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Woody: Jimmie The Drama Killer

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 6 2009
Jimmie Johnson is leading the Chase to an anti-climactic conclusion.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

Jimmie Johnson is leading the Chase to a conclusion sans drama. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship was supposed to bunch up a field of fire-ballers for a final 10-race shootout that would have sparks flying and keep fans perched breathlessly on the edge of their seats.

Something went amiss.

With three races to go this hunt’s over. It’s time to call in the dogs and pour Perrier on the campfire.

Jimmie Johnson tip-toed out of Talladega with a 184-point lead after second- and third-place Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon wiped out. Game. Set. Match.

Flawless Jimmie and his crafty crew are not going to blow a 184-point lead in the next three races. No way, no how.

Especially if he doesn’t race. Which was the case last Sunday at Talladega.

Johnson made no bones about the fact that his goal wasn’t to win, but rather to protect his paint job. At the start of the race he drifted back to the rear where he spent the afternoon coasting along.

His biggest concern? That he was going so slow that he might foul his carburetor.

So there we have it: A driver is about to wrap up a record fourth-straight championship by being careful not to race. All Johnson has to do for the next three Sundays is get to the track on time.

Some drama, huh?

This is exactly the sort of last-season blahs that the Chase was supposed to prevent.

NASCAR began its version of the playoffs six years ago when Matt Kenseth cruised to the title without having to exert himself in the last several races. Kenseth built an insurmountable points lead that allowed him to coast home free.

The Chase was supposed to prevent that from ever happening again. By re-setting the standings after 26 races, the top 12 (originally top 10) drivers would be tightly grouped together. Nobody would be able to pull away from the pack down the stretch.

Nice theory. Too bad it flopped.

I don’t blame Johnson and his crew; they’re just doing their job. What’s Johnson supposed to do, pull over and wait for everybody else to catch up?

The lack of competition has been stunning. Where’s all the “parity” we keep hearing about? There’s one dominant operation in NASCAR — Hendrick Motorsports – and in that stable there’s one dominate team.

NASCAR has become a one-pony show and that pony doesn’t have to break a sweat. The pace car driver drove harder than Johnson last Sunday.

I thought this year’s Chase would be the best in history. I thought we would see 12 drivers in a frantic, furious fight to the finish. I thought that week after week we’d see leads swapped on the track and in the standings.

I thought we’d go into the final race at Homestead with a half-dozen drivers neck-in-neck.

I thought wrong.

Instead of fireworks and drama, we’re watching Jimmie Johnson waltz his way to history.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 6 2009
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