Although it was interesting watching Kyle Busch come within three laps last night of doing what no other upper-echelon driver has been able to do in the history of NASCAR – win every race in three major divisions on the same weekend – the thing that really caught my attention was Jimmie Johnson sitting in his race car for more than an hour while it was being repaired.
That spoke volumes about the team and the man.
Johnson went into the Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway yesterday with a 184-point lead in the race for the Sprint Cup over his nearest challenger, Mark Martin, and all he had to do was toodle around and finish in 10th place or better to maintain the advantage with two races left to go – next week in Phoenix and then a week later in south Florida..
But on the third lap, Johnson got tangled up with Sam Hornish Jr. and emerged much the worse for wear. It wasn’t a matter of going to the pits for repairs, it meant going to the garage for almost a total rebuild.
ABC-TV did a great job showing us the reconstruction project as it progressed. Under the direction of crew chief Chad Knaus, the rear end and front suspension and all other bent or crooked or damaged parts were removed from the automobile and brand new ones installed.
It took an hour and 10 minutes to get that car ready to return to the speedway (where it and Johnson eventually finished, officially, in 38th place, 129 laps behind the winner, Kurt Busch, with Denny Hamlin second and Matt Kenseth third) and during all that time, Jimmie Johnson sat in that wrecked car, safety harness done up and gloves and helmet on, staring straight ahead, waiting to go back to work.
He didn’t unstrap himself. get out of the car and watch the repairs being made; he didn’t just take off his helmet and ask for a magazine to read; he didn’t ask for a portable TV so he could watch the race, or a DVD player so he could watch a movie or something.
No, he sat there motionless, staring straight ahead, totally focused and prepared to go the second Knaus determined that the car was race-ready.
And that, ladies and gentleman, perhaps explains like nothing else can why Jimmie Johnson has been the NASCAR Sprint Cup champion the last three years and, despite yesterday’s setback, will likely be champion again for the fourth straight time.
Now, Kyle Busch has tried to complete the triple previously – winning the Friday Camping World Truck Series race, the Saturday Nationwide stock car race and the Sunday Sprint Cup race – but things always seemed to get gummed up.
This weekend, he won the truck race – his fifth straight in that series (he's won seven of the 13 he's entered in ‘09) – and the Nationwide (his eighth this season and the 29th of his career). And he dominated the Sprint Cup race yesterday afternoon and evening before running out of fuel (he wasn’t the only one) with just under three laps to go.
What a disappointment – for him and for us.
Meantime, the Chase for the Sprint Cup points standings tightened up considerably as the result of Johnson’s misfortune. Martin finished fourth in the race and is now only 73 points behind. Jeff Gordon, who was on a roll in this race but ran into misfortune of his own (his car escaped damage when he found himself in the middle of a four- or -five car dustup in which he spun and had to pit while the pits were closed, thus earning a penalty), eventually finished 13th and is now only 112 points behind as compared to the minus 192 he carried going into the race.
Poor Juan Pablo Montoya had a bad race – his car was also damaged in a crash, but not as badly as Johnson's – and went from fourth place in the Chase standings all the way back to sixth. Race winner Kurt Busch jumped from sixth to fourth.
Instead of a cakewalk, it's going to be a nail-biter all the way to the final in Florida.
Which is exactly the way it should be.