Monday, November 13, 2006

Review, sort of.

Don't give him the trophy yet, but Jimmie Johnson is doing exactly what it takes to win that elusive honor. After being virtually counted out after the first three chase races, Johnson and his #48 team have performed heroically and have taken the championship points lead by sixty-three points over second place Matt Kenseth. They have done so by making the smart moves, going for the win, but not taking the kinds of risks that would result in disaster.
The final three-lap shoot-out in Sunday's race at Phoenix was a great example of what Johnson and his team have been doing. After the restart, even those of us at home were on our feet as Kevin Harvick shot into the lead with Johnson close on his tail. Harvick got loose in turn three, allowing Johnson to get right up against his rear bumper. However, Harvick, an excellent driver in his own right, was not about to let victory slip through his fingers, blocked Johnson and prevented him from passing. Johnson had two choices; he could have pressed the issue, putting nose of his car under the tail of Harvick's, causing him to get loose and creating an opportunity to take the lead and the win, or he could have let up on the throttle, and hope for another chance to pass before they reached the finish line. He wisely chose the second option, because the first also could have resulted in both cars wrecking, as often happens in the course of a hard fought race to the finish. It was enough for him to settle for second place, keeping the points lead, while Harvick took a hard fought and well deserved win.
Harvick is the fourth driver to achieve back-to-back victories at PIR, and the first to do so in the same year, since the addition of the March race last year. His behavior, in the aftermath of the post-race incident last week, in which a member of Scott Riggs' #10 team physically assaulted Kevin and his wife Dalana, has been exempliary of a true champion. Harvick contacted the owner of Riggs' team, Ray Everham, and asked that the offending team member not be fired. He also assured Everham that there were no hard feelings, and that there would be no retailiation on the track. Scott Riggs, who had been running in second place toward the end of the race in Texas, when contact with Harvick's car ran him into the wall and out of the race, also showed superior sportsmanship, when he told reporters that it was just something that happens in racing. He was not involved in the post-race incident.
While the race for the win was going on, rookie sensation Denny Hamlin was having the time of his life racing one of the sport's all-time greats, Jeff Gordon, for third place. Gordon is mathematically out of championship contention for the points championship, but racers live to race, and race he did, door-to-door and fender-to-fender, for nearly three laps. Hamlin managed to keep to the inside of Gordon, the shorter distance around the track, and prevailed just before the checkered flag fell, taking third place.
We can't give the Championship to Johnson, just yet. There is the sappy, emotional side of us that will need a box of Kleenex if and when the two-time runner up does accept the trophy. He really does deserve it, and it could be just as well now that he gets it, rather than later. It will still be an emotional moment if something goes wrong for him in the final race at Homestead, Fla, next Sunday, preventing him from taking the Nextel Cup.
It doesn't have to be an engine problem or a transmission problem that would once again deny the trophy to Johnson. A cut tire, or running out of fuel late in the race could be fatal to his championship hopes. Even being caught in traffic with a missed set up could be bad for the #48 team.
Face it; anything could happen, as so often does during a race. Matt Kenseth is only 63 points away from the lead, which could be made up with not too much luck. Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick are tied in third place in points position, ninety points out of the lead, and either one of them could still be the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup champion, given the right set of circumstances. Fifth place Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is still a mathematical possibility, 117 points out of the lead, if he gets all the good luck, and the other four contenders have absolutely no luck at all. The bottom line is this--the cap-off of what has been an excellent racing season is that the championship will be determined on the last lap of the last race.

Photo Credit: Sherryl Creekmore

1 comment:

Mike Marshall said...

Very well put Reverend Jim. Peace, Mike.