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Tony Stewart serving notice to JJ?

1/19/2011 - NASCAR

Looks like Tony Stewart wanted to make sure the "have at it, boys" theme continued into 2011, along with taking it international.

If reports from Australia are true, Stewart suffered a black eye last week in an altercation with a track promoter after Stewart allegedly swung his helmet at the gentleman from Down Under.

No big deal. Stewart was keeping it real in the land of Crocodile Dundee.

Good to see old Tony still has some of the younger fire left in him a few months before he turns 40. Maybe that will serve him well as he tries to win a third Sprint Cup crown, six years removed from his last one.

Interesting side note: Stewart-Haas Racing is the first bus stop on the annual NASCAR media tour next week in Charlotte. It should be fun to see what Stewart has to say in front of a horde of reporters, something that often gets him riled up even when he's in a good mood.

Chasing Jimmie

If you're like most NASCAR fans, you've asked yourself more than once why no one in the last five years has managed to keep Jimmie Johnson from winning the Sprint Cup title.

The reasons are many, but one clear problem is inconsistency among the men trying to catch him, especially in the Chase. A different driver has finished second in the standings in each of the five years that Johnson has won the championship.

In fact, Jeff Gordon is the only one of those five drivers who finished as high as third in one of the other four years. He was third in 2009 and second in 2007.

The other drivers who have finished as the runner-up during Johnson's half-decade dynasty were Denny Hamlin (2010), Mark Martin (2009), Carl Edwards (2008) and Matt Kenseth (2006).

Gordon and Kenseth are the two of those five who have won Cup titles, but neither man has won a championship under the Chase format.

So while Johnson was averaging a 1.0 finish in the standings, obviously, the last five years, here's what the other five have averaged: Hamlin (6.0), Gordon (5.4), Edwards (7.6), Kenseth (7.4) and Martin (8.0 in the three years he raced full time).

None of the other contenders was able to come close to Johnson's consistency of finishing at the top of the standings. Gordon was the next best with a little less than a top-5 position per year.

Here's the part that may surprise you: Johnson has not led the regular-season standings once in his five championship seasons. He started the 2007 Chase on top because he had the most regular-season victories with six, but Gordon easily accumulated the most regular-season points.

No one has doubled up as the regular-season points leader the last five years. Kevin Harvick, Stewart, Kyle Busch, Gordon and Kenseth each did it once.

And a different driver has started the Chase on top in each of the previous five seasons -- Hamlin (2010), Martin (2009), Kyle Busch (2008), Johnson (2007) and Kenseth (2006).

In the last five years, no one has dominated in any category (including Johnson) except one -- average finish in Chase races.

Johnson is the only driver to average better than a 10th-place finish in the last 50 Chase events. His average finish in Chase races during his championship run is 6.9.

Gordon is second best at 10.2. The average Chase finish for other four men who were second during Johnson's reign is 11.4 for Hamlin, 12.4 for Edwards, 12.5 for Martin (in three full seasons) and 14.9 for Kenseth.

Only once in his five years at the top was Johnson's average Chase finish worse than 6.8. The only time any man averaged better than that for a single season was Gordon at 5.1 for the 2007 Chase, but Johnson averaged 5.0 in the playoff races that year.

It's a lot of math to take in, but the stats show there's no clear-cut No. 2 behind Johnson during his five championship seasons. Several guys had their chances, but they couldn't get it done in the end.

Whether you believe Johnson is the best of all time or not, believe this: When the championship was on the line down the stretch, Johnson was at his best.

And isn't that the mark of true greatness?

Big purses, big turnouts

With a month to go before the season-opening Daytona 500, there are 30 cars committed to running the entire Sprint Cup schedule. Cup had 34 cars compete in every race last season.

But the low count for now doesn't mean NASCAR will have short fields for any Cup event this year. As long as race purses pay big money for 43 cars ($60,670 at Watkins Glen was the smallest purse amount for any finisher last year), drivers will show up with a car to place in the event.

They won't be real competitors, of course, but they will make a few laps for the cash.

Wouldn't it be better to start 35 cars and divide the money that was going to the other eight starters, adding income to the teams that are legitimately attempting to compete?

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.