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Okay, if Dale Earnhardt Sr. were trying to beat Jimmie Johnson for this NASCAR title, what would Dale do?

   Dale Earnhardt 1979....with seven championships and 76 tour victories ahead of him (Photo: NC)

    By Mike Mulhern

   Okay, to be blunt, is it time to start trying to rattle Jimmie Johnson's cage, as the late Dale Earnhardt would say?
   Maybe so.
   Or let's look at the situation this way: What would Dale do?
   After all, the best car-and-driver don't always win the race, don't always win the championship.
   So how to beat Jimmie Johnson over these next five races?
   Or maybe the rest of these guys are just going to sit back and check out their stock portfolios and plan a Christmas vacation…and the rest of us can go back to sleep till February rolls around.
   For most of the championship challengers, it's already 2010…because 2009 is certainly over.
   How would you rattle Jimmie's cage, Brian Vickers? You were his teammate for several years; you've raced with him and against him.
   "Jimmie's cage can definitely get rattled….but it's harder to rattle his cage than most other guys," Vickers says. "He's very confident. And he has a personality very similar to mine (cool, low-keyed).
   "But you can definitely get under his skin.
   "However I think it's easier to get under Chad's skin."
   That's Chad Knaus, Johnson's crew chief, who has been a bit volatile at times, at least more so than his driver.
   So the key to beating Johnson in this year's title chase might be to rattle Chad Knaus' cage?
   "Chad gets a little worked up, I don't think that's any secret," Vickers says with a smile.
    "But then his fire helps him do what he does. That's why they make a good combination."

 But then Jimmie Johnson (here with wife Chandra) is such a nice guy that nobody really wants to rattle his cage....or maybe he's just so fast they can't get close enough to him (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Then let's put it this way: Mark Martin is facing probably the most important four weeks of his entire career. He's got between now and midnight Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami to win this championship….and he knows well he might never have another chance like this.
     So is it time for Martin to get mean, to get angry?
     Martin raced Earnhardt for the championship many times. He faced Earnhardt's head games…and 'hand games.'
    Comparing this battle with Johnson to his title duels with Earnhardt, Martin says "Jimmie does his on 'technical.' Earnhardt did his with his hands….he would wheel like it like an animal.
   "Earnhardt did a lot of what he did with his hands. And he wasn't above playing head games as well."
   Maybe it's time for Martin to take a page from the Earnhardt notebook….and start racing Johnson "like an animal."
   These next four weeks, for Martin: Time to get mean and angry?
   "I'm going to race him for it," Martin replies with a steely smile. "I ain't give up, not one bit.
   "It might make for good writing, but if I go out there and get ugly Sunday, then it might cost me that championship. So I've got to be smart about it. I know that sounds all 'cool,' but what I need to do is race him for it…and I'm racing him with everything I've got.
   "And if I can find a way to be better, I would. And I'll continue to look and search every way I can.
   "All I can do is put it out there, and race with every bit of fire.
   "Because I don't cause a lot of stink on the track doesn't mean I don't race with a lot of fire. You asked somebody who's raced with me this year. I race with everything I've got.
    "I said we'd have a fair view of this championship after six races, and this is race number six.
   "I think it will be clearer after this race. But it's really going to take Talladega to clear is out.
   "And I have a feeling I'm going to have a great Talladega race. I really have good karma about it.
   "Now I've wrecked on lap five at Talladega before, but I just have a feeling that's not going to happen this time. The law of averages is going to get you sooner or later (and Martin's bad luck at Talladega is almost legendary). So I'm very optimistic; Talladega could be the great equalizer."

  Mark Martin (L, with crew chief Alan Gustafson) took a lot of heat from the late Dale Earnhardt in championship races. Is he ready to start dishing it out to Jimmie Johnson? He's facing the four biggest weeks of his entire racing career. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   And Jeff Gordon?
   Gordon raced Earnhardt for the championship too, and he knows what it's like to rattle someone's cage. He took some of Earnhardt's best moves, and still managed to win.
   Gordon certainly may already be using the Earnhardt playbook, to judge from the way he raced at California and Charlotte.
   "Rattling somebody's cage doesn't necessarily mean you have to knock them out of the way or put them in the wall or anything like that," Gordon.
    "I will say the next five races we are going to be extremely aggressive," he quickly adds.
     "We've worked our way up to third in points. They have a pretty comfortable lead…and how they race, versus how we race, is probably going to be a little bit different.
    "The one advantage we have is we're far enough back where we really don't have a whole lot to lose…and it is sort of their championship to lose.
    "And we are going to race them hard, we are going to race them aggressively.
     "But we are also going to respect that we are teammates -- and there is a certain respect that goes beyond just racing.
   "That's all a tall order. They've got wins, they've got momentum. But I think we can beat them here.
   "But if we just finish one or two spots ahead of them every week, we're still not going to win the championship.
   "We have to put some pressure on them, and show them we're not just settling for second.
   "When I took the championship away from Earnhardt, it helped make me what I am today."
     Rattling Jimmie's cage? Gordon laughs: "Well, I am going to put you in my car, so you can go out there and rattle his cage.
    "I think you're right; but at the same time it comes down to the timing of it – what's up for grabs. And you have to have yourself in that position to be able to do that."
    Earnhardt certainly used the intimidation factor "a little more maybe than what you see these days," Gordon said.
    "That has never been my style, it just hasn't.
     "I race guys hard, I race guys clean, I race them how they race me. 
    "You do have to rattle their cage. But to me the way you have to rattle their cage is you have to out-run them: you have to show what kind of team you are.
    "If you watched the last couple of races, I tried pretty darn hard. What we've got to do is get ourselves in position to be able to capitalize -- when we get a (late) restart like we did at California, when we get a (late) restart like we did last week (at Charlotte).
    "We either have to have the car to capitalize on it or the tires to match up to capitalize on it.
     "It is risk-versus-reward.
     "Let's hope we get down to the final laps of this race -- or any race from here on out -- and we get to show just how hungry we are to win this championship."


    Jeff Gordon knows how hard Dale Earnhardt raced him for those championships -- hard-nosed, bumper-to-bumper, fender-to-fender. Maybe it's time to get tough with Jimmie Johnson....or just give Johnson the NASCAR championship trophy and let's all go home for Thanksgiving (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

What would Dale do? What he

What would Dale do? What he did when facing Hendrick Motorsports from the start of the Monte Carlo era - lose the title. Earnhardt won titles when Hendrick couldn't use mutlicars to his advantage - his last title came in the Second Hoosier Tire war when some teams could test more than others; once that wildcard went away Hendrick had it down.

What would Earnhardt Sr. do?

What would Earnhardt Sr. do? I guess it would depend on how many points he needed to make up as to which track he would begin wrecking Johnson at. Well, it's not wrecking, it's "rattling their cage" as he put it so BS-like at Bristol after he dumped Labonte. If you can't beat 'em, wreck 'em, was his creed.

I bet one thing he would do

I bet one thing he would do is to practice getting through turn four at all the tracks. Then he would call Brian France aside and explain that he would need his help in "saving" the sport, just like his father before him had done.

Sr would have been jawing on

Sr would have been jawing on the body measurement deal to anybody in the media who would listen. He'd work the loyal followers to a frenzy about how NASCAR had wronged him. Then this week at a short track he'd work the crowd. Early in the race on the Radio BRAKES! BRAKES! He would drift way high in the turns from time to time. Late in the race behind the 48, BRAKES! The 48 would be sliding sideways in the high groove collecting 2 or 3 lap cars that were trying to stay clear. The crowd goes wild a wrong has been righted. Running out front would allow the weak brakes to run cooler and finish the race. The guy was really predictable. But truly entertaining.

First, he would practice

First, he would practice going through turn 4 at all the tracks. Then he would call Brian France to his office and tell him that he will again need NASCAR's help to "save" the sport.

I don't think Earnhardt would

I don't think Earnhardt would beat Jimmie, not a chance. NASCAR is so much different now. Earnhardt would have a lot of fines and penalties doing the stuff he did then.

Well, yes. NASCAR is much

Well, yes. NASCAR is much more cerebral now...but wasn't it fun back then? I mean if you weren't on the wrong end of earnhardt's bumper.....

If by "much more cerebral

If by "much more cerebral now" you mean "stripped of anything resembling personality", then I completely agree. ;)

Yes, precisely. And if I were

Yes, precisely. And if I were NASCAR boss, I would first eliminate all these helicopters (it was funny watching drivers actually having to drive to the track Friday, because weather grounded helicopters). Then I would eliminate these $1 million motorcoaches and shut down that millionaire's ghetto over off the fourth turn, and make these drivers stay in hotels and drive to the track just like the people who pay their salaries. Then I would require them to fly commercial, and put up with all those airport hassles. Too many of these guys have no clue how the rest of the world lives.

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I wouldn't oppose making the

I wouldn't oppose making the drivers drive to the track and have to stay in the same hotels as fans, etc. But the whole "stripped of personality" argument advanced by Decklid doesn't work because personality is grossly overrated. The sport doesn't lack personality - between Tony Stewart, the Busch brothers, Michael Waltrip, and the varied TV personalities (the Wallace brothers, Jimmy Spencer, and the varied nitwits doing TV play-by-play), the sport is CHOKING on personality.

Jimmie Johnson's problem is not personality, it is that he won titles without ever having to struggle. Hendrick basically bought Johnson's success.

I like the Earnhardt pic but

I like the Earnhardt pic but why did you junk it up with all that other crap LOL

I think that's a great pix of

I think that's a great pix of Earnhardt, before he became the legend. those eyes -- they still are scary, aren't they. Just lucked into finding that one. (i work at finding interesting pix for this site).
And, this is funny -- Dale has been gone almost 10 years, and yet when i brought up his name and 'rattling cages' friday at Martinsville some drivers were still cringing.

It's a shrugg'd shoulders

It's a shrugg'd shoulders kinda deal. The old Dale, Sr vs JJ? On the track, who knows? Woulda, shoulda, coulda. But off track, no doubt in my mind, he would have intimidated Jimmie via the media, the garage area, off track, anything to "rattle" that cage on his shoulders and let that transfer onto the track.

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