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Archive for Thursday, May 29, 2003

Johnson only exciting part of Lowe’s races

May 29, 2003

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Race weeks at Lowe's Motor Speedway this year wound up being a lot like a John Grisham novel. While there was enough happening to hold your interest, the ending somehow seemed wholly unsatisfying.

The noteworthy exception, of course, would be Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Chevrolet team, which swept to victories in both The Winston and last Sunday's rain-abbreviated Coca-Cola 600.

Johnson, if you'll pardon the obvious pun, was "The Rainmaker" for Hendrick Motorsports at Charlotte, earning just under $1.3 million in prize money for running a total of 366 laps in two races.

It's not Johnson's fault that he vacuumed most of the drama out of The Winston by dusting everybody in the final 20-lap segment of that all-star race. That's his job. And it wasn't his decision not to restart the race after another wave of rain hit after 276 laps of the scheduled 400 last Sunday night. That was his good fortune.

There'll be big pressure on Johnson this Sunday at Dover. Not because he won both races there a year ago and will be expected to repeat, but because if he doesn't superstition might dictate a return to the red, white and blue "Evel Knievel" driver's suit he wore for his sponsor's "Power of Pride" campaign during the Charlotte events.

"If we go to Dover and don't run well I'll be wearing this suit the rest of the year, I guess," he said. "I hope the suit isn't the reason I won. If it is, I'm going to get a cape and some cool glasses so I can fit the part a little better."

Johnson's victory in the 600 was his first points victory in his second Winston Cup season, a year in which he had dipped into a pattern of running well but having some kind of late race mishap cost him positions in the finishing order -- and the Winston Cup points that go with them.

"You know," he joked Sunday, "we didn't really get to the finish of this one, either."

That's too bad. It's understandable, but it's too bad.

The decision to end the 600 after just 414 miles came quickly, too quickly for some people, only about 15 minutes after a heavy rain shower had brought the event to a halt and just as the rain was ending.

More was expected but as of 12:30 a.m. -- about the time the race might have restarted had track-drying started three hours earlier -- the track was starting to dry on its own.

At that same time, however, long lines of taillights were still heading off in every direction away from the track. About a third of the parking areas normally used for a race at LMS were mud bogs. That created a traffic nightmare getting into the track, and when the day was done the nightmare recurred on the way out.

If the race had restarted around 12:30 a.m., it probably would have been close to 2 a.m. before that post-race exodus really got going.

Many of the fans who were willing to squish their way through the mud to get to the track or stay in the campgrounds here all week would have certainly stuck it out. As in a Grisham novel, however, there just comes a point when it's time for the final paragraph.

The end.

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