CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — There’s a theory that Jimmie Johnson is to blame for what ails NASCAR.
Falling television ratings are because the four-time defending Sprint Cup champion wins all the time and kills any suspense. Attendance at races are down because Johnson is boring and lacks the strong personality of the more colorful drivers of the past.
Johnson doesn’t buy it.
“Well, I know that I’m not the reason for those things and I sure as hell know I’m not vanilla,” Johnson said.
He entered Saturday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in a familiar position: leading in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship standings. He’s won the title every year since 2006.
But Johnson insists he’s a lot different from the young driver who started in NASCAR’s lower series.
“I went from being like a C-level driver in Nationwide and through all the other things in my career, to drive for Hendrick Motorsports to having success early,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day I want to be a professional and do my job. And some people formed opinions then and it’s unfortunate that if it still lingers around because I think I’ve done plenty to show that I’m far from vanilla.”
But you’ll rarely see Johnson mix it up on the track, call out drivers or NASCAR officials or make provocative comments. And his dominance comes as NASCAR is concerned about falling ratings and attendance.
“We don’t know why. And it’s not just our sport, it’s all sports and it’s all television,” Johnson said. “It’s not me and I know that. So I just kind of chuckle about it and if people want to spend time talking about it they can.”
TRIPLE SWEEP? Kurt Busch was seeking to become the first driver to win all three Sprint Cup races at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the same season.
Busch, who entered Saturday night’s race sixth in the Chase standings, won the All-Star race and Coca-Cola 600 in May.
It marked the seventh time since the All-Star event’s 1985 debut that the race’s winner entered the fall stop at Charlotte with a chance to pull off the sweep. The six previous drivers — Darrell Waltrip (1985), Davey Allison (’91), Dale Earnhardt (’93), Jeff Gordon (’97), Jimmie Johnson (2003) and Kasey Kahne (’08) failed to accomplish the feat, but all finished in the top five in the fall race.
“I would have assumed that Jimmie Johnson had two or three sweeps at the Charlotte track over the years,” Busch said. “Dale Sr., of course, Waltrip. It’s really a neat fraternity of guys to be part of.”
TALLADEGA SHOTS: The trip to Talladega in two weeks could be critical in the championship race, perhaps the last chance for Carl Edwards to get into contention.
That’s tough to accept for Edwards, who is no fan of the restrictor-plate races there.
“Points should not be awarded at Talladega,” Edwards said. “In a fair competition they shouldn’t be because it’s so random. It’s just a treacherous race.”
Edwards was involved in a spectacular, last-lap crash last year in which his car went airborne and nearly cleared the safety fence. He escaped uninjured, but it was a reminder of the dangers of wrecks at those speeds with cars bunched up because of the restrictor plates.
“It’s such an emotional roller-coaster throughout the day and it’s just not fun when it goes like that,” Edwards said.
But with Edwards sitting seventh in the standings, a strong finish at Talladega and a wreck that takes out leader Jimmie Johnson or others could change the dynamic of the Chase.
“If you’re doing really well in the points, every lap your heart is pounding and you’re just trying to predict any wrecks that might happen and the best way to avoid them,” Edwards said. “I guess in a guy’s position like myself, the reasons that I don’t like it when I’m running well in the points are the same reasons that I look forward to it now.”
“Man, I have a love-hate relationship with that place.”
KYLE BUSCH’S NEW DIGS: Kyle Busch’s foray into ownership has been successful on the track, but difficult off it as he struggled to get sponsorships for his Truck Series entries.
He took a pleasant break from those financial issues Thursday to celebrate the opening of his new race shop in Mooresville, N.C.
“(Wednesday) we had people show up at 8 a.m. knocking on the doors wanting in, wanting a sneak peek and we told them, ‘No, it’s tomorrow,’” Busch said. “And they go, ‘Yeah, we know it’s tomorrow.’ They camped out all day.
“We were sold out of our 200 passes for autographs within 20 minutes or so. Really, really pumped about that opportunity for the fans to come out and help us with our grand opening.”
The 77,000-square-foot shop includes not only a chassis and body shop, but has memorabilia, a tire changing station for fans and a store.
“To have not only Kyle Busch’s museum, I guess you’d say of how I grew up and started racing and what I’ve done now, but what the future holds,” Busch said. “What Kyle Busch Motorsports is all about with a chassis shop, a body shop, the foundation of what the building holds and what we can do.”
LUG NUTS: NASCAR chairman Brian France declined to discuss any potential changes to the Chase format during a news conference Saturday to announce the new ethanol-blend fuel to be used in 2011.
“Today is not a day on the Chase,” France said.