Ratings take a dip

ATLANTA — Could Jimmie Johnson be the problem?

That seems to be the opinion of some, as NASCAR officials and ESPN executives huddle to try to find a cure for a 27-percent drop in TV ratings for Chase for the Sprint Cup races.

One school of thought is that Johnson wins too much, which is hard to argue since he has won the past four Chases and is dominating this one. They also say he's too vanilla to excite audiences.

Johnson isn't buying the argument.

''Well I know that I'm not the reason for those things, and I sure as (expletive) know I'm not vanilla," he said at Charlotte last week. "I think it takes anybody some time to get comfortable in their shoes and their sport. I went from being like a C-level driver in Nationwide ... to drive for Hendrick Motorsports, and at the end of the day I want to be a professional and do my job. ... It's unfortunate that it still lingers around because I think I've done plenty to show that I'm far from vanilla."


And he said he's getting more comfortable in his role as a superstar. Johnson said he initially had to come across as a squeaky clean all-American because that was one of the tools he used to attract the backing needed to advance his career in motorsports.

''When I come to the track I just want to make sure I'm doing my best job and representing my sponsors," he said. "I think I'm finding a better balance of that. And from the success that we've had, it's just unfair to put it on a driver's success."

He pointed to the economy and the high costs of attending races for waning interest.

''There are a lot of conversations about the prices being too high for hotel rooms," he said. "The tracks have worked very hard to get their price point down, and that hasn't really moved the needle all that much."

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