Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: New story line needed at historic racetrack

MARTINSVILLE -- Anybody but Jimmie.

That's not too much to ask, is it? There will be 43 cars on the track at Martinsville Speedway today. If all were created equal, that would mean Jimmie Johnson has a 2.3 percent chance of winning the race.

But these NASCAR teams are created equal the same way contestants on "Jeopardy!" are created equal. Sure, you've got to have talent to make the show, but there's only one Ken Jennings.

Johnson is that guy -- the cool, calculating genius who carves the competition here every time. His win in the spring was his sixth victory in 15 Martinsville starts, including five of the past six.

Let's be honest: No matter how punctual Johnson is, nobody needs that many grandfather clocks.

If Johnson is the best again today, it's an easy story to write. His march to glory will continue. He's a deserving champion at his peak, a pedal-mashing Mozart. Four straight Sprint Cup titles will almost be assured, with next week's race at Talladega being the last major hurdle for the points leader en route to the unprecedented feat.

Great. Wonderful. We'll all be witnesses to history.

But the Yankees winning a 27th World Series title would be historic and worthy of praise, too. That doesn't mean radio man John Sterling should scream that the $200 million ballclub is "gritty" and "gutty," like he did during New York's seventh-inning ALCS rally Thursday night. You can't fake goose bumps. Dubbing a win by Johnson today anything close to magical would be a misnomer, especially when you consider the other possibilities:

n Mark Martin, 50, is chasing his first Cup title in an outstanding career. He's 90 points back of Johnson and desperately wants to avoid a fifth runner-up finish in the series. A win today could prompt some water works.

n Jeff Gordon, always a threat at Martinsville, is still in the mix for his elusive fifth Cup championship. He hasn't won one since 2001.

n Juan Pablo Montoya, in the midst of a breakout season, could strike a blow for the international set with a victory at one of stock car racing's most historic tracks.

n Floyd native Darian Grubb, the rookie crew chief for Tony Stewart, could enhance a stellar year by finding Martinsville's Victory Lane for the first time.

n Virginian Denny Hamlin -- whose average finish is 8.0 in eight Martinsville starts -- could notch his second career win here. Hendrick Motorsports needs an annual rival here, and he's the best candidate.

n Dale Earnhardt Jr. ... Um, OK. Let's not go nuts here.

But you get the point. How about Joey Logano? Elliott Sadler? Kurt Busch? Brian Vickers? Heck, I'm sure A.J. Allmendinger is a great story. It might require some Googling, but it'd be fun to tell.

Anybody but Jimmie.

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