What will, won't and may be

11/18/2009 - NASCAR

It's a happening week in the South Florida sun. Lie out on South Beach. Down a mojito. Have some stone crab.

Then take the toll road down to Homestead and witness a little history in the making. Something will happen that has never happened and may never happen again.

Jimmie Johnson probably will win a fourth consecutive Sprint Cup title, barring the worst last-race luck in NASCAR's 60-year history. Or teammate Mark Martin will take advantage of Johnson's bad luck and pull off the greatest racing comeback of all time.

Either way, things will happen. It's the trendy place to be.

So here is a list for you, a guidebook of sorts, with four chapters of information: what should happen, what will happen, what could happen and what won't happen this weekend in NASCAR's big finale for 2009.

What should happen

Johnson finally gets the respect he's earned: Don't give me that baloney about how Johnson is a champion just because he dominates the Chase format. Hogwash.

It doesn't matter what the points format is. Any driver who can win four consecutive Cup titles -- which he stands to complete Sunday -- belongs on the list of the all-time greats in NASCAR history.

Maybe people will start realizing it. The people Johnson competes against already know it.

"What means the most to me is in the garage area," Johnson said Sunday at Phoenix. "I know I'm respected by everybody. If it's slow from the fans, maybe not being respected for what I've accomplished, it will show up in due time.

"Everything runs its course. With winning races, the fact we've won three championships is just proving what I'm made of, what the team's made of, who we are, what we're about. In time, we'll have our day in the sun."

That time is now. Johnson has gone from growing up in a California trailer park to the most accomplished racer of his generation.

"Nothing has come easy for me my entire life," Johnson said. "I don't expect the fan appeal, some of this perception stuff to come easy. I've always had to earn it. Here I am, another year grinding it out and trying to earn it.

"I'm fine with it. I'm good with it. In the last year I've seen my fan base and the perception change so, so much. If we are able to win a fourth, I think it would help it even more."

But Johnson knows too much winning can cause a backlash from fans.

"When I was a kid growing up, [Dale] Earnhardt was winning a lot of races and championships, but nobody liked him," Johnson said. "When I first started driving for Hendrick, Jeff [Gordon] won his fourth championship, won a lot of races, and nobody really liked him.

"So I'm not the only one going through this. It's happened in our sport to other drivers. I wasn't around to see what happened to Richard Petty. But Earnhardt and Gordon have gone through the same stuff I've gone through."

What will happen

Rick Hendrick will congratulate the champion last: The Hendrick Motorsports team owner has a plan about talking to his three Chase drivers after the race.

"I'm gonna go to the loser first," Hendrick said Sunday, meaning Jeff Gordon, the likely third-place finisher among his three playoff drivers. "Then the guy who finishes second [probably Mark Martin], then the champion [probably Johnson]. I'm going to be on neutral ground. I love 'em all."

Um, OK. But what about Dale Earnhardt Jr.? Does he get a hug?

Johnson will qualify near the front: Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus said they believe qualifying well is paramount to staying out of trouble.

"Truthfully, I felt qualifying 12th at Texas put me in harm's way," Johnson said Sunday at Phoenix. "So I need to show up Friday [at Homestead] and win the pole. The safest place is up front."

Martin will fall short again: Dale Earnhardt (twice), Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and now likely Jimmie Johnson. They've all won championships when Martin finished second.

No other driver has been a runner-up so many times without winning a Cup title. But No. 2 at age 50 ain't too bad.

Kyle Busch will win the Nationwide crown: This is a formality. Busch doesn't even have to start the race. If he makes a qualifying attempt and the team grids the car Saturday, he'll be the champ without making a lap in the race.

Busch knew this after the Phoenix race but fell one position short of clinching outright, so he stormed off and didn't talk to reporters.

If he wrecks on the first lap Saturday, what a cheery postrace celebration that will be.

What could happen

A Ford driver could win the race: A Roush Fenway Racing driver has won the past five Cup events at Homestead: three victories for Greg Biffle, one for Matt Kenseth and one for Carl Edwards last year.

A victory for Kenseth would make him the first bookend winner since Bill Elliott in 1987, who won at Daytona and the finale at Atlanta. Kenseth won the season-opening Daytona 500.

But Kenseth hasn't won since February. Edwards and Biffle haven't won this season. The best Ford finisher last week at Phoenix didn't even drive a Roush car. It was AJ Allmendinger in 13th driving for Richard Petty Motorsports.

I said it could happen. I didn't say it would happen.

What won't happen

Earnhardt Jr. going to Victory Lane: Well, he may go to congratulate a teammate who wins the race or the one who wins the championship. But he won't take the No. 88 Chevy there.

The season of his discontent will finally come to a merciful end. And plenty of odd things could happen before the day is over.

He could wreck, he could blow a tire, he could blow an engine, he could run out of gas, he could speed on pit road, a tire-changer could drop a lug nut or his crew could wreck on the way to the track.

All those things have happened this year. But winning? Hasn't happened and won't happen.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.