Johnson stays confident

DEAN McNULTY, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

TORONTO - No one at NASCAR Sprint Cup’s corporate offices in Daytona Beach is about to admit it, but they think that Jimmie Johnson’s 25th-place finish in the opening race of the 2010 Chase for the Championship was good news.

Good that it brought some drama back to NASCAR’s version of a post-season.

And good because for the past four seasons the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team has toyed with the competition, making a mockery of the noton that anyone else could win.

So now NASCAR believes the other 11 drivers in the Chase have a real hope of ending Johnson’s stranglehold on the Sprint Cup trophy and that the fans who have complained about his domiance will flock back to the track to see him stumble.

But on Tuesday, five days before the top 12 stock car drivers in the world take step two in the 10-step program that is the Chase at Dover International Speedway, Johnson says he’s just dusting himself off after his New Hampshire setback and that he is more focued than ever at claiming championship No. 5.

Remember that in 2006, Johnson’s first championship season, he got off to an equally bad start. It didn’t hurt him then and he is convinced it won’t hurt him now.

“I don’t think that it’s taken us out of the drive for our fifth championship; we still have that opportunity” he said in a teleconference call. “We had two DNFs (in 2006) and then we go to Talladega and we get spun out on the last lap and wreck and still that late in the season, other people made enough mistakes that it let us back in.

“Yeah, 25th is not the way we want to start the Chase, but those other 11 drivers can also have their fair share of bad luck too.”

So if NASCAR is going all in on the prospect that Johnson won’t be around at Homestead Miami Speedway on the final day of the season with a chance to win his fifth championship, it says here they are making a bad bet.

Musical chairs

As the IZOD IndyCar Series races towards its final race of the season Oct. 2 at Homestead, there is a game of musical chairs going on in the paddock that rivals any ever played.

Lined up waiting for the music to stop are some of the biggest and brightetst names in open wheel racing. And at the front of that line is Toronto’s Paul Tracy.

Tracy has been without a full-time job since 2008 when the old Champ Car World Series folded its tent.

But this week, Dreyer & Reinhold co-owner Dennis Reinbold told SI.com that Tracy is being “heavily considered” for one of the team’s two seats next season.

Tracy has filled in for the injured Mike Conway three times already this season, and is still in the mix to race at Homestead in the No. 24 D&R Dallara.

“He has been great to work with,” Reinbold told the website. “I’ve been nothing but impressed by him.”

Also in the game, however, are some other pretty big hitters, including former Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr., another Indy 500 winner in Dan Wheldon, and young star Graham Rahal.

Finish lines

Former Formula One star Nelson Piquet Jr. will return to NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in this week’s Smith’s Food and Drug Stores 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway ... NASCAR officials have let Richard Childress Racing know that Clint Bowyer’s No. 33 Chevrolet almost failed inspection after the Air Guard 400 Richmond. Apparently the rear end of the race car was just on the edge of accepted tolerances.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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