Johnson Takes a Hit

by Monte Dutton

FORT WORTH, Texas — Jimmie Johnson kept saying homilies like “there’s a lot of racing left” and “it’s way too early” to declare a fourth straight by Monte Dutton Sprint Cup championship a foregone conclusion.

Johnson, of course, could take no solace from being proved right in Texas Motor Speedway’s Dickies 500. The race had barely started before Johnson, who had seemed so blessed by the fates, found himself wading through a nightmare.

On the third lap, Johnson’s Chevrolet, riding just outside the top 10 near Sam Hornish, who had started alongside him, was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Hornish’s Dodge first wobbled and then, as Hornish tried to gather it in, took a tap from David Reutimann’s Toyota.

Hornish bounced into Johnson, and everything went out of control. Johnson’s Chevrolet slammed into Hornish a second time, then eventually clobbered the wall at the inside of the Texas back straight.

Johnson had to return to the track in his patched-up No. 48 just to finish as high as 38 th . By day’s end, Johnson’s 184-point lead over Mark Martin was down to 73.

On the positive side, with but two races remaining, Johnson’s margin is somewhat comfortable, though the incident with Hornish offered testimony to just how fleeting such a margin can be.

Afterward, Johnson was amazingly upbeat, saying he was still “very much” optimistic.

“I felt like we had a chance to win the race,” he said. “I felt like at least we could stretch the margin or keep it like it was. But it wasn’t meant to be. We still have a nice lead, and we’ll take it from here.”

Only Martin is within 100 points. Only Martin and Jeff Gordon — both of whom are Hendrick Motorsports teammates, by the way — are within 150.

Odds in Johnson’s quest to become NASCAR’s first winner of four consecutive championships remain in his favor.

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 (nascar.rbma. com) features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail Monte at nascar_ (c) 2009 King Features Syndicate

Despite a wreck in the Dickies 500, defending NASCAR Cup champJimmie Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, are still in control ofthe Chase with two races left. (Photo: John Clark/NASCAR This Week)