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Sunday, November 2, 2008
Johnson's day was bad, but as usual the 48 team made the most of it

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards, top, was able to put Jimmie Johnson a lap down, but Johnson didn't go down for the count.

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Jimmie Johnson is not one to give a lot of colorful descriptions of his feelings. Sunday was an exception when he walked in the media center after the Dickies 500.

"That was like getting kicked in the b---- over and over," Johnson said. "That sucked."

This coming from a man who just finished 15th, but lost 77 points off his lead in the Sprint Cup standings when Carl Edwards gambled on fuel and won at Texas Motor Speedway.

Maybe it didn't feel so good, but Johnson still has a 106-point lead with two races to go. The man can take a boot to the groin and keep going.

Heck, he probably could tread water in a tidal wave. He could fly through a tornado and land in a bail of hay. He could walk through and bounce off a stampeding herd of elephants with only a couple of scratches.

It has to be frustrating for Edwards. He has won the past two races, but Johnson still has a triple-digit lead.

Hinton: Close ...

Carl Edwards spent the entire race Sunday trying to land a haymaker on Jimmie Johnson's chin. Edwards did his part with a win, but the vagaries of the Chase let JJ up off the canvas. Ed Hinton

Making something decent out of something horrid has become the modus operandi for Johnson and the No. 48 Chevrolet team. These guys could take a pile of brake dust and bake a wedding cake.

It wasn't the dramatic push to the front at the end like Johnson had one week earlier, when he went from 11th to second in the closing laps after a restart.

This one was a much tougher task, like plowing a field with a three-legged donkey. Johnson was 30th at Lap 119 of the 334-lap race. His car was junk. But the fight had just begun.

"That was not the day we wanted," Johnson said. "It's frustrating because we thought we would do better. But this team is great at trying to come back. We never quit. That pays off at the end of races."

Johnson started seventh, but was off the pace from the beginning and fell back to 25th early in the show. Edwards lapped him after just 96 laps.

"We started really loose," Johnson said. "We made an adjustment and were running in the top 10. After a short five- or six-lap run [before a caution] we came back in and were still pretty loose."

That's when things turned for the worse.

"The car got very tight," Johnson said. "Once that happened, I knew I was a sitting duck. We just got way behind and could never recover."

Johnson moved up to 22nd, but he still was the fourth car a lap down. Edwards kept lapping cars, making it almost impossible for Johnson to get in position for the Lucky Dog, a free pass back on the lead lap for the first car down a lap.

But crew chief Chad Knaus remained confident.

"We'll get you back on the lead lap," Knaus said to Johnson on Lap 170. "It'll take some work, but we'll get there and we'll be good."

Good, yes. Back on the lead lap, no. It never happened. The race had only five cautions, meaning few chances to get back on the lead lap.

"There were so many green-flag runs that I knew we were in trouble," Johnson said. "I knew I had to take my lap back, and I knew we couldn't do that.''

What they did was avoid disaster. Most teams under the same scenario Johnson had Sunday would finish 30th or worse. But this team could dodge bullets in a firing squad.

Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson's crew worked feverishly to make his car competitive at Texas, and they largely succeeded ... after going a lap down.

"Chad said on the radio that they figured something out and had made a mistake on tire pressure," Johnson said. "After that, the car was much better all day. My lap times were in the top five, but we couldn't get our lap back."

A big hiccup was avoided on pit road with 91 laps to go. Travis Kvapil and Sam Hornish Jr. almost bumped each other in front of Johnson as Johnson was leaving the pits.

Knaus didn't see it at first and told Johnson, "Go, go, go." Then Knaus saw Kvapil in the way and yelled, "Wait!" An expletive followed. But Johnson hit the brakes to avoid Kvapil.

Knaus laid his head in his hands on the pit wagon, blaming himself for the near collision.

"I saw it coming," Johnson said. "I think Chad was more excited about the thing than I was. I could see the 28 [Kvapil]. I hit the brakes hard, but I had a front-row seat and saw what was taking place."

Johnson didn't see a race like this one coming, with Edwards moving 77 points closer. If Edwards does that the next two races, he'll be the champion.

Don't bet on it. Johnson remains the heavy favorite, and he hoped he got his one bad run out of the way. Johnson left Texas in the same spot he enjoyed when he arrived -- as the man to beat.

"There's a level of comfort in that I don't have to outrun the 99 [Edwards] or the 16 [Biffle, 143 points back] to be the champion," Johnson said. "But I'm frustrated that we didn't do the job we needed to do today and lost points."

He lost points, but he didn't lose the points lead. Not even close. Johnson got kicked a little bit, but in spite of his crude explanation, it shouldn't feel too bad.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.