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ABJ? Well, maybe these other guys just need to get their own act together | NASCAR Racing Breaking News: Trackside Live, Every Week, Every Sprint Cup Race - MikeMulhern.net


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ABJ? Well, maybe these other guys just need to get their own act together

  What's wrong with Joe Gibbs' guys this spring? Kyle Busch (L) and teammate Denny Hamlin. Mediocre so far, with no wins and only a handful of top-10s (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)  

   By Mike Mulhern

   Anybody But Jimmie?
   Sounds like a tee-shirt to me.
   "I've always wanted to be the guy who frustrated the garage," Johnson says with a grin.
    Well, he's doing it.
   "I watched Dale Earnhardt do it. I watched Jeff Gordon do it," the hottest driver in NASCAR was saying Friday morning as practice got underway for Sunday's Martinsville-Goody's 500.
   "If anyone says they're not worried about us, we're already in their heads."
    And smack-talking about it?
   Well, for relatively mild-manner Johnson it sure sounds like that edge.
  But then consider this:
    Johnson got a lucky break to win at California. Johnson followed with a win at Las Vegas. And he comes here after pulling out a win at Bristol.
    Then consider this:
   Johnson is one of the heavy favorites to win here....and he is one of the favorites to win at Phoenix, the next tour stop.
    Packaging all that together, Johnson would have won five of the year's first seven races.
    No one wonder rivals are getting a bit antsy.
    After all this is the guy who has won four straight Sprint Cup championships and will likely leave here with the stock car tour points lead.
    Where are all these other guys?
    Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500, in some Richard Childress-powered stuff, and the RC bunch itself opened the season strong. But the last few times Childress' guys haven't had the punch.
    Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and the rest of the Jack Roush bunch were looking strong too....but maybe that Carl Edwards flap has discombobulated things. And this hasn't been a great Ford track lately; the last win here for that marque was 2002.
    On the plus side of things this week, Larry Pearson and Charlie Glotzbach have finally been released from the hospital. Pearson, 56, got T-bonded by Glotzbach, 71, in a NASCAR legends race last weekend at Bristol.
    Glotzbach, a star during the 1960s and early 1970s (the guy who ran number 99, long before Carl Edwards), suffered a broken sternum, bruised some ribs, and apparently cracked a bone in his lower back. He calls that "the hardest hit I've ever taken."
    Pearson spun and hit the wall, which apparently knocked him out, and his car rolled back down the track, where he was hit hard by Glotzbach.
    After all that, it might be hard to get up a field for another legends race, at least at that fast track.
    Here, the story is all Jimmie Johnson – and how to stop him.
   Why not the Busch bros?
    Kurt Busch has become a force to be reckoned with this spring....though probably not here, he concedes.
   And what about kid brother Kyle Busch?
   Kyle Busch, now with Dave Rogers as crew chief after two years with Steve Addington, has had a slow start to the season, relatively. And that 25th at Atlanta wasn't a confidence builder.
   But with some topsy-turvy performances by rivals the past few weeks Busch suddenly finds himself in the top-10.
   Not that Busch isn't a top-10 driver, of course; he's won more races the last few years than anyone except Johnson.
   But Busch and Rogers seem to have a different game plan this season than Busch had with Addington.
   And Addington's success at Atlanta three weeks ago with Busch's brother Kurt, and Kurt's dominance again at Bristol (though Johnson sneaked off with the win), may be playing on Kyle Busch's head. And throw in the Jimmie Johnson twists...
     "I think it's more of a media game, where you feel like drivers get in other drivers' heads," Kyle Busch says dismissively.
    "Darrell Waltrip says he was the best at doing it when he was driving -- smack-talking, whatever. 
     "Me, I don't read anything, I don't hear anything. I never have a driver smack-talk me to my face."
     Ummmmm, sounding a little edgy there.
    And Kyle hasn't won a tour race since last August at Bristol....
    Is Addington's success playing on Busch?
   "I'm happy for him. I know he's a good crew chief," Kyle Busch says. "I just didn't think we had enough leadership skills around the team to win the championship.
   "Our on-track performance this season maybe hasn't been as good, but the team is working well together.
   "I look at our situation like (crew chief) Brian Pattie – he came in with Juan Pablo Montoya, and it took him almost a year, but look where they are now.
    "It's still early in the season....and I know there are a lot of stats out there...I'm actually surprised where we are in the points, considering our finishes (14, 14, 15, 25, 9)."
    Johnson is always a heavy favorite here; over the last nine races at this flat half-mile he hasn't finished worse than fourth, and he's notched six wins. Plus JJ has three wins in the first five events this season.
   Johnson says he hopes with his current hot run that he can get inside his rivals' heads.
    Does that bother Kyle Busch? "I'm only as good as my equipment. Jimmie Johnson isn't going to beat me because he's 'in my head,' but because he's got a better car than I do," Kyle says.
    "Everybody has been asking me why I haven't been running good.  Is it my head?  Is it because I'm running a Truck team?  Is it this, is it that? 
    "I'm driving my butt off every week.  I can only go as fast as my car will let me go."
    At least Busch is once again the number one dog in Joe Gibbs kennel (with an average finish so far of 15.4, compared to teammate Joey Logano's 18.6 and Denny Hamlin's 21.0).
    Still, Hamlin should expected to carry the deal for Gibbs here; he won here last fall, and he's won two of the last four at this track. Kyle Busch has never won a Cup race here.
    However Hamlin's run Sunday may offer an answer to the bigger Gibbs question: Is there something wrong in that camp? Is there something wrong with Toyota?
       The best runs for Gibbs' guys were Logano's fifth at California and sixth at Vegas. Busch's ninth at Bristol is the only other top-10 for Toyota's lead group.
     "Logano beats me because he makes the right calls during the race," Busch says. "We don't ever adjust on our car when we're leading that many laps....then coming down to the end of the race he 'wholesales it' and beats me."

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    Joey Logano (R) has been the most impressive of the Gibbs guys this season, but he's still erratic. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



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