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Archive for Thursday, September 29, 2005

Commentary: Racing ‘clean’ tough thing to do

September 29, 2005

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Keep it clean.

Jimmie Johnson could have been talking about adhering to NASCAR President Mike Helton's pre-race admonishment promising swift and decisive reactions to retaliatory actions on the racetrack.

But he wasn't.

What Johnson was talking about is the Chase for the Cup contender's still-to-be-accomplished plan to get through 10 races without having a "bad" one.

"If anybody can make it clean and not have a DNF (did not finish) and not finish in 30th, they'll probably be the champion," Johnson said after his victory Sunday. "(That's) if anybody can make it clean, I don't know who it will be. I hope it's us."

Last year, nine of the 10 Chasers had at least one finish of 30th or worse. Mark Martin had three second-place finishes in the 2004 Chase but finished between 11th and 20th in the others. It wasn't enough to win a title.

Still, the obvious formula for success in the Chase is the "clean" approach. Had Kurt Busch finished, say, 15th instead of 42nd in the race at Atlanta during last year's Chase, his top-10s in the other nine races would have made the season finale at Homestead far less dramatic than it was.

The issue, of course, is that going 10 straight races without having a problem or misfortune is a lot easier in theory than in execution. What's happened two races into this year's Chase is something of a role-reversal between the two drivers who wound up eight points apart atop the standings last year.

Busch and his team won the 2004 title by capitalizing on every opportunity to turn potential setbacks into solid finishes. People talk about how lucky Busch was because he had several spins in which he didn't get hit, and because when his wheel came off at Homestead it did so in a way that allowed him to get to pit road as the caution for his problem was coming out.

All of that is true, but the team never gets enough credit for keeping its wits and turning those breaks into good finishes.

There has been little Busch's team could do this year, however, about getting wrecked on the third lap at New Hampshire and then having a tire go flat late in Sunday's race. Those two problems have the No. 97 team 10th in the standings.

Last year, Johnson started the Chase with an 11th at New Hampshire and a 10th at Dover. But he lost an engine and finished 37th at Talladega and crashed at Kansas.

Talladega was where things ran off the rails last year, though, and Johnson's car has never been running at the finish of a fall race at the track.

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