12:25 PM PDT, April 9, 2013
Excluding Rick Pitino, Jimmie Johnson just may be the King of the World right now.
He won his eighth race at Martinsville last Sunday, holding off Clint Bowyer and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon.
He leads defending champion Brad Keselowski by six points in the Sprint Cup standings.
And he just announced on his Facebook page Tuesday morning that he and his wife Chandra are expecting another child.
"We are happy to share news that we're having another baby in September. Genevieve is so excited to be a big sister!" Johnson posted.
As usual with all good news involving Johnson, there will be a bit of disgruntled rumblings in the NASCAR Nation. Johnson remains an acquired taste for many fans, either jealous of his success or turned off by the fact that he isn't prone to get into any contentious dustups and throw water bottles and helmets at his rivals.
Instead, Johnson is a methodical machine. Mr. "Five Time" has been slightly off his game since winning those five consecutive Cup titles, but not by much. He has finished sixth and third the last two seasons. Coupled with those five titles, that consistency is unparalleled in NASCAR history.
Two seasons without a title appears to be a minor glitch in the engine. The problem seems to be getting solved.
"No, we haven't thought of it as a loss of momentum," Johnson said during Speedweeks when asked to reflect on the previous two seasons. "I think back to the five in a row and really how special that time was. It didn't happen for a lot of reasons. It's tough. We were very fortunate to get that done.
"When I look at 2011, I'm disappointed in the way we performed and the way we were involved in the Chase. We really weren't past the halfway point. But last year was quite different. I'm very proud of the effort we put in. I think that last year kind of showed how much of a team sport NASCAR racing really is. At the end of the day I'm very proud of what we did last year."
They should be proud of what went down Sunday, too, as Johnson emerged as the third winningest driver at Martinsville behind Richard Petty (15 wins) and Darrell Waltrip (11).
Johnson led a career-best 346 laps, including pulling away on a restart on the shortest track in the Sprint Cup Series.
He also won to open the season at Daytona's super-speedway. Short or long, Johnson is on a roll in 2013.
"We stuck to our game plan and knew what we wanted to have in the race and stayed patient, and it was tough to do at times, but it certainly worked out well," Johnson said after winning in Martinsville.
Don't' be surprised if the game plan continues to go extremely well.
Locked and loaded in Texas
And so NASCAR's most controversial race week is upon us.
Welcome to the NRA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway Saturday night. Critics claim this event will celebrate the snap, crackle and pop of guns during an inappropriate time. There's an ongoing national debate involving gun control in Washington, D.C., and the race comes just days after 60 Minutes aired a poignant report featuring families of the children killed in the Sandy Hook massacre.
TMS president Eddie Gossage said the race is not about a political agenda.
"Saturday night, no one is going to force any NRA literature in your hands," Gossage said. "No one is going to be making political speeches or anything like that. It's going to be a race. We are going to have a winner and have a lot of fun, and that's going to be the extent of it.
"It's not about politics. It's about sports marketing."
Fair enough. But it's hard to make the disconnect with guns and politics while our nation's leaders are caught in their own contentious crossfire over gun-control.
In another twist, the paint scheme on Clint Bowyer's car, sponsored by Gander Mountain, will include the words "With Rights Comes Responsibility; Secure Your Firearms."
That would be the same Clint Bowyer who drives for Michael Waltrip Racing. Waltrip competed in the Daytona 500 driving a Toyota with a paint scheme supporting a relief-fund effort for the Sandy Hook victims.
"We know there's a lot of debate around firearms ownership and it's very significant right now in our country," Steve Uline, executive vice president of marketing for Gander Mountain, said last week. "But the one thing that we feel very strongly is that it's the personal responsibility of everyone that owns a firearm or is thinking about owning a firearm. That responsibility is paramount, and it's not something that's optional."
Race tradition will continue, as the winner will fire pistols on Victory Lane. The guns, however, will only shoot blanks.
Hamlin odd man out
The worst spectator spot during the race in Martinsville belonged to Denny Hamlin.
He had to watch while Mark Martin drove Hamlin's car to a 10th-place finish as Hamlin recovers from a compression fracture in his back.
"It was tough for me," Hamlin said after the race. "It was easy for Jimmie [Johnson]. I told him he got a layup this time. It ain't going to be that easy when we come back in the fall. But I'm proud of the effort that Mark Martin did. He is a guy that has been around longer than any driver in our sport but he wants to be treated like a rookie. He wants constant information all the time, and I just tried to do the best I could to give him the information when he needed it."
Unfortunately for Hamlin, he's got about a month to go before he is cleared to race again.
Everybody has a take on the family feud between Hamlin and Joey Logano, former teammates who now have starring roles in the most intense rivalry in NASCAR.
Your turn, Brad Keselowski:
"It's typical old guard [vs.] new guard thing," Keselowski, now Logano's teammate at Penske Racing, said last week. "Joey is trying to establish himself as an elite driver in this sport and trying to join that rank, whether that's the top-12 that make the Chase or those that are capable of contending for race wins year-in and year-out.
"Certainly, there's going to be resistance to that, and he's going to have to fight through that. It's a real test of character for him."
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