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Jimmie Johnson may not be alone: are NASCAR drivers too vanilla?

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As we've discussed before, one of the main complaints about Jimmie Johnson has been that he's too "vanilla," and that he doesn't have enough personality.

Johnson and his fans bristle at that suggestion and have offered many examples to the contrary. But even if the repeated stories aren't enough to convince fans that Johnson is more of a caramel macchiato, if the responses from the Sports Business Journal's fan pane are any indication, it's unfair to single out Johnson.

In preparation for the 2011 season, SBJ surveyed five fans on a variety of topics, ranging from sponsor loyalty, favorite driver choices and drivers' personalities. When it came to asking if drivers being too vanilla or scriped impacted fans' consumption of the sport, the responses were unanimous.

Terri: It’s impacted how I consume some of the peripheral programming. If I know exactly what someone’s going to say, I’m not going to bother listening.

Michael: The interviews aren’t as interesting as they used to be. You kind of used to look forward to the interviews after the race, especially if there was a wreck on track. You’d want to hear what the guy who got wrecked would say. “I’m going to get him next week,” or something like that. Now, if you say you’re going to wreck somebody — Denny Hamlin did that a couple of years ago, and he got penalized.

Susan: I tune out on the postrace. You really lose me after the burnout and they get the trophy and you start interviewing the second, third, fourth, fifth [finisher] or whatever. They’re all saying the same thing. They spit out their sponsors and it’s pretty much a script.

This is a bit of a double-edged sword for drivers and sponsors. Scott's, Carl Edwards' sponsor at the Atlanta race where he flipped Brad Keselowski, issued an apology for what happened. And Kyle Busch has become one of the most-booed drivers because of his personality, even though his merchandise sales have soared.

But all while displaying the emotions and attitude that have made him hated among a segment of the fanbase, Busch has developed into one of the sport's most adept product placement maestros. When was the last time you saw Busch drop less than 10 sponsor names during a victory lane interview? (And maybe that's why Busch's merchandise sales have soared. The fan panel's responses also solidified the impression that fans are NASCAR brand-loyal.)

It's not just the sponsors, though. We all remember Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin's "secret" fines for comments that weren't, uh, very glowing comments about the sport. As Michael pointed out above, it's not just the sponsor culture to blame.

So what gives? Are the predictable sponsor plugs and fear of monetary retribution for improper comments ruining your enjoyment of the sport? The racing certainly isn't, so is NASCAR even more like the personality-driven NBA than we realize?

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