Johnson calls for backup after crash
KANSAS CITY, Kan. - To get back into contention for the Nextel Cup title, drivers in the back of the standings need both a near-perfect performance and a collapse from the competition.
But it's wishful thinking that series champions Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart & Co. will all simultaneously combust and open the door for the stragglers.
Or is it?
Johnson wrecked his lightning-fast car in yesterday's final practice and the defending series champion had to pull out his backup. The accident cost him the pole position for today's LifeLock 400 at Kansas Speedway, and he'll now start at the back of the field.
Stewart, meanwhile, cursed on live TV and NASCAR officials were reviewing tape to determine if any action will be taken. The volatile driver was docked points once already this season for swearing.
It comes just days after contender Carl Edwards was docked 25 points because last week's winning car failed inspection, and gives hope to the rest of the Chase field.
"A lot of people are quick to count people out," said Denny Hamlin, who is last in the 12-driver field and 158 points behind leader Gordon.
"If we get a top-seven finish, that's our goal from here on out. People look at [his points] and say 'Wow, that's a ton,' especially when you have six or seven guys within 60 points. It's not that many points. One bad race by somebody and we're back within 50 to 60 points."
The model for a comeback is Johnson, who rallied from as low as ninth in the standings last year to win his first Nextel Cup title. He did it with strong performances, but fully credits trouble to his competition for helping him move through the points.
"Last year we said it would never happen and I was out of it, and I felt the same," he said. "But before you knew it, we were back in it. I don't think we'll know until two races to go who is going to win this thing because until then, everybody is still in it.
"For the guys at the bottom now, it's out of their control. You just try to put down good races, good finishes and see where it shakes out. We did that last year, it was our only option. We did all we could do, we were running well and then guys had trouble to let us back in."
Johnson unintentionally repaid the favor by wrecking his car. The accident demolished what had been the class of the field this weekend - Johnson paced almost every practice, won the pole, and was widely considered to have the car to beat.
"The car was kind of loose," he said. "I thought it was coming to me, so I started opening up my entry into the corners and it just got out from underneath me getting into Turn 3. We definitely didn't need that."
His backup won at California in August, and Johnson hopes to return it to Victory Lane and improve upon his third-place position in the standings.
Stewart, meanwhile, must wait to see if NASCAR takes action against him for his television gaffe. He is currently second in the standings, just 2 points out of the lead, but would drop if he's punished.
He had just exited his car following the morning practice session when he was approached by an ESPN camera. Unaware that the camera was live, he used an expletive to order the reporter to remove the camera from his face.
NASCAR docks points and issues fines for cursing on TV, as Stewart learned earlier this season. Although he can argue he didn't know the camera was on and wasn't in an interview, that defense didn't work for Juan Pablo Montoya, who said earlier this season he didn't know a camera in his car was live when he flipped his middle finger at it. He was docked points and fined.
The self-destruction yesterday by Johnson and Stewart gave hope to the other contenders, and Gordon said those kinds of issues can reopen the field as it happened for Johnson last season.
"What Jimmie did last year was pretty extraordinary, but you have to take into account what the other guys contributed to it," Gordon said. "To me, we lost the championship as much as Jimmie went out there and won it."