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All hail King Jimmie

Nothing is seemingly out of Jimmie Johnson's reach right now.

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
Published November 13, 2007


AVONDALE, Ariz. - Nothing is seemingly out of Jimmie Johnson's reach right now. Gone were the seasons, or so his peers thought, when drivers would be able to win 10 or more races. Too much talent resides in the garage and the competition level has equalized dramatically since Jeff Gordon won 13 times in 1998. Or so went the theory; But Johnson's victory Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway, his fourth consecutive, made him the first to win 10 or more since Gordon's 13.; "I wouldn't have thought it (possible)," Greg Biffle said. "We won six in 2005 and then Kasey Kahne won six last year and that's a lot of races to win in a season. I thought it was probably possible after 2005 that I had enough confidence and thought that that could be done again or maybe get eight, but that's a lot of wins. I would have never thought it."

WINNERS

1. Jimmie Johnson: He has put himself in position to points-race his way to a second straight title on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Of course, his idea of points racing lately has been to grab the 190 awarded for a win. Perhaps he'll be a bit more conservative needing only an 18th-place finish to become the first successful Cup defender since Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon in 1998.

LOSERS

1.Jeff Gordon: The four-time champion was frustrated that his team again failed to hit on a setup to compete better with Johnson, but he was also stunned at how dominant his friend has become. Gordon's season has been nearly flawless. He led the standings for 26 weeks; he has won two races in the Chase for the Championship - the last, at Charlotte, building a 68-point lead a month ago. He leads the series with 29 top-10 finishes. Not good enough.

WHAT WE LEARNED

Chad Knaus, who barring a major pitfall will become just the second active crew chief with two titles, has apparently become the smartest man in the garage. He got that way with all those obsessive hours in the shop. And Johnson, at age 32, has caught one of those rare long-riding waves of legend. Though the talented pair figures to be productive for a long time, the sport is witnessing lightning in a bottle right now.

THE BIG PICTURE

Gordon conceded "it's over" and said he wouldn't want to win a title the only way he could now: if an engine gave out on Johnson's No.48 Chevrolet, if a tire blew, if someone wrecked him. Assuming none of those calamities occur, it's probably pretty safe to let the engraver started working on "Tiff," the nickname for the Nextel Cup championship trophy.

Fresh start

Though driver/owner Michael Waltrip said Joe Gibbs Racing's switch from Chevrolet to Toyota beginning next season has already benefited his first-year Nextel Cup team, president J.D. Gibbs said his organization has yet to begin serious work on its new engines.

"We've been real careful," Gibbs said. "We've obviously had conversations about what it looks like. But once this year is over we'll sit down and see what it looks like. As of right now we haven't done a whole lot of stuff. We want to be careful and we want to finish out strong for GM. Then when that time comes, we'll look at some other projects. Our biggest thing will be starting next year (with) the engine program. That is the hardest thing we do."

Doubly good

It would seem a logical move for Gillett Evernham Motorsports majority owner George Gillett Jr. to have insisted his new team sign Quebecois Patrick Carpentier to drive the team's No.10 Dodge in the Nextel Cup series next season. It has been a public relations boon for the American owner of the Montreal Canadiens.

But Gillett said he had, as promised, left this competition decision to Ray Evernham. Sort of.

"When we put him in our Busch car, that was a Gillett family influence and he was so good, so positive, bilingual, has a wonderful family," Gillett said. "He is in many ways the future of the sport. It's not about national or international, it's about the fact that he's a hell of a driver."

Ticked

Gordon was in eighth place with 65 laps remaining and chasing Johnson, who was fifth, on Sunday. So Gordon was not pleased with Tampa native Aric Almirola's attempts to stay on the same lap. He instructed his spotter to relay this message to Almirola's spotter: "If (Almirola) continues to make it difficult to put him a lap down, I have a lot of ways to make it happen."

Matt Kenseth was irritated with Almirola on Lap283, as he nearly made contact with the lapped car as he tried to hold Johnson off for second place.

"If Mark (Martin) would have been in that car, it would have been a non-issue and he would have let the racers race for the win," Kenseth said, referring to Almirola's co-driver "But everybody is out there doing the best they can."

Martin and Almirola will share the No.8 Chevrolet at Dale Earnhardt Inc. next season.