Bad news for others is great for Jimmie
Posted: Monday, October 20, 2008 5:41 pm
By: By HANK KURZ Jr., AP Sports Writer
MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) — The bad news for NASCAR’s championship challengers is that Jimmie Johnson is again the driver they’re chasing.
Even worse is that he’s more comfortable than ever as the man to beat.
“If you look at other pro athletes, there are a few that can do it and can stay on top,” Johnson said Sunday after winning the Tums 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
“We all want to be that guy, and hopefully I can do it and I’m trying to do all that I can, and I know my team is. But you watch somebody like Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, you go through guys that have just dominated year after year, it’s out there. … I would love to be that guy in NASCAR.”
In the minds of many, Johnson already is that guy.
He’s won two championships in a row and seems a good bet to make it three straight Cup titles, which would place him with the legendary Cale Yarborough as the only drivers to accomplish the feat.
“I’m going to have to answer those questions one of these days, aren’t I?” Johnson said of the ones about Yarborough, and his increasingly inevitable place in history.
It’s not as if Johnson is playing it safe in his bid for championship No. 3.
He led 339 laps Sunday as he and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates again dominated at Martinsville Speedway, and padded his lead appreciably.
Up 69 points at the start, he increased the advantage to 149.
While his closest chasers say it isn’t over, others gush about Johnson’s dominance.
“There’s a lot of great teams that were huge in the sport,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., lumping Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus in with his father and Richard Petty, both seven-time champions, and Yarborough, David Pearson and Junior Johnson.
“To pack it in three years and just dominate like that, there’s only a half a dozen teams that have ever done anything like that, been that strong consistently.”
And it could only be the beginning of another big finish for Johnson.
“As long as I can stay scared and on my heels and worried about losing this thing, the better this team’s going to be. If we start getting comfortable and complacent, we’re going to stub our toes, make mistakes,” he said. “We’re trying to keep our eye on the prize.”
So are the rest of the contenders, even if it’s getting further and further away.
“We’re going to come and get them,” said Greg Biffle, who climbed to second in points. “We’ve got four more chances and we’re going to some of our best places, so they better be on their ‘A’ game. … I’m still confident we can catch him, for sure.”
So are Jeff Burton, 152 points back, and Carl Edwards, fourth and 198 behind.
But at Martinsville, as always, none of them had a way to stop Johnson. It was his third consecutive fall victory at the track.
Earnhardt was second, followed by Edwards and Jeff Gordon, giving Hendrick three of the top four spots.
Denny Hamlin was fifth and Casey Mears, the fourth Hendrick driver, was sixth.
The 1-2 finish was the 23rd for the multicar team, and third at the small Martinsville facility.
Johnson led seven times in all and he heads to Atlanta with the largest lead in the history of the Chase at this point in the season.
The day was shaping up as a great one for Jamie McMurray, who started 20th and climbed into contention quickly. He was running fourth with about 100 laps to go when his car suddenly slowed on the backstretch. He drove it directly to his garage stall and wound up 38th.