Johnson trying to hang on |

Johnson trying to hang on

Roger Diez
Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist

With just two races left in the NASCAR Sprint Cup’s Chase to the Championship, it’s still not a done deal.

Last year Hendrick Racing/Chevrolet teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon were vying for the title as it came down to the wire ” this year Johnson is back, but it’s Roush-Fenway Ford driver Carl Edwards who is nipping at Johnson’s heels at season’s end. But if Edwards and teammate Greg Biffle stumble, Johnson could clinch the championship at Phoenix, where he won in April. He only needs to score 90 points more than Edwards and 52 more than Biffle tomorrow and the fat lady sings.

Four other drivers have a mathematical chance of winning the big prize, but realistically it’s down to those three. If Johnson can’t manage to score enough points to clinch, but can out-point Edwards by 56 and Biffle by 18 at Phoenix, then all he needs to do is take the green flag in the season finale at Miami-Homestead and he’s the champ. In any case, if Johnson finishes seventh or better in the final two races, he will become only the second driver in NASCAR history to win three championships in a row.

There are also other important honors at stake as the NASCAR season winds down. The manufacturers’ championship is up for grabs. Toyota’s early lead has evaporated, and now only three points separate Toyota, Chevrolet, and Ford for the title. Given Toyota’s recent performances, things will be decided between Chevy and Ford, with Chevy having the edge by reason of having so many cars in the Chase.

There is also the Rookie of the Year title, with Sam Hornish Jr. leading Regan Smith by just four points (198 to 194) in a rookie field diminished by the early departure of Dario Franchitti, Michael McDowell, and Patrick Carpentier. Finally, there is an important battle, the fight to stay in the top 35 in owner points, which guarantees a team a starting position in the first five races of 2009. Currently the Red Bull Toyota driven by Scott Speed holds down 35th. For teams toward the back of the field, this battle is more important than the Chase.

There is a reason so many NASCAR drivers are huge Formula 1 fans, and last Sunday’s season finale in Brazil made that reason clear. If you think that NASCAR racing is exciting, you should have watched the last lap of Sunday’s F1 race. Although the race lead was never contested (Ferrari driver Felipe Massa had first place pretty much sewn up), the championship points battle provided all the drama one could want.

And when Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren passed the Toyota of Timo Glock, struggling with dry tires on a wet race track, in the final corner of the final lap, it was the height of drama to watch the jubilation in the Ferrari pit turn to despair. Some conspiracy theorists out there maintain that Glock slowed deliberately to let Hamilton pass and take the title, but commentators David Hobbs and Bob Varsha both scoffed at that notion. And I can tell you from personal experience with racing on a wet track on dry tires, that Glock had his hands full just keeping the car on the asphalt. In any case, it was vindication for Hamilton for the atrocious stewards’ decision at Spa that robbed him of a win. Congratulations to the youngest World Champion in history!

Shifting to the local racing scene, Carson area racers are well into the Red Bluff winter series. Last Saturday the 250cc class was represented by three veterans of the Outlaw Karts; Mason Millard, Zachary Heinz, and Tanner Thorson. All three qualified in the top 10, with Heinz in seventh, Thorson ninth, and Millard 10th.

In the heat races, Thorson took the victory in his heat, while Heinz edged Millard by one spot with the pair finishing second and third. Thorson came home third in the A main, with Heinz fifth and Millard 10th. Our Open division driver’s didn’t fare as well, advancing only as far as the B main, where Mackena Bell finished seventh (after winning the C main), with Daniel Thorson 11th and Chris Rytting 13th.