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Somewhere over the rainbow.....

  These guys are having way too much fun. When it comes to raining on Jimmie Johnson's parade, it looks like it's raining champagne (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   KANSAS CITY, Kansas
   Was that really Jimmie Johnson taunting his championship rivals after romping to victory Sunday afternoon at Dover?
   Well, as mild-mannered a guy as this three-time – probably soon-to-be four-time – NASCAR champion is, that's as close as he's ever come to trash-talking, those few teasing comments:
   "I certainly hope that our performance today scares some people and affects them in a way that benefits us.
    "As far as sending a message, I hope it does.  I hope people talk about it. I hope people are worried.  I hope people are talking about the fact that we tire-tested (at Dover) and 'it's wrong.'
    "All these people can get wound up about stuff that really doesn't matter.  We'll keep our heads down.  Keep our blinders on, and we'll go to work. 
    "At the end of the day, all the talk means nothing.  You've still got to show up in Kansas and run that race."
   Not quite head games like the late Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace and those guys used to play…but at least those complaints last weekend by Greg Biffle and Denny Hamlin got Johnson fired up.
   Or as fired up as Dr. Cool gets.
   Maybe those Roush guys need to start rattling Jimmie's cage, take him off his game.
   Otherwise it's looking like a long, cold autumn for fans wanting some NASCAR pizzazz with their NFL.
   But then maybe it is time to start looking ahead to 2010….if that's really possible, with some billionaire Saudi apparently thinking about sitting down at this table. If he does, well, regardless of who he ends up with, looks like the price of poker may be going up.
   Now if car owner/engine boss Jack Roush can really persuade this billionaire oilman to join the Ford camp, maybe rival car owner Rick Hendrick will finally have some competition.

  Carl Edwards and crew chief Bob Osborne. Nine wins in '08; zero in '09. Can't blame all that on that errant Frisbee (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  Questions, questions:   
   -- Kyle 'nothing to lose' Busch? Well, since missing the chase, he's been driving like it.
    "They ask me 'Man, why are you so down on yourself?'," Busch reflects. "Well, I'm supposed to win races. I'm supposed to be the guy who's the most difficult to beat out there."
   And the last couple of weeks Busch has been MIA. At Dover he kept hitting the wall and blowing tires.
   So where is Kyle Busch really this fall? Lost?
   "You've got to have a good handle on racecars too…you have to have good leadership skills within yourself, good leadership skills within your crew chief, and good racecars, and everything," Busch says. "I put a lot of pressure on myself to go out there and be the best.
    "I want to be the guy who everyone says 'We've got to beat Kyle Busch. That's the guy we've got to beat week-in and week-out.
    "I had that this year (until his summer slump). But we haven't quite gotten it done in the Cup series as much as we have been able to in the Nationwide series."
   Actually Busch has been busy beating himself this season, something he and crew chief Steve Addington need to work on.

  The face of a champion? Mark Martin ponders life in NASCAR (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  -- Mark Martin?
   Yes, he's leading the points; yes, he's actually got a pretty good edge right now, with a 100-point-plus lead over all but three challengers.
   But Martin, who watched Dale Earnhardt Sr. win seven championships, and learned, insists "there is absolutely no way anyone can know what's going to happen until about four races to go.
    "One bad finish isn't going to take away a championship either.
    "So anything anyone is saying or hearing right now is pretty premature."
   Well, except for what the history books share. First, Jimmie Johnson rarely beats himself. Second, Martin is long overdue.
   After missing out on so many titles, Martin probably ought to be gun-shy about this thing. But he's not: "I don't lay in bed at night and dream about championships.
    "I don't worry myself sick with what happens each week.
    "When we get down to four races, and if we are still in this, then yes I will probably think about it a little more.
    "But I got to thinking about it last weekend, when a reporter asked me -- and I had to tell him 'I wanted to win this thing when I should have won it.'"
   Like 1990.
   "Back in that day I wanted to win the championship. That's what I thought should have been happening in my career at that point," Martin went on.
   "But that's not what I'm racing for right now. I'm racing for wins. I'm racing to be successful.
   "And with a championship trophy or without one. That's not what I will judge my success on."
   Well, Martin may well outfox his teammate and win this one. Johnson's 5.0 average to win the title two years ago is the chase record…and right now Martin, with a first at Loudon (not a great track for him) and a second at Dover, is boasting a 1.5 average.
    "We knew Loudon was going to be a struggle," crew chief Alan Gustafson says. "And we did as good as we could possibly do there.
    "Dover was a track we felt we could run good at. And we did…even though the weekend was a struggle -- with trying to catch up to the (new) tire and how the car was responding to the tire. To dig out of it and get a second-place finish was good.
    "Now anytime you give up points to your closest competition isn't good. That's something that concerns you.
   "But you've got to look at the big picture: If we finish first and second in all 10 races, we know we'll be in good shape."
   Uh, probably so.


   Can crew chief Alan Gustafson beat Chad Knaus at his own game? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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