Champ Jimmie Lurks

by Monte Dutton

The King is far from dead. The King lives.

With apologies to Richard Petty, Jimmie Johnson has been king of the Sprint Cup Series for four years and seems unlikely to abdicate the throne. Maybe Petty’s King with a capital K, and Johnson’s just king with a little one.

The latest victory, his 53rd , was at Dover International Speedway, where Johnson has won three of the last four Cup races.

“The tire that Goodyear brought back — it’s the same as it was in the spring — blackened up the track in a hurry, but really made it challenging after 30 or 40 laps…. I had to fall back on my dirt-racing background.”

For the record, Johnson’s “dirt-racing background” wasn’t at Eldora or Knoxville. It was through deserts. Johnson first made his reputation in off-road racing.

At 35 years of age, Johnson, a native of El Cajon, Calif., has already won four cup championships. Only two drivers, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, have ever won more. Neither ever won four in a row, an unprecedented achievement. Now Johnson seems on track to make it five.

Johnson isn’t boastful by nature, even though he has every right to be. He laughs easily but seldom jokes. Some find him boring off the track.

But not on it. He opened the Chase with a 25 th place finish. Guess what? He opened it with a 39 th in 2006 and went on to win the championship. His quick recovery at Dover was typical of past performances. He and crew chief Chad Knaus have forged a relationship that serves as a model for every other such combination in the sport.

For much of the AAA 400, AJ Allmendinger dominated. Johnson bided his time and ended up rising to the front and staying there for the final stages.

“We played it smart,” he said. “He [Allmendinger] wasn’t ‘a Chase guy,’ so I didn’t feel good about letting him go, but when he got to me and put pressure on me, I let him by.

“Come the end of the race, he wasn’t there to have to fight with.”

Monte Dutton has covered motorsports for The Gaston (NC) Gazette since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog NASCAR This Week ( features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail Monte at ‘© 2010 King Features Syndicate

Four-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has won 19 of the 62 races during the sevenyear history of NASCAR’s playoff season. (John Clark/NASCAR This Week photo)