are competing, how is that not real? I watched just about the whole race. The coverage is vastly different than real races. I had no idea that Bubba had even “rage quit.” How is it different than any driver in real-life wrecking out of a race? This just set a dangerous precedence and NASCAR needs to scramble fast to figure out some rules to this. Clearly, nothing can be for fun anymore.

Jimmie Johnson’s Freaky Fast Forthcoming

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NASCAR has been a sore subject for many people in the last few years. While I have not been thrilled at every moment, I have not been disappointed. My approach and interest in the sport is far deeper and greater than the product produced on Sundays. For instance, the case of Jimmie Johnson.

Jimmie is a 7-time NASCAR champion that has won in many of the variables of point systems in the sport. His primary sponsorship for the last 18 years, his entire NASCAR career, has been Lowe’s. He has been with Hendrick Motorsports and has driven a Chevrolet his entire career. He has had a steadfast and loyal career for both he and all parties surrounding him.

However, earlier this year, news leaked that shocked the sport. Lowe’s would be ending their sponsorship of the number 48 car driven by Johnson. As if that has not been difficult enough to dwell on, Jimmie has not won a race yet this season and is currently 12th in points. This year has also shown the potential strain of having two rookie team mates to teach as well. His third team mate is only in his second year. There is not much experience to go by and all three might rely heavily on Jimmie’s experience, leaving no one for Jimmie to sharpen against. Lastly, for the 2018 season, Chevrolet introduced the Camaro body to replace the SS body. It is an amazing looking vehicle, but any new body style means new aerodynamics and handling. Jimmie and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, have been re-writing the notebook this year in almost every way, instead of referring to the notebook.

I will admit, I have not always been a fan of Jimmie. I used to think all he did was win and I used to prefer the rival sponsor Home Depot to his sponsor Lowe’s. For me, shopping weighs heavily on “which NASCAR team am I sponsoring when I buy here?” However, time has changed my view. I have grown to respect and appreciate Jimmie. He is a true champion. He is humble and calm and has not let success go to his head. He has statistics that rival or better drivers such as Richard Petty or Dale Earnhardt. Only this year have I really understood just how much Jimmie has done. I have incredible respect for him. He might not have the public’s or the fans’ true favor as the hall of fame company he has hard fought and rightfully gained status with. That to me is quite baffling.

All of that has me concerned that Jimmie might end up the way Matt Kenseth found himself at the end of the 2017 season. Matt was left with no sponsor, no ride, and not retired. He was simply left, in essence, jobless. While one can speculate as to how and why that happened for Matt, doesn’t it seem at all possible to speculate the same could happen to a 7-time champion? No sponsor at the end of the season, no wins yet currently in the season, 18 years in the sport, the oldest of the team, no experience to draw from, and a newer car that needs time to be dialed in, could be the recipe for a champions swift end in the sport. I am really hoping that is not the case.

Side note. My wife always asks me “Why doesn’t Jimmie Johnson drive the Jimmy John’s car?” There might be hope yet.