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Jimmie Johnson wins the Dover 400 pole, Richard Childress' guys struggle, and Chicagoland Speedway gets a new boss.

  Jimmie Johnson (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


By Mike Mulhern



   The stars may be starting to align for Jimmie 'Four-time' Johnson.
   He won the pole Friday for Sunday's Dover 400, at the one-mile concrete track where he dominated in May until a pit road penalty doomed him to 16th and opened the door for Kyle Busch.
   Plus fallout from the NASCAR versus Clint Bowyer controversy, after Bowyer's title-killing 150-point penalty over his winning Loudon car, may be hitting rival championship-contending teammates Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton too, if qualifying runs by the Richard Childress-owned teams are any indication. Harvick, sport's regular season 'champ,' qualified only 34th; Burton, 28th; and Bowyer himself, 25th.
   Johnson's teammate, Mark Martin, qualified third but was bounced to the rear of the field for Sunday's 1 p.m. ET start because of excessive gas pressure in his right rear shock. (Pumping up shock pressures like that raises the rear spoiler and increased aerodynamic downforce in the corners.)

   AJ Allmendinger (R) is front row for the Dover 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   One of the men Johnson may not have to contend with Sunday, at least not for the win, is Denny Hamlin, the Sprint Cup points leader, and runner-up at Loudon, who insists he's still just trying to get through these opening playoff races as cleanly as possible. "This has been a tough track for us," Hamlin points out. "We've gotten in accidents, we've had mechanical failures....even when we do seem to run well at this track.
   "So it's all about conserving. I hate to say that, but for us this has been a track that's really bitten us, and put us really far behind in the chase."
   So Johnson could likely cut into that 92-point lead Hamlin holds after Race One of the 10-race playoffs. Johnson had one of the cars to beat at Loudon, N.H., but got caught up in a series of problems and wound up 25th.
   Johnson suffered through a ragged summer, and he's hoping for a better fall.

   However the story of the moment is the Bowyer controversy. His penalties are under appeal, but car owner Richard Childress concedes that over his career he is winless in three such NASCAR appeals. Nevertheless Childress vows to appeal all the way to the man NASCAR executives have appointed as the sport's 'chief appellate officer,' John Middlebrook, the highly respected and now retired GM executive.
   There are a number of curious questions surrounding the Bowyer situation and NASCAR's handling of things the past two weeks.
   Certainly a controversy like this – essentially knocking out of title contention the man who won the sport's playoff opening championship event – doesn't do much for NASCAR's credibility. And the sport is still struggling with slumping TV ratings – Loudon's 2.3 rating on ESPN was the lowest rated championship race ever, and one of the lowest rated regularly-scheduled NASCAR races ever.
   Childress himself raised the issue of the weak U.S. economic climate and the problems team owners are having getting full Sprint Cup sponsorships, and noted bad publicity like this isn't good for sponsors.
   Harvick says "Obviously that is a pretty big deal to Richard, and he feels pretty strongly about where he stands on everything.

   John Saunders, taking over Chicagoland Speedway, on an 'interim' basis (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   "When you have a guy like Richard Childress, who has been a part of this sport for as long as he has (40 years now), and the reputation that he has, I think you have to look at that and say 'The guys are pretty honest guys.'
   "Things happen, and everybody pushes the limits. Whether it's right or wrong, I don't know.... but it happens."
   Burton, the third teammate, says this controversy is about integrity:
   "We have a lot of belief at RCR about integrity, and about doing things the right way...and by no means did Clint's team go to the track believing in any form or fashion that they would have any trouble with tech whatsoever.
   "Like other teams, they had been warned the week before that NASCAR was telling them they were really, really close to the tolerances with that car. And so there was an effort put in so that there was no issue.
"There was an issue -- so there is a circumstance there that is an odd circumstance.
   "I'm obviously not questioning NASCAR's measuring abilities, because it's pretty precise the way they do it. But the intent was certainly to be 100 percent legal -- and to the point where it was very clear that car was going to the tech center (for further post-race inspection).
   "It's disappointing."

     Craig Rust: out as boss of Chicagoland Speedway (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Burton refuted Denny Hamlin's claim that it was widely known in the NASCAR garage that Bowyer's cars were too close to the line.
   "We feel 100 percent confident we don't have a problem with our cars, based on the fact that we've not had a problem with our cars," Burton said of his own team.
   "Prior to the last two weeks there has been no issue (with any RCR cars). And we just have to believe in our measurements.
   "It's made us all look very closely at what we are doing...and certainly there is a cause for concern for the other two teams.
   "But we believe we have the matter under control.
   "I believe in this case there is something that happened during the race that changed. I know the work that went into that car to make sure that it was legal. There was a tremendous amount of effort after Richmond to make sure it was legal. So something odd happened."
   "We all work very well together, we work hard together, and when a team is having a problem, it's an RCR problem...not just a problem with Clint and his team.
   "Then we all need to pitch in together to fix it.
   "Everyone needs to understand that everyone knew that car was going to the tech center....and there is no way that something intentionally would have been done to make that car illegal. That is what is difficult about this situation."


   Craig Rust, president of Chicagoland Speedway for a year now, after seven years as president of Watkins Glen, is suddenly out, in another shakeup by the France family's International Speedway Corp.
   John Saunders, the long-time ISC executive in Daytona, was named Friday to run the Joliet, Ill., track on an "interim" basis, while ISC boss Lesa France Kennedy looks for a new person to head that Chicago-area track.
   What might have led to the sudden, unexpected move – Chicago is the third-largest U.S. market, but it didn't sell out its 75,000 seats this summer. And Chicagoland Speedway is to open NASCAR's 2011 championship chase next September....a move by NASCAR and ISC that has raised some eyebrows, considering the competition from Chicago's NFL Bears and other Chicago attractions.
   Rust is the second ISC track president to be pushed out, following Daytona's Robin Braig.
   However Braig's departure was followed quickly by Joie Chitwood's move into that job full-time.

   David Ragan (L) and new crew chief Drew Blickensderfer (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


obviously the Childress cars

obviously the Childress cars were cheating. Look how they qualified. Heck, NASCAR even warned them. He thought he could get by with it. Anyone who uses that much hair dye is up to something. He has a bunch of thugs on his teams, they steal other owners' sponsors, have the only driver who was banned from a race (Harvick). Dressing the whole sewer with poor Jeff Burton is sad. He is integrity. The rest are a bunch of goobers.

It is rather odd that the

It is rather odd that the Childress cars are suddenly slow after all of this. Is it NASCAR further cracking down on them, or that their cars are finally "legal". They were slow as a turtle last year, and very fast this year. With NASCAR, you never know who to believe because they have about as much integrity as the perps.
Richard Childress trying to get off the hook by saying it's bad publicity for the sport given the economic climate is worse than NASCAR handling this ordeal like they did. Really, Richard? Should NASCAR sweep this under the rug and hide it to give the appearance that there was no foul? Puhlease!!
NASCAR needs an overhaul with their rulebook, consistency with their penalties, and how they police the sport and hand those penalties out. The teams crying innocence when they push things outside the envelope needs to cease also, as they know exactly what they are doing.

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