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What's the Knock on Johnson? None

Oct 25, 2009 – 8:28 PM
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Holly Cain

Holly Cain %BloggerTitle%

Jimmie JohnsonIs there another sport that turns on its winners so?

And cheering against the New York Yankees doesn't count.

Another superb run in NASCAR's Chase for the Championship has put Jimmie Johnson in position for a historic fourth consecutive Sprint Cup title. He's on the verge of accomplishing something Richard Petty, the late Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon never did.

And for all his hard work and performance under pressure here's the thanks he gets: people are accusing him of stinking up the show.



Do we say that when Tiger Woods has 10 shots on the field in the final round of The Masters? No, we tune in and soak it up.

Through the first six races of the 10-race playoff, Johnson has three wins and scored a runner-up Sunday at Martinsville, Va., which extended his advantage over his Hendrick Motorsports teammate and second-place driver Mark Martin by 118 points.

It's Johnson's championship to lose and his pursuit is something that should be celebrated and embraced. In this ultra-competitive era of NASCAR there will never be another driver in position to win four straight again.

With the odds stacked against such an accomplishment, Johnson wasn't even considered the championship favorite by most of the voting media in a preseason NASCAR poll.

We hear so much about how "hungry" the 50-year-old, four-time championship runner-up Martin is to finally earn his first title. Imagine Johnson's motivation. His quest isn't just personal. It's historic.

For goodness sakes, what's it take to give the guy his due?

He now leads his other teammate, four-time champ Jeff Gordon by 150 points. Regular season points leader and two-time champ Tony Stewart is now 192 points back in fourth place.

Johnson's best competition is turning in top-five and top-10 runs every week and they can't catch him.

It's becoming less about what they can do. The hard fact is it's looking more like Johnson's going to have to endure some tough luck or the engraving may as well begin.

"That is what everybody in the whole series is thinking right now,'' said Darien Grubb, crew chief on Stewart's No. 14 Chevy and a former Hendrick Motorsports engineer. "He [Johnson] has got that dominant performance going and he is out there pulling away from everybody. You have a good strong run and you still lose points. That is a hard day to swallow.''


Other winners and losers this weekend at Martinsville, Va. ....

Juan Pablo Montoya returned to form with a third-place run, moving him into fifth place in the points. He had been one of the best stories of the year before his title bid was derailed last week with a 35th-place run in Charlotte. He said then, no one will have 10 clean races and that's about all the hope he and the rest of Johnson's pursuers are clutching to as the series heads to the most unpredictable venue on the circuit, Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

To Montoya's credit, he's taken the high road regarding an uncalled-for remark made at his expense by ESPN's Bob Griese during a college football telecast Saturday night. A graphic promoting the race showed only the top-five drivers and Griese commented that sixth place, Colombian-born Montoya must have been "out getting a taco.'' Griese apologized for the comment.

Although he didn't directly address his reaction to Griese's comment, Montoya told reporters following Sunday's race that, "I could say I spent the last three hours eating tacos, but I was actually driving the car.''

• Mark Martin isn't exactly flashy, but he's at least keeping Johnson honest. The veteran would have us think he's just trying to win races with a great team and that all this championship talk is purely bonus. But he sure isn't driving that way. Every time you think he's "just glad to be here" he turns in another top-10 run.

Denny Hamlin the hard luck kid finally finished one out. His win in his home state Virginia on Sunday stopped a two-race DNF skid and restored his confidence. Give the 28-year old credit, he's qualified for every Chase since he joined the Cup ranks full-time in 2006.

Ryan Newman improved one position in the standings to seventh place, and in winning his second pole position of the year, is holding up his end of the bargain in the Stewart-Haas Racing storybook season. Now for a win. He and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are the only drivers in Hendrick equipment that haven't reached victory circle yet. The big difference being Newman is a Chase driver and on track for his best season since 2005.

• Kyle Busch's fourth-place finish Sunday was his first top-five in over a month and looked a whole lot more like the four-time winner he is than the hard-luck driver he became the latter half of the regular season.

• On the other end of the scale is Earnhardt Jr. His down-and-out demeanor in Charlotte last weekend was troublesome. He claimed to be "near the end of my rope" suffering through one of the toughest seasons in his career. And that was before a mechanical failure relegated him to 38th place at Charlotte and tire problems contributed to a 29th-place finish Sunday at Martinsville. He fell two more spots in the standings and is now 24th and on pace for his career-worst finish in the championship.

• Carl Edwards' crash with a lap to go Sunday kind of summed his season, at least the frustrating Chase portion. He kept his No. 99 Ford rolling to secure a 20th place spot, but has had only two top-10 runs since August and yet somehow managed to be 10th in points.

• Suspended driver Jeremy Mayfield didn't say anything he hasn't already said in a one-on-one interview on ESPN's "Outside the Lines" program Sunday. He insists he's innocent, that he is NASCAR's designated example and that his career is over. The latter, we know at least, is true.
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