Win or lose, Jimmie Johnson adds drama

November, 18, 2010
11/18/10
8:25
AM CT

A month or two ago, I made national news when I said it would not be good for NASCAR if Jimmie Johnson won an unprecedented fifth straight championship.

Even Johnson asked me about my thoughts after reading the media reports. I couldn't tell if he was upset but I wouldn't have blamed him. He did tell me that despite my opinion he was going to do everything in his power to win. I wouldn't expect anything less.

Well, I might have been wrong. What if Johnson does win another championship this Sunday in the NASCAR season finale? Is that really bad for the sport? And what has changed to make me reconsider?

PODCAST
Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson shares what he's thinking heading into the final race. Johnson says he isn't feeling pressure because based on his current position, he doesn't have anything to lose.

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First, I'm not predicting that Johnson will, indeed, win a fifth title. The point battle is the closest in the history of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Only 15 points separates Johnson from the leader, Denny Hamlin. And feisty Kevin Harvick is only 46 points back in third. I wouldn't be surprised to see Harvick win the championship. After all, I was there in 1992 when the late Alan Kulwicki outsmarted Davey Allison and Bill Elliott to jump from third to first in that year's season finale in Atlanta. It could always happen again.

But the difference in this point race and the previous four -- and the reason I may have changed my thoughts on the issue -- is that Johnson will have to come from behind if he wins the Sprint Cup trophy this year. In all four previous championships, Johnson held such a significant lead that he only needed to ride around at the season finale to clinch the championship. He has never really had to race in the final race to win the championship those years.

In this week's issue of Sports Illustrated, Johnson appeared to relish the role of being the hunter instead of the hunted. "I love where I'm at right now," he said. "Bring it on. I just hope Denny doesn't have any trouble sleeping this week and doesn't hear every rattle of the car in his dreams."

I like the smack talk from the supposedly vanilla Johnson. A guy like that might not be a bad guy to be the champion.

However it winds up, this year's point race has been great for the sport. True race fans -- heck, true sports fans -- should have great appreciation for the tight championship battle this year. Drama, mind games, disqualification and bold moves have been the norm during the Chase.

So whether it's Johnson for a fifth time or Hamlin or Harvick for a first, this one is going to be good. I'm going to be glued to the TV set Sunday.

Drop the rag. Let's get it on!

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