|Jimmie Johnson celebrates with his daughter Genevieve after winning the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship at the Ford 400 race in Homestead, Florida November 21, 2010. (REUTERS/Hans Deryk)
TORONTO - Just when you thought that NASCAR was falling down on the job of promoting its product, along comes another feud to fuel the fires of competition and interest in stock car racing.
This one kills a couple of birds with one stone, so to speak, as five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch exchanged a few barbs at the finish of Sunday’s Good Sam RV Insurance 500 at Pocono Raceway.
First it gives fans an all too rare look at an angry Johnson and secondly it gives them another reason to dislike the Busch boys.
While Kyle Busch has taken over as the NASCAR villain du jour, remember that Kurt held the title for a long time prior to his kid brother’s arrival in the Sprint Cup series.
With the Cup cars headed for the road course at Watkins Glen this week it will afford Johnson and Kurt Busch some full contract racing to settle whatever scores have to be settled.
Even though points racing is always a must with just five races before NASCAR’s version of a playoff kicks in with the Chase for the Championship, this Johnson-Busch dust up certainly adds spice to the proceedings.
THE CHASE IS ON
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship doesn’t officially begin until Sept. 18 at Chicagoland Speedway but the action is hot and heavy to qualify for the 12 spots with only five races left on the regular season calendar.
Throw in the very interesting wild card format that was introduced this season and the fight for positions tightens up even further.
The top 10 drivers in points going into Chicagoland get a free pass.
The “wild cards” will be the two drivers in positions 11 through 20 who have the most wins.
As of this week Denny Hamlin and Paul Menard both have one win and are 11th and 14th in the standings, respectively.
But with his win on Sunday at Pocono, Brad Keselowski vaults in front of both those drivers because of his two Cup victories this season, even though he stands only 18th in points.
If the season were to end now, Keselowski and Hamlin would be in and Menard would be out.
Just in front of those three, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart are inside the Top 10 but neither has a win yet in 2011.
Stewart’s best chance to solidify his Chase hopes comes on Sunday at Watkins Glen where he is a five-time winner. Earnhardt, on the other hand, is not among those favoured for victory at the final road course contest in Cup.
But his ninth-place finish at Pocono gave him some breathing room, putting him 23 points in front of Hamlin.
“Well, we’re just going to try and go up there and steal a good finish like everyone else, you know,” Earnhardt said of the race at the Glen. “You’ve got to do different strategy at the road-course races and pit once you get inside the (fuel) window and it’s all kind of craziness. It’s not really much fun, but that’s the way it is.”
NEW INDYCAR CHASSIS DEBUTS AT MID-OHIO
The new Dallara chassis that will be ushered in next season in the IZOD IndyCar Series made its first on-track appearance this week at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
The debut was shrouded in secrecy with series officials closing down the track to the media and spectators as Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon put the new car through its paces.
What we do know is that the prototype was powered by a 2.2-litre turbocharged Honda V6 engine.
“It’s a great day,” project manager Tony Cotman told IndyCar.com. “To see the work of many individuals in a very short amount of time out on the racetrack ... it’s the start of a new era for IndyCar.”
Additional testing will take place on three road courses and three ovals.