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Minter: Jimmie Johnson Is As Sly As A Fox

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 22 2009
Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus just might be thinking about what to wear to this year's championship banquet.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus just might be thinking about what to wear to this year's championship banquet. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

Some Thursday observations:

Of all the terms being tossed around regarding Jimmie Johnson’s surge toward what’s looking like a record fourth straight Sprint Cup title, “irony” is one of the first words that comes to mind.

In the same autumn that David Pearson was snubbed in the voting for the inaugural class of the official NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, a driver who is the modern day version of the Silver Fox is dominating the Chase.

Listening to Denny Hamlin describe Johnson’s style on this week’s teleconference sounded for all the world like drivers of decades ago giving their take on Pearson.

Hamlin pointed out that one big reason Johnson is so good is that he often has the best car. That was true in Pearson’s era, especially in the days when he drove the Mercurys prepared by Leonard Wood, the Chad Knaus of his era.

But Hamlin also said that Johnson is a smart driver, who makes few mistakes and spends the bulk of the race taking care of his car and working with his crew chief to continually tune it for the finish. That’s the same thing people used to say about Pearson, and that’s how he earned the “Silver Fox” moniker.

“When (Johnson) has to push it in the end, he’s got the car there for it,” Hamlin said. “He’s got the mindset to win those races, and that’s what makes him the best.”

In every NASCAR championship battle that Tony Stewart has ever been a part of, he’s always said that he won’t throw in the towel until he’s mathematically eliminated. It would be fairly easy for him to do that now, since he’s 155 points behind Jimmie Johnson with only five races to overcome the deficit.

But ol’ Smoke knows that it really isn’t over ‘til it’s over.

In his weekly press release, Stewart recounted an event early in his career, one that many point to when making the argument that a driver should continue to try hard until there truly is no more hope.

“When we won the USAC Silver Crown Series championship in ’95, we were the third driver of three that had a shot, mathematically, to win it,” Stewart said in retelling the now-familiar story. “There were two drivers, Jack Hewitt and Dave Darland, that were neck-and-neck in the point standings, and we were kind of the third wheel.

“We were only included in the group media sessions because we were mathematically in the hunt. Both of those drivers ended up having problems in the (final) race, and we won the point championship by two points.

“You realize when you use that experience, knowing that as long as you’re mathematically in the hunt, you still have a shot.”

Carl Edwards may not be fast these days, but he seems to still have class. Edwards, who won a league-leading nine Cup races last year, was many people’s pre-season pick for the champion. But he hasn’t won a race this year and really hasn’t been a factor in the Chase. A blown engine at Lowe’s Motor Speedway left him 341 points behind Johnson, and since the most a driver can make up in one race is 161 points, he’s essentially done as far as the championship is concerned.

But his post-race comments at Charlotte seem to indicate that while he doesn’t have much speed on the race track he’s not taking out his frustrations on his team or the media.

He tried to make the best of a bad situation, calling his engine woes a “mercy killing” to an outing that had gone sour from the start as his No. 99 Ford was simply too slow to be competitive.

“You’re going to have nights like this,” he said. “That’s life. That’s racing.”

He pointed out his team doesn’t have bad races very often, and he said he felt bad for his crew chief Bob Osborne, who is charged with making the car run fast.

“Bob is down on himself right now,” Edwards said. “He’s all upset because the car was slow, but Bob’s a smart guy and

I’ve got a lot of faith in him.”

As with many other racers having endured a disappointing event, Edwards appeared to maintain a “we’ll get ‘em next time” attitude.

“We’ll just go to Martinsville and go strong there,” he said.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 22 2009
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  • Jim says:

    You know, when Wonder Boy and Evernham ran together, they said the same things about them as Johnson and Pearson. Used to.