Monday, March 1, 2010

Who can beat Jimmie Johnson?

Here we go again.
Jimmie Johnson won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday. It was his second win in a row, his fourth at the Vegas track and the 49th Cup win of his career.
It’s getting to the point where every win seems like it’s his fourth win at a track. He was asked after winning in Las Vegas if he and his team are feeling invincible.
“It’s great,” Johnson said. “We don’t feel invincible, though. It was nice to go out there today and really earn this one, race Jeff that hard for the win. So, you know, I feel very good about things. But ‘invincible,’ far from that."
It would be nice to see another driver win a race. But this is not about hating on Johnson. This is about hating on the other 42 Cup drivers who are helpless against Johnson during a race.
Jeff Gordon had the best car at Vegas. By all accounts, Gordon should have won the race. He led the most laps, had the dominant car and was in the lead pack for almost the entire race.
It was mentioned during the Fox broadcast that in four of the past five races Gordon has led the most laps, Johnson has won the race.
There isn’t a more telling stat than that. Gordon used to be a great finisher. Now he can’t beat his own protégé. Gordon actually ended up third in the Vegas race despite leading 219 laps. Gordon was asked after the Vegas race if he ever asks himself why he brought Johnson to Hendrick Motorsports.
“Today I do,” Gordon said. “You know, five, 10 years from now when I’m cashing in on it, I’m not. You know, somebody once told me that, you know, if you’re gonna get beat, make sure you’re getting a piece of it. You know, that’s one positive to take out of it.”
Gordon, a four-time Cup champion, has had those types of seasons when he looked unbeatable. He can relate to the type of success Johnson has been experiencing.
“You know, it doesn’t matter to me who it is out there, whether it’s our own teammate or whether it’s a competitor, you know, you want to go out there and compete against the best and you want to beat the best,” Gordon said. “And I feel like, you know, our best days with our 24 team over the years, we’re going up against Mark Martin when he was at Roush, Dale Earnhardt Sr. when he was at Childress, you know, Dale Jarrett at Yates. 
“So while it’s coming in house, it’s still another competitor. And it drives us. It inspires us. It motivates us. You know, the reason you saw us perform and dominate the way we did today is because of those guys pushing us. We don’t take that lightly. You know, we’re just like every other competitor out there: We are pissed off about it.”
Getting mad hasn’t been enough to beat Johnson, at least in the past two races. There are plenty of drivers out there who have been able to challenge Johnson, especially the three at Richard Childress Racing. But neither Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton nor Clint Bowyer has been able to beat Johnson yet. Harvick has been the closest. He posted his second runner-up finish in a row to Johnson.
The 29 (Harvick), they’re definitely on it, without a doubt,” Johnson said. “You cannot ignore the fact that the 31 (Burton), the 33 (Bowyer) and the 29 have a ton of speed. So they’ve worked in the right areas over the off season and have closed the gap up a ton. It’s going to be an awesome race. I’m glad it’s a bunch of Chevys up here racing for this thing.”
On the strength of those two runner-ups and a seventh-place finish at Daytona to open the season, Harvick leads the Cup standings. Of course leading the Cup standings at this point in the season means very little. Considering Johnson gets bonus points toward the Chase standings for winning races, leading the Cup standings at this point means even less. If anything, the recent runs and finishes by Harvick have done wonders for the confidence of the Childress teams.
“Well, you know, I feel like the beginning of the run they got out from us,” Harvick said. “I felt like at the end of the run we were just as good as they were. It’s just a matter of we got a little bit looser than we had been all day long the last two runs. We can run with them and they know it.”

Photo: Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson talk during driver introductions on Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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