It's Johnson's title to lose
DOVER, Del. -- The Detroit Lions won a football game for the first time since the 2007 season, ending a stretch of 19 straight losses. Cincinnati, Iowa and Kansas are undefeated and ranked among the Top 25 in college football. Tiger Woods lost a golf tournament from the final pairing to a player who wasn't even in the final pairing.
The world of sports is upside down. Ah, but in NASCAR, all is normal. Three-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson dominated Sunday's race at Dover International Speedway for his fourth victory of the season.
And nobody -- if history is an indication -- is going to stop him from winning a record fourth straight title.
"It makes you feel a little sick," Carl Edwards said after limping home to an 11th-place finish. "I didn't realize he won until I saw him doing burnouts."
With his win Sunday, Jimmie Johnson moved within 10 points of Chase leader Mark Martin (right). Martin finished second at Dover.
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How could he have missed it? Johnson led 271 laps to give him a season sweep at the Monster Mile. With the 298 laps he led here in June, that adds up to 569 of a potential 800.
"I don't think we were in his league today," said Mark Martin, who maintained a 10-point lead over Johnson in the standings with a second-place finish.
Nobody has been the past three seasons, and nobody likely will be up to the challenge in the next eight weeks.
"That dude is still Superman in my book," Martin said.
He's not just playing up his Hendrick Motorsports teammate to get him overconfident. He means it. He told me 24 hours before this race he wasn't in the same league with Johnson.
The numbers don't lie. Titles aside, Johnson just tied Bill Elliott for 14th on NASCAR's all-time wins list with his 44th victory in only his eighth season. The 50-year-old Martin, who arguably is the best driver never to have won a championship, has only 40 since 1981.
Asked again what he could say about Johnson that sums up how good he is, Martin smiled and replied, "I think I just said it. I'm pretty sure that dude's Superman."
"And you know, I have had the opportunity to see up close and I'm telling you I see why he is so successful," Martin added. "I see why. He works harder at it than anybody else, I think, on the circuit."
Those are pretty strong words from a driver considered to be one of the hardest workers in the garage. But Martin is right. While most were watching college football, gambling at the Dover Downs casino or sleeping Saturday night, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus were looking for an edge.
Finally, as Johnson said, they "just hit something in my stomach."
It was a small adjustment, one that made Johnson better in the corners. It turned into a huge advantage, one Johnson knew he had two laps into the race. Not even a new rear tire changer slowed the team.
Johnson's only mistake came during the postrace burnout, when he dumped the clutch, forcing him and his crew to push the car to Victory Lane.
Don't expect him to make that kind of mistake in the rest of the Chase. Just look at what's ahead. Johnson is the defending champion at Kansas with five top-10s in seven races. Then comes Fontana, Calif., where he has won the second race the past two seasons and has nine top-10s and eight top-5s in 13 tries.
After that is Lowe's Motor Speedway, where he has five wins and 12 top-10s in 16 races.
Wait, it gets worse for the rest of the field. Next is Martinsville, where Johnson has won the past two races and five of the past six.
It's not much different at Talladega, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead. OK, so Johnson's never won at Homestead, but you get the picture.
"I've been saying it for years," Johnson said. "It really boils down to the tracks that are in the Chase. They are very good for the 48 team."
So unless something goes horribly wrong for Johnson, or NASCAR has an emergency meeting to change the remaining Chase tracks to Bristol, Sonoma, Michigan -- heck, there aren't enough bad tracks in the 48's résumé to do this -- the kid from California is ready to drive into history.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. There are eight races remaining. Martin and Matt Kenseth, who gave Roush Fenway Racing a molecule of hope that Carl Edwards or Greg Biffle can rally with his third-place finish, said that repeatedly.
Nobody seemed to buy it. Most rightfully believe this is Johnson's title to lose. Most actually don't believe he'll lose it.
You can already hear the rumblings in the garage. Biffle is complaining that Johnson had an unfair advantage because he had a tire test here in August. Others are griping about horsepower.
What does Johnson say?
"Maximum points, thank you," he radioed his crew.
The message should be heard throughout the garage.
"I certainly hope our performance scares some people and affects them in a way that helps us," said Johnson, who has won an amazing 28 percent of Chase races (15 of 52) since it was implemented in 2004. "I hope people are worried. I hope people are talking about the tire test, and it's wrong."
That's because Johnson knows none of that stuff matters. He knows the only thing that matters is the way he and his team perform. The rest he has no control over.
He learned that in 2005, when he tried to play mind games with Tony Stewart and it didn't work. He just shows up and drives his tail off.
"At the end of the day, all the talk doesn't matter," Johnson said. "We still have to show up at Kansas and run the race. That's something we do a real good job with -- staying focused."
As long has Johnson does that, the NASCAR world as we know it won't be turned upside down.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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