Commentary

Out with the old, in with the new really means something this season

Sunday's finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway is the end of many eras, but we could be seeing the dawning of a new one; welcome to the Jimmie Johnson Era, writes David Newton.

Updated: November 17, 2007, 8:43 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Goodbye to the Car of Today, which -- after Sunday's Nextel Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m., ABC) -- will be replaced by the Car of Tomorrow that officials already are referring to as the NASCAR car.

Goodbye to Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing, which is moving to Toyota as soon as the checkered flag falls.

Goodbye to Dale Earnhardt Inc. for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is leaving the company his father built for Hendrick Motorsports.

Goodbye to Ricky Rudd, who is retiring for good this time.

Goodbye to David Stremme and Tony Raines, who don't have rides for 2008.

Goodbye to the red No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet, which will become the red No. 9 Budweiser Dodge.

Goodbye to the Nextel Cup, which is being renamed the Sprint Cup -- or maybe the Google Cup if the Internet company goes through with a purchase of the telecommunications company.

Hello, Jimmie Johnson Era.

As much as this weekend is about the end of eras, it also is the beginning of what could be a NASCAR dynasty.

Barring a major mishap, Johnson will win a second straight title. He will do it in the most dominating season of this decade with 10 wins, 20 top-5s and 23 top-10s. Some might argue it's the most dominating season in decades.

Johnson's four straight wins have been so impressive that HMS teammate Jeff Gordon, who is 86 points out despite his phenomenal season, is talking about having to change to keep up.

He's not alone. Johnson has set a standard that will force most teams in the garage to step up their game or be left further behind.

"Win every race?" Clint Bowyer said when asked what he will have to do to close the gap on the No. 48. "It's just incredible. Those guys are on it. They're extremely good and extremely talented, but they've got things rolling their way, too.

"When that happens, you can't beat that. They've beat everybody pretty bad this year. When you can make Jeff Gordon look bad, you're doing something right. They've flat-out beat him, hands down."

Carl Edwards said Johnson is almost impossible to beat when he can run 90 percent for most of the race and turn it up a notch at the end.

"The 48 guys, it's spectacular," he said.

Kurt Busch, who won the inaugural Chase and has almost as many bonus points as Johnson despite having eight fewer wins, said Johnson is like David Pearson in the way he always seems to be in position for a win at the end.

Pearson, nicknamed the "Silver Fox," arguably was the best driver in NASCAR history. He won only three championships, but that's because he drove only three full seasons.

He also will tell you he's the best ever, better than seven-time champions Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

Johnson, who has adjusted from trying to lead every lap from practice to the race, won't do that. He remains humble, almost embarrassed by his success.

He was downright awkward as he listened to Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne talk about how great he is before taking the interview podium as the pole winner.

"It's not a familiar or comfortable spot to be in," Johnson said.

He'd better get used to it, just as everybody else needs to get ready for the COT to go full-time in 2008. Complaints have been many about the car NASCAR introduced in 16 races this season. Drivers say the COTs don't handle as well as the current car, which will run for the last time this weekend.

Crew chiefs don't like that they have little room to manipulate the gray areas.

"Yeah, the old car is a blessing in disguise to have it here in Homestead to put it in its final race," said Kyle Busch, who trashed the new car after a victory in the spring. "We're going to miss it. But we'll still get to go out and run some Busch cars and Late Models, and I guess I've got to go back to ARCA in order to race this thing. I'm not sure I want to do that."

Gordon is trying to enjoy every second of driving the current car for the last time.

"This car has been a lot of fun to drive, and the evolution of this car and how much it's changed in the 15 years I've been in this series has been amazing," the four-time champion said. "It's a real race car.

Jeff Gordon

When you have the best car and it's faster than everybody else's, and things don't go wrong, more times than not you're going to win. That's just the way it is.

-- Matt Kenseth

"It's amazing when you think of stock cars and the lack of technology that we have and really, just how much downforce and how much grip that we've been able to put in these cars and how fun they've been to drive over the last several years."

Most would like to win the last race in the old car -- if not to build momentum for next year, then for the historical value.

"This is a car that has been used for many years," Kurt Busch said. "It has been praised because of its comparison to this new car that we're going to. Yet, the way that it drives, the way that it feels, it will be missed.

"It is sad to see it go. It will be a farewell to a car that led us through many years of NASCAR racing. This is the same car that we used to win with at Michigan. We appropriately named it 'Roger.' If we have a chance to go to Victory Lane on Sunday, hopefully we will be able to retire this car with two race wins and the name 'Roger' on it."

If Busch or anybody else is going to win, he is going to have to go through Johnson, even though Greg Biffle has ended the past three seasons with a win at Homestead.

"When you have the best car and it's faster than everybody else's, and things don't go wrong, more times than not you're going to win," said 2003 Cup champion Matt Kenseth. "That's just the way it is."

And the way it was.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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