Woody: Another Helping Of The Vanilla, Please
By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
In terms of driver images, in recent weeks we’ve seen the worst and the best.
The worst: Kyle Busch dashing to bits his classic trophy guitar after a victory at Nashville Superspeedway.
The best: Jimmie Johnson seeking out Kurt Bush after last Sunday’s race at Sonoma to offer an apologic handshake for an accidental spinout.
Johnson, chasing a record fourth consecutive Cup championship, is a terrific representative for his sport. He races hard and – when necessary – ruthlessly – but when it’s over it’s over.
That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Give no quarter on the track, try to beat the daylights out of the opposition, then shake hands after its over.
Some critics claim that Johnson is too vanilla, that he lacks dash and pizzazz. All I can say is that most other pro sports would be delighted to have a bit less pizzazz in some of their star athletes.
Here in Nashville we had about all the pizzazz we could stand from Pacman Jones before he was finally packed off to Dallas – where he promptly over-pizzazzed there too.
My only complaint with Johnson this season was the Charity Lap he gave teammate Mark Martin a few weeks ago. Jimmie was leading when he deliberately slowed, let Mark pass and lead a lap for the five bonus points, then reassumed the lead and went on to win.
That’s taking the Nice Guy thing too far. What if Johnson should be eliminated from the championship Chase by Martin by the five points he gave away? Or what if Martin beat out another driver for the 12th and final spot by five points or less?
Giving away free passes – and championship points – taints the sport’s integrity.
And speaking of integrity, it was troublesome when Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, was repeatedly caught cheating. Cheating’s bad enough anytime, but it’s particularly shameful when a team that rich and talented tries to steal an even bigger edge over the out-matched competition.
It wasn’t Johnson who did the cheating, but he benefited from it. It shamed everyone on the team – from owner Rick Hendrick on down to the guy who sweeps the shop floor.
Aside from those past incidents, Johnson has been on a dream ride. After 16 races this season he has two wins and is a solid third in the standings. With 10 races to go to set the 12-car championship field he’s a virtual cinch to make the playoffs.
And once he’s in, don’t bet against him.
I thought no driver could ever win three straight titles given the parity of the sport nowadays. I was wrong. But wining four? The odds against it are astronomical.
Yet here’s Jimmie, primed and poised and a threat to win every time he rolls onto the track.
Johnson has a chance to make history this fall, and if he comes up short there’s one thing we can count on: he’ll lose with class.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments