Commentary

Johnson has stranglehold on Cup title

Updated: November 2, 2009, 1:44 PM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

The Chase for the Sprint Cup arrives at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, but there's really nothing left to chase.

Jimmie Johnson took all the drama right out of NASCAR's championship playoff format. All he did was avoid a couple of typical Talladega wrecks Sunday -- something his chief competitors couldn't do -- and used a little luck to finish sixth. He takes a commanding 184-point lead into Sunday's Dickies 500 at TMS.

Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus did what they seem to do with amazing regularity: They turned an outside the top-20 finish into yet another top 10. On Sunday, it was about a perfectly timed trip to pit road to refuel.

Johnson pitted before the red flag came out following a crash involving Ryan Newman, whose car flipped over. Johnson was toward the front of the field and not in the back, where Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon were after they came to get fuel during the caution laps.

That left Martin and Gordon in the wrong place at the wrong time when the final wreck happened.

"I can't believe that it worked out," Johnson said.

Johnson is probably the only one who can't believe it. Most race strategies have worked out for his team the last four seasons. He now has his fourth consecutive championship on his dashboard. All he has to do is stay out of major trouble in the final three races.

That's not exactly a promoter's dream if you're TMS president Eddie Gossage. It's like trying to sell tickets for the fourth quarter of a 35-0 football game.

It leaves Gossage to try to sell fans on the idea of seeing history in the making. No NASCAR driver has ever won four consecutive championships.

"Sure, you want five guys separated by 20 points coming into Texas," Gossage said. "But what he's done is impressive. Clearly, he's the most successful dynasty in the history of the sport. It's like watching the 1960s Packers. I'd love to have been at Lambeau to see the power sweep and Lombardi. I wasn't there, but I can see Jimmie make history this year. That's pretty special. Heck, the fat lady may show up."

Knowing Gossage, he means that literally.

TMS is expecting a crowd similar to last season, around 171,000. And Gossage believes those fans are showing up for the pageantry and excitement of a high-speed race more than a championship chase.

"They want to see a few guys battle to the finish to try to win a race," Gossage said. "They want to watch a race, not just points."

They hope to see a little more excitement than they did for most of the race at Talladega. Several drivers complained about NASCAR's prerace mandate that officials would be watching carefully and penalties would be assessed for bump-drafting in the turns. Drivers obeyed, but it led to plenty of single-file laps.

Newman, who went airborne and had to be cut out of his car after it landed upside-down in the grass following a late crash, wasn't happy about the racing.

"I wish NASCAR would do something," Newman said. "It was a boring race for the fans. That's not something anybody wants to see -- at least, I hope not. If they do, go home, because you don't belong here."

TMS officials have to hope that Sunday's race doesn't follow a similar pattern. Since the newer car -- once dubbed the Car of Tomorrow -- has raced at TMS, cars have followed a parade route with little passing up front. But there also has been exciting side-by-side racing and late-lap drama, too.

Gossage needs the latter. He knows the chances of Johnson's No. 48 team fumbling away the championship this late in the game are slim.

Richard Durrett covers motorsports for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail richard.durrett@espn3.com.

Richard Durrett joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He writes about colleges, the Dallas Stars and the Texas Rangers. Richard spent nine years at The Dallas Morning News covering the Rangers, Stars, colleges, motorsports and high schools.

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