Paulk: Johnson's past mastery bodes well at Brickyard
TribLIVE Sports Videos
The Brickyard 400 may not be the biggest race of the Sprint Cup season, but it's likely to separate the championship contenders from the pretenders.
Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson has established he's the most dominant driver on the circuit this season.
He has been pushed some by Matt Kenseth, but unless he falters as he did in last year's season finale, his coronation as six-time champion seems inevitable.
In sweeping both races at Daytona and winning at Pocono, Johnson enters Sunday's race as the clear favorite and will start on the front row.
A victory at the storied Indianapolis Motor Speedway will bolster the already immeasurable confidence of Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus.
If history is a barometer of success, then Johnson is in a perfect place. He is a four-time winner at the Brickyard — a track where his uncanny blend of patience and aggressiveness has yielded dividends.
“I think he will be fast, as usual,” Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “I'll be surprised if they're not one of the more competitive teams. It always seems like there's somebody else that ends up running well.”
Indeed, four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart have pressed Johnson at the Brickyard. And they'll need to be mistake-free if they are going to outhustle Johnson to the checkered flag and kiss the perfectly aligned bricks near the finish line.
“They certainly are in championship form, and I'd have to put them at the top of the list of teams to beat,” said Gordon, a four-time winner at the Brickyard. “For the rest of us, we're going to put all that aside and run our race to see if we can finish ahead of the 48.
“If you can do that, you're probably going to win this race and be proud of that accomplishment. I hope there were teams that felt that way when we were winning here. But I think they might be taking it to another level.”
In reality, only Kenseth can keep Johnson in check. Kenseth, tied with Johnson with four wins, can't afford an uneven performance like those that have left him sixth in points instead of second ahead of Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards, who have only a single win between them.
For Bowyer, he needs a win this weekend to at least show Johnson he packs a big enough punch to tangle with him during the 10-race Chase.
“I'm certainly not right behind Jimmie, but I guess I'm the closest person to him,” said Bowyer, who trails Johnson by 56 points. “We've done a great job at being consistent, and that's what I like to focus on and then especially working into the Chase.
“I think these summer months have always sort of been difficult for me in my past, and what I've seen out of my team in these summer months I really like a lot, and it excites me about our chances for the Chase.”
Bowyer's Michael Waltrip Racing teammates — Martin Truex Jr. and Brian Vickers — both have captured checkered flags this season.
But Bowyer's consistency has positioned him to advance into the postseason. Truex could slide in as a wild card if he finishes outside the top 10.
“You can win the championship being consistently strong,” Bowyer said.
“We're second in points being consistently strong. I feel like — with an exception of one — we've covered our bases. We've done a good job of being there each and every week.”
Bowyer stumbled some at New Hampshire, but the No. 15 Toyota was as strong as Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet and Kenseth's No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
“It's a humbling sport,” Bowyer said. “Out of three races before (New Hampshire) were all solid top-fives. That's what I feel like where our team's at right now. We're a top-five team week in and week out. And if you do that, I know if you're going to get your wins.
“I'm really not concerned about that. Being consistent, staying in the hunt each and every weekend is what's going to give you a shot at a championship.”
Still, Bowyer has to flex his muscles at the Brickyard to get Johnson's attention.
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib. Listen to the Auto Racing Show with Ralph N. Paulk every Friday on TribLive Radio at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Tire comes off, hits oncoming car, kills 1 on Route 28
- Clairton wins 11th WPIAL football championship
- Play of nose tackles could have impact on Steelers’ stretch run
- WPIAL’s Top 10 football champions of all time
- Plum man killed in Saltsburg Road rollover
- City Christmas tree lighting kicks off Light-Up Night festivities
- 6 shot at Clairton speakeasy; police seek suspects
- Pirates cut ties with Davis, clearing path for Alvarez to play first base
- Philadelphia patient does not have Ebola
- Westmoreland County sheriff won’t alter staffing as cash runs out
- Starkey: Pens move on with, without Dupuis