It had to end some time.
With four races to go in NASCAR’s championship-deciding Chase for the Cup, it looks like only a miracle can bring a sixth straight crown to Jimmie Johnson.
After driving his car home in 26th place in Sunday’s Good Sam Club 500 at the Talladega Speedway, the No. 48 Chevy driver now lies 50 points adrift of leader Carl Edwards, making another title a long shot at best. With drivers earning 47 points for a win, making up 50 in four races seems highly unlikely.
“We’ve just got to keep fighting and keep working on getting every point we can at every race,” said Johnson who is seventh in points after six Chase races.
“We have no clue what’s going to happen to all the Chase drivers and I want to finish as high as I possibly can in the Chase. That does mean the championship. If it’s not there, I want to finish as high as I possibly can.”
Then again, if anyone can pull off a surprise comeback, it’s Johnson. History is on the Hendrick driver’s side with his impressive 14 wins and 28 top-3 finishes in his last 56 Chase starts. The Chase is a 10-race championship showdown between the top-12 drivers after the first 26 stops on the NASCAR calendar.
On the other hand, Edwards may be tough to beat considering that his 11th place on Sunday was the first time he’s finished outside the top-10 in the six Chase races so far. The No. 99 Ford driver has long been pegged as the one most likely to knock Johnson off his throne, but 2011 may finally see him fulfill that destiny.
Although Johnson may be fading, Edwards has three divers nipping at his heels as he tries to win his first Cup title.
A pair of former champions Matt Kenseth (2003) and Tony Stewart (2002, 2005) are 14 and 19 points back respectively, while rising star Brad Keselowski continued to impress by delivering his fourth top-5 finish in the Chase at Talladega. The result moved him from sixth to third in points, just 18 behind Edwards. The last driver realistically in the running is Kevin Harvick, who came into Talladega just five points behind Edwards but left Alabama 26 points adrift after getting caught up in a late accident.
Talladega was also not kind to the Busch brothers, Kyle and Kurt, who both fell out of contention due to crashes. Cup contenders before Talladega, Kyle went from being 18 points behind in fourth to 40 back in sixth, while Kurt is now eighth, 52 points out of first.
In the end, Talladega helped Edwards open a bit of a welcome gap after leading the standings for two weeks by five points or less over second place man Harvick.
“We get to come out of here extending our points lead, which is good,” said Edwards.
“I am pleased that we are able to get out of here with the points lead intact because you just never know what can happen here and to extend it is just great.”
Bernard faces united drivers
Several IndyCar drivers will meet with series CEO Randy Bernard in Indianapolis on Monday to discuss safety issues a week after the death of two-time Indy 500 winner and 2005 IndyCar champion Dan Wheldon.
It should be an interesting get together, considering that some drivers said they had concerns about racing at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway prior to Wheldon’s death.
Ganassi driver Graham Rahal said almost every driver had opinions to share on how to improve the series in light of Wheldon’s fatal accident.
Unfortunately, he added, IndyCar hasn’t always listened.
“You know what, it’s sad to say, but up until this point, even the things that the drivers have said, it’s almost as if we don’t and now I think we have a little more power,” Rahal said.
“Hopefully, we can stand up and make the changes that we all believe in. Everybody is saying the same thing everybody wants the same things and hopefully we can make it happen.”
Tragedy strikes MotoGP
A week after IndyCar lost Wheldon, Marco Simoncelli, from Cattolica, Italy, died in a violent crash two laps into the MotoGP Malaysian Grand Prix.
The rising MotoGP star lost control of his Honda at Turn 11 and veered into the path of two other drivers. Hanging off the side of his bike as he swept back across the track out of control, Simoncelli was completely helpless as the two other riders closed in. His body was between the two bikes’ wheels and his own mount as they hit and took the brunt of the impact, which knocked his helmet from his head. The 24-year-old died at the circuit medical centre.
The 2008 250-cc world champion, Simoncelli competed in the second tier championship, known as Moto2, before moving to the top MotoGP Series in 2010.
While his aggressive style sometimes irked other drivers, Simoncelli’s speed and outgoing personality made him popular in the paddock and with fans. While Simoncelli didn’t possess the talent of Italian motorcycle racing megastar and seven-time MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi, many thought he would mature into a rider who fans would want to carry his country’s flag in the top echelon of two-wheeled racing.
In 16 starts this year prior to Malaysia, he took two poles and two podium finishes this season, including his best-ever result for a second in Australia a week ago. He was sixth overall in points, tied with Rossi.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your bidding
An eBay auction to benefit the family of the late IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon begins Monday with countless racing-related items up for grabs.
Wheldon died on Oct. 16 in a 15-car pile-up 12 laps into the IndyCar season finale at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway
The idea grew out of Ganassi driver Graham Rahal’s offer to auction the race-used helmet, gloves and shoes he used in Las Vegas to raise money for the Dan Wheldon Family Trust Fund. The 33-year-old Wheldon had a wife and two young children.
In addition to Rahal’s contribution, there are race-worn items up for auction from IndyCar drivers Marco Andretti, Dario Franchitti, James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan, Oriol Servia, and Simona De Silvestro and NASCAR stars Jimmie Johnson, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, and Jamie McMurray, as well as Formula One racers Rubens Barrichello, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, and Mark Webber.
Other racing-related items include a two-seat Grand-Am Daytona Prototype ride from Mike Shank Racing at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and a spin at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the IndyCar two-seater.
In addition to the racers, several active and retired NFL and NBA players have donated signed items. Also adding to the auction are Tour de France winning cyclist Lance Armstrong, tennis legend Billie Jean King, actors Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett and professional surfer Kelly Slater.
A link to the auction site is available at http://www.danwheldonmemorial.com/donate.html, where fans can also donate to the Dan Wheldon Family Trust Fund and the Alzheimer's Association, a cause supported by Wheldon.