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As mild-mannered as Clark Kent, when Jimmie Johnson steps into his race car, it's like stepping into that phone booth -- and out pops Superman

  Yo, dude: Where's your car? Jimmie Johnson salutes the crowd after winning the Dover 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   DOVER, Del.
   Mark Martin may be right: "Jimmie Johnson is Superman.
   "I've been able to see up close why he's so good – he's works harder at it than anyone."
   Johnson swept to another victory in Sunday's Dover 400, blowing away the field and holding on against a late-race charge by Martin. It was Johnson's 44th tour win since joining the NASCAR world eight years ago, a remarkable number, and it puts him ever closer to what would be an historic fourth consecutive Cup championship.
   "I certainly hope our performance today scares some people," Johnson said.
   "But me, I just ignore everything else myself. I tried to match wits in 2005 with Tony Stewart (in that title battle) and it didn't work. So ever since I've just put blinders on. Ignore, ignore, ignore. That's my game plan."
   Well, none of his rivals are ignoring Johnson, that's for sure. "I'm glad we've 'gapped' some of our chase contenders," Johnson said. "I hope people are worried, I hope people get wound up about things that don't matter. And we'll just keep focused."

This is why engine builders and crew chiefs sometimes prefer their drivers not celebrate too hard -- Jimmie Johnson broke something in his winning Chevy during a post-race burnout and had to be pushed to victory lane (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Yes, it may be difficult to shake Martin in this chase.
   But Johnson, given teammate Jeff Gordon's troubles and Tony Stewart's difficulties, is already starting to look like Mr. Inevitable.
   "I woke up this morning very optimistic, very excited, and I knew by lap two or three that we would have a good competitive day, though I didn't know how good it would be," Johnson said.
    "I was nervous about things Saturday, so Chad (Knaus, his crew chief) and the guys went over some ideas, and when they got back to me later in the night and told me what they were thinking, that struck something deep inside me – 'Yes, that's exactly what I need in the corners.'"
   And it certainly was. Nobody could touch Johnson.
   The only unsettling thing for Johnson was the unexpected run by Matt Kenseth, who hasn't been much of a factor all summer. "I think Matt had me more concerned than anyone, because I hadn't seen him all day, and I didn't know what he might have for us," Johnson said.
   Not enough, at the end.
   So Johnson is now two-for-two here at Dover International Speedway. These wins go with a win at Martinsville (a chase stop in a couple of weeks) and Indianapolis (a flat track that might have some similar characteristics to Phoenix).
   His edge here? "This track is the closest thing we have to off-road racing, because you spend so much time in the air," Johnson says.
   Yes, drivers here sometimes think they're running with basketballs for tires.
   So has the chase really begun yet? Drivers, including Johnson, have come from far behind after these first two races.
   And then maybe the chase is all but over: already down to Johnson versus Martin, with their rivals expected now perhaps to make some crucial mistakes.
   "Emotionally it probably gets more intense later in the chase….but they all pay the same points to win," Johnson says coolly. "If you get off to a slow start, you have to hope the other guys stumble….."
   And you have to hope that Jimmie Johnson isn't among 'the other guys.'

  Jimmie Johnson at the finish line...and no one else in sight (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  With Johnson off to a solid start – a fourth at Loudon, the win here – and with his October tradition of powerhouse running, he has put at least half of his title challengers, maybe more, behind the eight-ball already.
   Still, Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya are hanging right there with Johnson, on the track and in the standings. And Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon are right there too.
   Tony Stewart, who dominated the 26-race, seven-month regular season, had another bobble of an afternoon, his fifth in a row off his game. He ran into the back of Joey Logano early in the three-hour event when Logano had to check up for Bobby Labonte. The ensuing crash was frightening, with Logano doing a long barrel roll, though escaping relatively uninjured.
   Stewart had to get pit work throughout the day to get his car finally back into the top-10, but he was never a factor.
   Those six – Martin, Johnson, Montoya, Busch, Gordon and Stewart – appear the men to beat in the title chase.
   The other six – Denny Hamlin, Brian Vickers, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman – just don't seem quite strong enough to challenge the first six.
   And Johnson, Martin, Montoya and Busch look exceptionally strong.
   Gordon, who stumbled at Loudon, stumbled against here, with a bad pit stop because of a broken air gun late, though he managed to pull off a good save for sixth. That's two straight weeks where things haven't gone championship-smooth for the four-time champ.
   Montoya, on the other hand, continues to surprise and amaze. This is his third season on the tour, and after two so-so seasons and a rather mediocre, although quite consistent, regular season this time around, Montoya has come into the chase with guns blazing.
   However for Ford title challengers Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards, this 400 might have been the clincher – showing that they simply still don't have what it takes, in terms of speed in the corners, to make a good title bid.
   This season, for the two, has been in stark contrast to last season, when Edwards won nine times (he's still winless this year) and when Biffle opened the 2008 chase with back-to-back wins at Loudon and Dover. Biffle started fourth Sunday but faded to 13th and never really contended. Edwards, whose poor qualifying runs this year may be part of the bigger problem, likewise didn't show anything for the front-running Chevys, finishing 11th.
    Compounding the Ford mystery was Matt Kenseth's strong run. He finished third, and it's the first time in ages he's had a good run. He's not in the chase, and it's hard to remember that this is the guy who opened the year with back-to-back wins at Daytona and Los Angeles.
    So what did Kenseth have, or find, that Biffle and Edwards didn't, or couldn't?
    Throw in the confusion and uncertainty over the pending merger of Doug Yates' Ford team with the George Gillett-Richard Petty operation, and it's increasingly difficult to envision things getting much better in the Ford camp in the coming weeks…which is typically the strongest part of the season for rival Johnson.
    This track has been Hamlin's Achilles heel, and it showed. He was woefully off the pace. Now he's got to shake that off and try to get back in the swing of things at Kansas City.
    Brian Vickers, who slipped into the chase in the final weeks, and who came into the playoffs sporting the best finishing record over the final 10 races of the regular season, had a second-straight bad run, 18th.  He may have left his game in Richmond.

  Jimmie and Chandra Johnson -- a classy act (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)





No wonder tv ratings are down. If Jimmie Johnson wins another championship I may not watch NASCAR next year. If he starts to run away with the points lead I may not watch the rest of this season. It may be great for Jimmie Johnson fans, but for the rest of us it's pretty boring.

So Who's Lex Luthor?

If Jimmie Johnson is mild-mannered Clark Kent, then who is playing Lex Luthor? Juan Luthor Montoya?

Ah, brilliant. That's what

Ah, brilliant. That's what we're missing here....the man in black...now if JPM would just paint his car black.....

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