Friday, March 26, 2010

NASCAR Needs a Cinderella

March Madness is in full swing.  It's the season of upsets and underdogs. Buzzer beaters and overtime. And nothing gets basketball fans' blood pumping like a team from outta nowhere that ends up beating the pants off a top-seeded school.

Right now, I'm watching those cornfed panthers of Northern Iowa rock through the big dance.  And, as of post time, these underdogs have their sights set on Michigan State.  It's exciting, heartwarming, and all the things that make college ball so flipping fantastic.

And then there's NASCAR. 

We're five races into the 2010 season, and the No. 48 team  is again dominating the field.  Jimmie Johnson and the genius of Chad Knaus have notched three wins thus far.  And  all signs are pointing to another history-making season for the Lowe's crew.

For Johnson fans (I admit, I am one), these early victories are satisfying proof that Johnson has taken the sport to a new level. But for the greater NASCAR universe, this year has been deja vu all over again - and not in a good way.

There are a multitude of reasons why fans don't cotton to Johnson and his brand of racing.  And these whys and wherefores can be much better explained by the same researchers who delved into the reasons why fans hate winning basketball teams.

To wit, this lengthy quote from Paul Damiano, organizational psychologist for GoodWorks:

 "I think teams follow a similar life cycle to the one that businesses follow, going from an entrepreneurial stage to growth and development to getting bigger and ultimately becoming a monopoly and undergoing regulation. In business, the entrepreneurial phase is young and exciting. In sports, these are the teams just coming onto the scene, and all of a sudden they start generating success.Then we go to the growth phase. In business, you begin to develop more consistent systems and procedures, and you can replicate your success. In basketball, teams start to get a 15- or 20-win season more frequently, and success breeds success because they're able to get better players. At that point we still like these teams, because we remember when they were nobodies and it's kind of cool watching them succeed. But then it turns ugly. Just like in business, the teams enter a cycle of dominance. This is the monopolistic phase. And we don't like monopolies. ...we start to think they've developed unfair business practices. They get to be on TV more, so they get more exposure, which lets them attract higher-caliber players, which gets the sports media speaking more highly of them. And then, just as people think monopolies get unfair business and trade advantages, people think the team gets too much of the benefit of the doubt from the regulatory agencies—a.k.a. the referees."

Sound like any race fans you know?

But regardless of whether they like Johnson or not, the average NASCAR aficionado will agree that the sport could use some of the unexpected competition which characterizes the world of college hoops.  The field needs a Northern Iowa -  a race team from quarters unknown that shows up and puts up a serious fight.  We need an under-hyped, underdog driver to give Johnson a run for his championship.

In short, NASCAR needs a true Cinderella to get the fans back in the game. 

Heck, at this point, we'll even take a  wicked stepsister.

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