Johnson’s win at Fontana proves you need luck to win titles | NevadaAppeal.com

Johnson’s win at Fontana proves you need luck to win titles

Roger Diez
For the Nevada Appeal

You know the old saying, “I’d rather be lucky than good”? That should have been the motto of Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus, and the whole Lowe’s No. 48 team Sunday in the Sprint Cup race at Fontana. Don’t get me wrong . . . those guys are good or they wouldn’t have won four Cup championships in a row. But they needed some luck to score a win at Fontana, and they got it when the caution flag came out just as Johnson made a pit stop. He was able to get out ahead of the leader and assumed the lead when everybody pitted, holding it to the checker. Team owner Roger Penske once said, “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity,” and last Sunday was a perfect example of that. Of course, Johnson had to hold off Kevin Harvick in the waning laps of the race, and that was no easy task. So is the No. 48 team on track for a fifth consecutive championship? It’s way too early to tell, but I wouldn’t bet against it.

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Johnson had teammates Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon nipping at his heels in the run to the championship last season. Could the Childress teams be the ones to keep Johnson honest in 2010? Not only did Harvick have a stellar run in California, but teammates Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer also ran at or near the front all day. The Childress organization seems to have a cycle of one or two bad years followed by a good year, and last year was about as bad as it got for them. After two races this season, Harvick is leading the points with Bowyer second, Burton is in fifth, and Jimmie Johnson’s win just edged him into Chase contention in 12th.

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Danica Patrick continued her steep learning curve in the Nationwide series at Fontana, starting 36th and finishing 31st, very similar results to other Indycar drivers in their first Fontana races. After today’s race (weather permitting), the Nationwide series will get a little respite from Danicamania as she heads back to the Indycar wars for a while.

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Friday’s Cup qualifying at Las Vegas was amazing, with 17 cars running faster than the old track record. This may have been due in part to NASCAR changing the ratio of the rear gear. Kurt Busch is on the pole, trying to emulate brother Kyle’s pole and win from last year. Kurt has Steve Addington on the pit box, the same crew chief who helped Kyle to last year’s victory. Jeff Gordon is alongside with his Hendrick Chevrolet in a new Pepsi Max paint scheme. A number of other cars will be sporting special paint jobs this weekend. David Reutimann will be sporting a Tums motif, Jamie McMurray will have McDonald’s golden arches on his hood, Carl Edwards will add Kellogg’s cereal colors to his Aflac Ford, and Denny Hamlin will be in FedEx Ground green. Remember the good old days when a car looked the same all season?

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I got a call the other day from Ed Brandenburg of Thunder Bowl Speedway in Mound House. He wanted me to let potential demolition derby drivers know that Thunder Bowl will have a demo derby at the track on May 15. If you are interested in participating, call Joe Gofinet at 222-9816 to get the rules and entry information. Then start cruising the wrecking yards for a suitable ride.

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Finally, if you haven’t heard, NASCAR lost one of its veterans and true characters last week with the passing of J.C. “Suitcase Jake” Elder. He got the nickname from his habit of moving from team to team, and he worked with some of the great drivers of NASCAR’s golden era. Elder crewed David Pearson to two championships, and was the model for the crew chief character played by Robert Duvall in “Days of Thunder.” Elder spent his declining years in a nursing home, but in his prime he was the personification of the crusty NASCAR crew chief. They don’t make them like Suitcase Jake anymore.