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Cup Notes: Jimmie Needs A Foil

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, October 30 2009
Jimmie Johnson is a superstar without a rival, is teammate says. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jimmie Johnson is a superstar without a rival, his teammate says. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Chances are looking better and better that four weeks from now, Jimmie Johnson will become the first-ever driver to win four straight Sprint Cup championships.

He already has 46 race victories and he is, debatably, the most feared driver in the most important racing series in North America.

So what’s up with the relative lack of national attention and respect for all of that?

His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, who is somewhat of an expert on cross-over appeal, thinks it might be the lack of an antagonist.

“It’s amazing to me,” four-time champion Jeff Gordon said. “I really don’t have an answer for that other than for me, what helped build up my popularity was the rivalry we talked about with me and Earnhardt Sr. He had such an incredible fan base that anybody that came in and competed with him or beat him for a championship which was pretty rare, again, divided up the fans and it was extremely good for me and I think right now Jimmie doesn’t have a rivalry. One, he’s dominated; but there wasn’t somebody that was dominating prior to him.

“We won our fourth championship in 2001 but since then and we’re kind of teammates and friends and all this stuff, so it’s not like this love-hate relationship that it may have appeared to have been, perception-wise, between me and Earnhardt. And so, you never know what does this. I’m not a marketing genius. I have no idea.”

Cars took to the track at Talladega for the first time Friday afternoon with a restrictor plate with smaller holes than the ones used last time – the time the race ended with a wreck which sent Carl Edwards in to the front-stretch catch fence –at the 2.66-mile track.

And?

“You can tell a little bit inside the car,” driver Greg Biffle said, “but, really, from the cars around you and side by side with the way you’re driving, it doesn’t really make a lot of difference.”

NASCAR officials were very active during Friday’s practice in warning drivers not to bump draft. Good idea, Biffle said.

“This track is so smooth and the cars are going a little bit slower now.  You can push all the way around the corner, and NASCAR is saying they’re not going to allow that, but it’s awfully hard to tell when we’re an inch apart versus whether you’re pushing a guy, so they’re gonna have to really, really do their due diligence to penalize a guy when it looks necessary and not when they’re just bunched up tight.

“That’s what causes these wrecks. Carl tried to push us in the middle of the corner down here last year and it caused a big wreck, so that’s what we’ve got to stop doing.  We’ve got to push on the straightaways.”

Hendrick Motorsports announced Friday that Lance McGrew will continue on as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. next season.

The 41-year-old McGrew had assumed the role May 28 on an interim basis.

“I have total faith in Lance and what he’s capable of accomplishing with Dale Jr.,” team-owner Rick Hendrick said in a team statment. “There was a lot of pressure with how he came into this deal, and the way he’s handled it has been extremely impressive. Lance is confident in himself and in his decisions, and all the outside distractions aren’t going to faze him. He’s a strong-willed guy who will keep his eye on the ball and not settle.”

Earnhardt said, “It is something I am really excited about. Lance has done a great job. He is a really good guy. We have a real good friendship that started many years ago and sort of blossomed a lot more once we worked together in the Nationwide Series at Lowe’s (Motor Speedway). Since we’ve worked together on the car (No. 88) we’ve gotten along really great and I enjoy it. He has built a few new cars for us and every time we take a new car to the track, it is really fast.”

McGrew was a happy guy after the announcement was made.

“When given this kind this kind of opportunity to work with Junior, to work for the best organization, the best racing organization in my opinion in the world, and there are four crew chiefs that get the opportunity to do that,” McGrew said. “I am lucky enough to be one of them. We have 550 teammates at Hendrick Motorsports that bleeding sweat to make this No. 88 team run as successfully as it is supposed to be running. We’re heading that direction.”

Gordon said, “I think it’s a great move and I like Lance a lot. I think those guys are good together.”

Richard Petty Motorsports announced that is punishing driver A.J. Allmendinger for being arrested and charged with driving while impaired, a misdemeanor.

Allmendinger registered a blood alcohol content of .08, the minimum required for a DWI arrest in North Carolina. NASCAR also placed the driver on probation until Dec. 31.

“We are disappointed with his actions,” the team said in a statement. “A.J. has told us that he has accepted full responsibility for his actions and will do what is right.  We have placed A.J. on probation through the end of the 2010 racing season. In addition, he will be fined $10,000 which will be donated to charity.”

Dodge Motorsports announced Friday the Dodge Challenger will be its “New Car” for the NASCAR Nationwide Series and announced an expansion of its partnership with Penske Racing beginning in 2010.

Dodge will provide support for Penske Racing’s two-car operation in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, in addition to Penske’s three teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.  
 
“As the performance brand of our new company, we are excited to expand our relationship with Penske Racing and introduce the iconic Dodge Challenger as our entry into the NASCAR Nationwide Series,” said Ralph Gilles, President and CEO, Dodge Car Brand. “Motorsports are a significant part of the Dodge brand’s legacy. Penske Racing has such a rich tradition in motorsports, and our partnership in the Nationwide Series will provide an excellent opportunity to showcase the Challenger and offer our loyal Dodge enthusiasts plenty of excitement in this very competitive series next year.”

Penske Racing will field two teams, both running the full-season schedule. The Dodge Challenger will be used at the four “New Car” races NASCAR has designated, starting at Daytona in July.

At the other 31 events that complete the 35-race season, Penske Racing will field Dodge Chargers as it did this season with the No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge Charger driven by Justin Allgaier. NASCAR is expecting full integration of the “New Car” in 2011.

Joining Allgaier will be Brad Keselowski in the No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge. He also will compete in the Dodge Challenger for the four designated races and in a Charger for the remainder of the schedule.

“Today’s announcement further reinforces our relationship and commitment to Dodge Motorsports, and we are excited about our future with this great brand,” said Tim Cindric, President of Penske Racing. “We believe Dodge’s relationship with Penske Racing will continue to elevate and highlight both our brands and deliver value to Dodge enthusiasts.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, October 30 2009
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