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Is it time for NASCAR to call 9-1-1 on Jimmie Johnson now...or just promote him to Formula One?

   Those late-race restarts were a bear....and Jimmie Johnson (48) had to play it just right on teammate Jeff Gordon (24) (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    By Mike Mulhern

    FONTANA, Calif.
    Maybe this is why NASCAR needs Danica: The Jimmie Johnson Stock Car Racing League held another meet here Sunday, and Jimmie Johnson – surprise, surprise – was the big winner.
    And that fourth straight Sprint Cup title is looking better and better for him and crew chief Chad Knaus.
    Maybe Formula One next season, and give us all a break…..
    It was a surprisingly easy Sunday for Johnson. Well, maybe not surprising, since it was his third straight late-season win at this two-mile flat track. But it was rather easy, all in all.
   "There were points where Juan Pablo Montoya was better than us….a couple cars, like Denny Hamlin, for a handful of laps showed some really, really good pace….But it seemed like on the long haul for the majority of the race, we had what we needed," Johnson said.
    Yeah, man. And then some. And some more. 
   Even teammate Jeff Gordon, who finished a distant second, conceded he had nothing for Johnson – even though both cars are built by the same people in the same shop and Gordon himself has access to all the notes.
    Gordon did make a few runs at Johnson, but Johnson led 126 of the 250 laps, Gordon but six – and those were the first six laps he's led in this chase.
    Finally those two-abreast restarts paid off in some real action…..too much action for some late in the day.
    With six laps to go, on a restart after another crash, the race was red-flagged for 20 minutes to clean up debris from the last crash of the long, long afternoon. That set up a double-file restart, with Johnson versus Gordon.
   And Johnson quickly blew away his teammate.
   "The tough part at the end of the race was the restarts," Johnson said. "It's so tough, with the straightaway this long.
   "It's tough to control your destiny on a restart, because the guys behind you really control who is going to lead going into turn one.  Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don't. 
    "If the guy behind you gets a poor start, you're not going anywhere. 
    "It's almost like being at Daytona or Talladega with the drafts.  
     "That last restart worked out well for me.  I had a great start on Jeff and was just able to clear him off turn two. That certainly made the difference for us."
    Montoya has been on such a tear it's surprising he's still behind the points. "When it was cool, we were really good…we had the fastest car, and I could just drifted through the corners," Montoya said. "As it got hotter, I got looser, and couldn't get on the gas.
    "We tried to fix that, and the more we fixed it, the worst it got in the corner.
    "I think I had a car good enough to beat Jeff.  But he pinned me down the last lap and got me really loose.
    "But, hey, we finished third. That is good for the chase. So we'll just move on.
    "If you'd ask me – or anybody – 'Did you think we were going to be this competitive when the chase started?'
    "We just wanted to make the chase.  And we played our strategy to make the chase.  
     "Now if I could run this good every week next year, then you can win races, take risks, and it doesn't matter.
     "But you know if you DNF one race…."
       Crew chief Chad Knaus said Johnson's win was all patience and cool: "Jimmie was patient when he needed to be patient.  He wasn't overly aggressive in the draft.  Didn't hit the wall like you saw a bunch of guys getting into the fence.  
    "Jimmie was methodical about the way he drove all day and kept our car good to the end."
   After the race NASCAR announced it would take the cars of Johnson and Mark Martin, and  back to Concord, N.C., for more detailed inspection, and the engines of Johnson, Gordon and Newman.
      "It was fun-fun on those restarts," Gordon said with a grimace. "Even when I would get the lead on Jimmie, I knew how strong he was.
    "I tried to run the bottom in three and four. But on one of those last restarts, he just drove right by me on the outside.
    "Still, we were about an eighth-place car when this started and got ourselves up to second.
     "We are making slow gains in the points. We got to make more gains."
    Johnson was so strong it was hard to take his warnings seriously: "There are still six more to go. So it's great, and makes life right right now, but there are still six more to go."
   Still, Johnson and Knaus are incredibly strong in the chase every season. "It really boils down to the fact that the tracks in the chase are my strongest tracks," Johnson said. "Martinsville, Lowe's, this track -- they are tracks that we win at.  
     "So far I am very proud of how we've been able to keep our composure with the pressure that's come our way.  Today we did a good job of it. But there are still six more times to stub our toes."
   The man who should be a bit miffed at the point system is Montoya, who finished third – his fourth consecutive top-five finish in the chase. Despite that streak, better than anyone's , Montoya is still only third in the standings. But then, he reminded, he started the chase 40 points down.
    Tony Stewart, who dominated the regular but who has struggled since August (though he did win Kansas last weekend), was relieved to get out here okay. He finished fifth but it wasn't pretty. Still he did come from a lap down: "It was making chicken salad out of chicken-you-know-what. We were pretty fortunate to get a couple of breaks there when we needed them."
   Worried about the chase yet? He's 84 down.
   "We have a lot of racing left," Stewart said. "We weren't quite as good as we wanted to be today, but we just keep digging.
    "We just lost so much track position, and we had to fight to get it back. Then a lot of guys who had solid days toward the end of the race got their cars hurt."
    While Rick Hendrick men took four of the top-five spots, Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn't among them. He did get up to 10th once, but he got involved in a late crash and wound up 25th. "We are doing whatever we can to stay positive," Earnhardt said.
    "We had a top-10 car…and it's unfortunate a lot of good cars got tore up there at the end."

   No photo-finish here. Better find the wide-angle, Rusty. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


I agree totally with you...

I'm a loooongtime Nascar fan (since the late 70's) I have been sitting down in front of the TV set on Sunday afternoons absolutely religiously. But with all the changes Nascar has made in the last ten years, the Chase, the over-regulation of the sport, pit road speeding (isn't it a RACE?), the overly-hyped tv coverage, the boring cookie cutter tracks .. and now Jimmy (Yawn) Johnson wins everything - I mean everything, no matter what. Kyle Busch was my last ray of hope that the sport had some balls left to it, but we see how the Chase format treated him. Danica Patrick would a lest give me something exciting to watch for once... oh wait, I can already do that now if I watch Indy. I'm totally bored and disillusioned with Nascar, see you at the football game.

I absolutely agree that

I absolutely agree that NASCAR is overregulating this sport....and that hasn't helped smaller teams, it's run them out of business.
the COT -- safety, yes, but a big aim of those rules is for NASCAR to have more control over everything. NASCAR is all about control (maybe that's why I'm always in their doghouse LOL). TV is, well, i like the people doing it, and they're trying, but really there is something misssing there -- nascar racing somehow seems to have lost its soul....or maybe just sold it to the devil.....the question now is how do we get it back?


What does Montoya have to complain about regarding the points system or the Chase? He has not won a race all year and he is third in the points. Give me a winner like JJ (or Kyle Busch) any day over a points racer.

yes! montoya was upfront

yes! montoya was upfront about points racing to make the chase.....that's why i want to see big bonuses for winning races and leading laps. I want nascar to give a driver the opportunity to hit a home run. and what has happened to kyle busch? has he just given up on cup?

For all you "long time" NASCAR fans...

Talk to the guy on the 00's team that got belted by the 14 earlier this year at less than 10 mph. and then mention that pit-road speeding penalties aren't at least SOMEWHAT justified. I'm pretty sure your gun-slingin' attitude would change when a crew member's remains get picked off someone's splitter under a red flag...

Aside from that, yeah JJ's killing the suspense. Yeah, Hendrick essentially owns NASCAR (both with on-track performance and with skirting rules), but for the love of all that is good and pure do NOT tell me that the racing was better way-back-when as opposed to today. You must have been watching highlight reels back in the 70's and 80's because having only two or three cars on the same lap, battling it out by FULL seconds on the track most of the time does NOT sound like a great race to me. I was one of the few in the stands at ACS yesterday and was actually entertained by most of the race, even with all of the shortcomings that this track (and the SoCal fanbase has in the eyes of the Southern Elitists) may have.

Yes, Daytona Corporate and Concord do need to look at adjusting some of the COT's design to make for better racing (EFI, smaller engines, larger tires, etc). But stop pining for the Good Ol' Days and whatever backwoods-distilled memory you may have about the sport, because for all that it is, today's NASCAR is just about the same as before. I mean, wasn't there another tall, lanky, polite fellow with a million-dollar smile and corporate sensibility in a blue-ish car puttin' a spanking on the competition, amidst the howls of "cheatin'" by the his fellow competitors back in the day?

my point -- if a driver hits

my point -- if a driver hits somebody on pit road, he gets penalized. if nascar thinks a crewman is going to jump out in front of a car and do the place-kicker falldown routine, well, sorry, dont buy that. YOU jump out in front of tony stewart.....
i was at talladega when don miller, catch can man for penske, lost his leg when hit on pit road.....
penalizing a driver for 'speeding,' but not penalizing a driver for breaking a crewman's foot is absurd.
Re: the good old days -- actually what we forget is, yes, there were only a handful of teams that ran well enough to win, but there were so many more ways to make mistakes -- blown engines were much more common, for example, and bias-ply tires were notoriously flaky, which means a 'bad set' of tires could turn a race around. those things don't really happen any more.

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