By admin | March 15, 2009
By Richard Allen
If you have ever watched the scroll at the bottom of the major sports networks you may have noticed something about the golf results as they roll by. The winner of the most recent tournament is shown and perhaps the rest of Top 5 will also be listed. Then, it will always be noted where Tiger Woods finished. Of course, there is usually no need to attach where he finished because he wins so often.
Last night, I noticed that very thing in regard to the PGA Tournament held over the past weekend. The scroll reported that Phil Mickelson had won the event but it also noted that Tiger Woods had finished 9th.
I got to thinking when I read that, NASCAR really doesn’t have that type of personality. What I mean is, there isn’t that one guy who after it is reported who won the race everyone then asks, “Yeah, but how did ____ do?”
In its history NASCAR has had those characters. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon in earlier years have all played that role in the NASCAR drama.
Tiger Woods has that rare combination of a big persona and the ability to dominate his sport. In his career he has won an astounding 65 tournaments, including 14 majors. And at the same time, he is the focal point of virtually every fan of the game, whether it be in a positive or negative way.
In NASCAR today, there is no one with the ability to dominate both on the track and in the grandstand like that.
Jeff Gordon was a person who could do that at one time. He has won 81 races and four championships, but he has not won a race since 2007 and has not taken a title since 2001.
A few years ago, EVERYONE used to react when his name was called in pre-race introductions and EVERYONE used to ask, “Yeah, but how did Jeff Gordon do?” on Monday. Now, some, perhaps even many, may ask that question. Problem is, they have to ask it every week because he does not win with the frequency he used to.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. does have one thing in common with Tiger. He controls the grandstand. There is no question who the most popular driver in the sport is. However, Junior doesn’t win. He took only one checkered flag last season and before that he had not won since 2006. It has been since 2004 that he won more than one race in a season. Also, Junior has never won a championship.
Carl Edwards has the flair to draw interest to himself. His back flips can certainly compete with Tiger’s fist pump. However, Edwards has never won a championship nor a Daytona 500. And, he has not been at the top of his game for long enough to equate himself with a Tiger type personality.
Jimmie Johnson is the guy who can put his on track record up against Tiger’s on course record over the most recent span of time. The thing about Johnson, however, is that he is just too politically correct to either endear himself or alienate himself with the fans. He never goes out on a limb and is too reluctant to stir the pot. Most NASCAR fans when asked about Johnson may respond with a word like ‘boring’ more quickly than ‘talented’. He has the record of wins and championship to go up against anyone in any sport, but he does not have the panache.
Tony Stewart may have come the closest since Gordon to have that Tiger like persona. He is certainly not afraid to speak his mind. And, like Tiger, he as the ability to make people care, one way or the other. However, Woods has won the biggest events in his sport 14 times. Stewart has never won the Daytona 500, although he has won at the Brickyard multiple times. Still, however, he is just shy of the Tiger criteria.
If Kyle Busch continues to win and stir things up at his current rate he may be the person who can make EVERYONE care one way or the other. There are many who watch golf just to see Tiger win, but there are many who watch just to see him lose. Busch has the personality to make people always take him into consideration. However, he is a championship or two and several big wins away from Tiger Woods status.
As was mentioned before, NASCAR has had its share of huge personalities. And, it will have them again. Right now, however, there is not that one guy who commands the attention of EVERYONE.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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