Commentary

JJ doing 'something very special' in his quest for third straight Cup title

Let's just state the obvious: Jimmie Johnson is good. Very good. JJ all but wrapped up his third straight Sprint Cup title by dominating the field Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.

Updated: November 10, 2008, 9:50 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- The Pacific Ocean is deep. Mount Everest is tall. Jupiter is big.

No doubt you knew those things already. Here's something else you already knew:

Jimmie Johnson is good. He won the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 and made it look easy.

We're running out of superlatives, folks. Maybe Shakespeare could find the words:

The be-all and end-all.

The primrose path.

Tower of strength.

What else can you say to describe the best NASCAR driver of his era? Barring a catastrophe next weekend, Johnson is going to win his third consecutive Sprint Cup championship.

He goes to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a 141-point lead over Carl Edwards, who finished fourth Sunday.

"We had a great run, but Jimmie, he's doing it," Edwards said. "We have to keep our heads up. It's possible, but not probable. Congrats to Jimmie. They are making this really tough."

Johnson will clinch the title if he finishes 36th or better, joining Cale Yarborough as the only drivers in history to win three consecutive Cup championships.

"I can't believe all this has come together," Johnson said. "As long as something crazy doesn't happen at Homestead, we'll be able to join Cale. I can't wait to start celebrating."

[+] EnlargeJimmie Johnson
AP Photo/Paul ConnorsJimmie Johnson collected five bonus points Sunday for leading the most laps, 217 of a possible 313.

Wind, rain, red flags and endless restarts. Nothing could stop him from winning for the third consecutive time at Phoenix International Raceway.

A rare November rain shower in the desert? No problem.

A gusty wind that made the Valley of the Sun look more like a March day in the West Texas dust bowl? Easy.

Johnson drove through the sandy brown haze like he was riding a lightning-fast Arabian horse in the Sahara.

He had the field covered, leading 217 of 313 laps. And he had to stay ahead through four restarts in the last 36 laps, including one after a red flag from a multicar crash.

Typically, that's bad news for the leader. Not today.

Johnson got the jump every time. Kurt Busch, who finished second, made it interesting on the final restart, getting close to the No. 48 Chevy down low in Turn 1 before Johnson pulled away.

"We had a great car but got beat by a better team," Busch said. "What Jimmie is doing right now, it's something very special for our sport. I encourage everybody to watch next week.

"It's just an honor to be able to race against him. Honestly, it was a privilege to run second to him today."

That's a statement you don't often hear from the runner-up, but Johnson even has the competitors gushing in awe over his greatness.

Busch has a point. The championship drama is gone, but NASCAR fans are witnessing a remarkable achievement. Johnson is on the brink of history. Who knows how high he can go?

It's just an honor to be able to race against him. Honestly, it was a privilege to run second to him today.

-- Kurt Busch on Jimmie Johnson

And it's the way Johnson is doing it that makes it even more remarkable. Coasting is not in his nature. He's not one to play a prevent defense. He comes out every week believing he can win and making every effort to get there.

He'll do the same thing at Homestead. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus won't be totally satisfied unless they win the race that makes them legends.

The No. 48 Chevy team came to Phoenix with a new setup on the car to try to gain an edge. It was good enough to win the pole, but things went south in the final practice.

"It showed a lot of improvement with the qualifying lap," Knaus said. "We tried to take the next step, but it wasn't working in race trim. We went back closer to what we used here in the spring. We made substantial changes to it this morning before the race."

Johnson was worried Saturday night, calling Knaus several times to get reassurance about the car.

"I kept thinking about it and asking Chad questions," Johnson said. "At one point he said, 'Quit calling me.' I said, 'Well, make me feel better about it.'''

Knaus said everything was fine. Don't doubt the master technician.

And don't doubt Johnson. Give him a competitive car and he'll take it to the front.

He would have led the last 213 laps Sunday if not for a small hiccup on a pit stop. No matter. Johnson passed Jamie McMurray for the lead on Turn 2 on the restart lap.

Johnson has seven victories this season and 40 for his career, moving him past him Tim Flock for 15th on the all-time list.

Now Johnson is a week away from a small piece of sports immortality. Flowery words just don't describe it.

It's all been said. But soak it in. This is his moment.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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