Monday, November 9, 2009

Chase tightens, but too little, too late

Like a twister in a trailer park, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway proved to be a disaster for Jimmie Johnson.
But don’t worry if Johnson and his team will recover. They will. By the end of the month, they will have another Cup championship.
Johnson saw his lead in the Cup standings trimmed to 73 points and all of sudden there’s intrigue in the Chase. At least that's what NASCAR and some writers would like you to believe. Seventy-three points is still a huge lead with two races remaining.
Mark Martin is the driver in second place in the Cup standings, 73 points out of the lead. No one is more deserving than Martin to win a Cup championship. But it looks like the four-time runner-up is going to come up short for a fifth time.
As for Johnson, he was collected in a crash caused by Sam Hornish on the third lap of the race at Texas. He ended up in 38th place. Martin came in fourth, the biggest benefactor of Johnson’s misfortune, and cut into Johnson’s lead.
“You know it’s still a respectable lead. Seventy-three with two to go is still a good position to be in. I hate that we gave up all these points tonight,” Johnson said after the race on Sunday. “Sam just lost it inside of me and I wish he would have waited a little longer to lose it. I saw he lost it later on in the race and he can do that from time to time. I just wish he would have waited a little while longer and didn’t take me out in the process. It was just one of those things. There’s not much we can do about it. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Kurt Busch won the race at Texas and moved up two places in the Cup standings. He is in fourth place, showing how insignificant winning a race means at this point in the season.
Not that Busch should be rewarded any more for winning one race when Johnson has won three in the Chase. But even with the win, Busch needs a lot more help to climb in the Cup standings before the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“It’s very competitive, no matter who is in the lead, who is behind trying to gather points,” Busch said. “We hope it always goes to Homestead and there’s five, six guys eligible, like the first year, 2004.
“Jimmie Johnson, they’ve won an incredible amount during this Chase. A couple years ago we thought the Chase format needed adjusting, so we gave more points to race wins. Now he’s so far ahead, we’re thinking we have to adjust it again. We can’t keep doing that. They’re that good. For them to stumble today puts everyone back in the picture, within a reasonable amount.”
Not really. Making up 73 points, or in Busch’s case, 171 points, is unreasonable. Johnson would have to have another poor race, which more than likely isn’t going to happen, and Martin, or Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart, would have to have two spectacular races. The way things have gone this year, it is unlikely any of that will happen in Phoenix or Miami.
Johnson even said he feels fortunate he built up such a huge lead early in the Chase so he could afford to have a bad race.
“It was definitely not the day we wanted,” Johnson said. “We did not want to lose points like that. Luckily we had a big margin. We’re going to two great tracks for us here and we’ll just keep racing. We’ve been saying all along that anything can happen, I just wish that Sam could have waited a little while longer before he hit something. Instead, he lost it and hit me and off we went.”

Photo: At top, Chad Knaus, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, pushes the car into the garage after Johnson was involved in an incident on the third lap with Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the No. 77 AAA Dodge, during Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Johnson returned to the race on lap 115. Hornish went back on track, but later hit the wall to bring out the caution again, ending his day. (Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

At bottom, Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge, celebrates by performing a burnout, followed by a reverse lap with the checkered flag after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday in Fort Worth, Texas. This is the first win at Texas Motor Speedway for Busch, who outran -- and out-gassed -- his brother Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota. Busch gained two positions in the Chase for the Sprint Cup to fourth, 171 points behind points leader Jimmie Johnson. (Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

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