The great mystery of life is not “why use restrictor plates when its obvious they make racing more dangerous and less exciting at the same time,” or “does Brian France really know what he’s doing,” or even “How many damn Waltrips do they really need in a broadcast booth at once?” The real question is “How is it that a four-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion trails in sales behind a guy who hasn’t won a race in two years?”
There’s really no definite answer so much as it is a conglomeration of a few.
Firstly, its not that Jimmie Johnson isn’t marketable so much as it is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is more marketable.
Why is he more marketable, you say? Because his empire was built and being run like he was a pop star. The “Buy this because I say so” mentality plagues the sport as well as other fields. Just like Spencer’s brainwashes everyone to buy Boondock Saints and Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise because it’s there, Walmart brainwashes people into buying Mountain Dew and Amp gear.
Jimmie doesn’t have a family legacy to fall back on during hard times nor did he immediately jump into awesome equipment.
In fact, his Busch (now Nationwide) results were absolutely abysmal. He had to dig his way, tooth and nail, to where he is now. Johnson was fortunate enough to land a ride with Rick Hendrick.
Secondly, Jimmie is boring. He’s been in Sprint Cup since 2001 and what is the most interesting thing you’ve heard about him? That one time he sprained his hand riding on top of a golf cart. (I’m convinced alcohol was involved, and I’m convinced he’s trying to hide the fact that he might actually be quite entertaining.)
Earnhardt, Jr., on the other hand, is colorful all the time. Fans love people who run their mouths constantly. This is why Tony Stewart is popular, and yet people fall asleep once Matt Kenseth takes the lead.
The top three drivers in sales are Earnhardt, Jr., Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon: all who invoke controversy.
On the flip-side, Jimmie’s crew chief Chad Knaus can be arrogant and offensive. Double standards in NASCAR allow the driver to be an ass, but none of the crew members. Remember Powerade Victory Lane? Of course you don’t. When Johnson (or any driver at the time) would win, they put Powerade bottles on top of the car. Johnson (and most of the other drivers) would knock them off once they got out of the car, since the majority of drivers at the time were sponsored by Gatorade. NASCAR told Johnson’s team specifically not to remove the bottles in victory lane. What was their solution? Make a giant Lowe’s sign to cover up the bottles as soon as the celebration began. NASCAR proceeded to fine the team 50 grand, but Powerade got the message and hasn’t been seen sponsoring a victory lane since.
Finally, Johnson wins way too damn much. Ever seen the signs in the seventies that used to say “Anyone but Petty”? That’s whats happening here. When the same guy keeps winning races and championships over and over again, it gets boring and it gets frustrating to the fans as well as the sponsors.
If fans get bored, they’re not going to by merchandise and they sure as Hell aren’t going to buy merchandise from the man making it boring.
Johnson and his crew are both somewhat of a liability when it comes to marketing and sales. Johnson, because he is too clean cut and doesn’t cause controversy (and wins all the time) and his crew for coming up with clever ways of “sticking it to the man.”
Maybe if he would act more like he did when he rode around on the top of a golf cart and his crew could act a little less like the kid with their hand in the cookie jar, he’d woo more fans and thus more money would be spent.
Until then, Earnhardt, Stewart and Gordon will continue to rake in the cash because they have mastered controversy.
Editor’s Note: Beginning this week, and going throughout the 2010 NASCAR season, Audibly Offensive will be featuring a weekly Friday column from our newest family member, James Burton.
Burton is student at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama, and has been a columnist for different regional publications as well as a NASCAR analyst for WLJS, 91.9 FM.