Jimmie Johnson is the man to beat in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Everyone in the garage area knows it. This year at Daytona International Speedway no one could beat Johnson. He became the first driver to win the Daytona 500 and the July 400 mile race at Daytona since 1982 when Bobby Allison did it and he is only the fifth driver to ever pull off the feat.
It is just another accomplishment on a very long list for the five-time champion and 64-time race winner. There is no doubt about it. Johnson will go down in history as one of the best drivers in the history of NASCAR.
That is why what happened with four laps to go in Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 was disappointing and angering to witness. Johnson had the best car, a dominate car. Whichever lane, either low, middle or high, that the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet was in was the line that was making progress on Saturday night. He led 94 of the 161 laps.
The race was extended one lap in a green-white-checkered finish that was caused by Johnson himself. He survived that by making the rest of the drivers look like they were running a different class of car than him for the final two laps and proceeded to victory lane where he proclaimed that he didn't make a bad move all night.
That was just a flat out lie. If what he did on lap 157 was not a bad move then what is one in racing? Or was it on purpose which is even worse. The bad move he made was actually probably started on lap 156 when he left the low line where his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne was drafting well with him. Johnson moved to the high line to block the momentum that Marcos Ambrose and that line had.
Then on lap 157 as the field exited Turn 2 Johnson was in trouble and his bad move was about to swallow him up and send him mid pack or worse with less than four laps to go. Ambrose had a huge run and there was a clear hole between Johnson near the wall and Kahne who was in the low line. The cars straightened to the backstretch and Ambrose was in the hole and ready to soar to the lead much like David Ragan did at Talladega on May 5th when he pulled off an improbable win over Johnson.
Johnson was having none of it. He clearly turned left and sideswiped into Ambrose who shot right down and side-slammed into Kahne. Johnson's teammate was sent out of control and crushed head on into the backstretch inside SAFER barrier.
In the five-time champion's eyes that was not a bad move though. He ruined two other drivers races but he got the win. Kahne finished in 32nd and Ambrose in 26th.
Johnson has been bitter over recent weeks because he feels that other drivers are taking advantage of him through NASCAR's restart rule. He lost races he probably should have won at Dover and at Kentucky and it was clear that Johnson wasn't willing to let another win slip away at Daytona.
He said he made no bad moves all night but the events of those two laps showed at least two bad moves by Johnson.
Johnson is the driver to beat in 2013 for the championship. Hopefully he can proceed through the rest of the season without complaining about restarts and making bad moves like the one that took out Kahne on Saturday night. If not then let's hope the season ends like 2011 or 2012 with someone other than the No. 48 celebrating like he did from 2006 to 2010.
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