Judging by the lukewarm, tepid and otherwise indignant reaction Jimmie Johnson got from pulling off perhaps his best Martinsville win yet, I loved Five-Time's tweet Monday morning:
"You haters have it right," Johnson wrote. "I'm a bad teammate, I have a cheated up car, I'm lucky and the race was fixed. Gotta love twitter & #NascarFans."
Oh, yes. You've got to love NASCAR fans. They're passionate. They cheer for their guy or gal without abandon. They seek any flaw in a driver that isn't their own. They buy driver gear and sponsor products in unparalleled quantity.
Inevitably, that dedication also leads to some sincere stupidity in rating just why drivers like Johnson are successful. Actually, let's clarify that: that dedication leads to impressive stupidity on social media parrot chambers about why Johnson dominates the sport like he's the best driver out there.
Breaking news: Jimmie Johnson is the best driver out there.
No, I won't list each of Johnson's accomplishments since his first day in a Sprint Cup car. You know them already. I will, though, reflect on just how good he was Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
Johnson drove as good of a 500-lapper at Martinsville Speedway as many only dream of.
He led a career high 346 laps. He watched early on as Kyle Busch manhandled his No. 18 to the lead and noted Busch was using his tires up just trying to keep the lead. Johnson passed him just a few laps later. He had two late restarts to mess things up – spin the tires or get too deep in the corner – and instead worked them perfectly. Unlike teammate Jeff Gordon, he didn't put a wheel wrong all day on pit road.
As for the bad teammate part he tweeted about? Johnson did the exact right thing when he kept rolling past Dale Earnhardt Jr. when the No. 88 was stopped sideways. Earnhardt fans were peeved at Johnson for going past primarily because the FOX booth insisted Johnson should have stopped and let Earnhardt get going. Those same fans, mind you, were ticked at their own driver for saving fuel to the point of losing spots during the late caution flag at Phoenix International Raceway just three events ago.
Johnson handled the situation perfectly. There's no sense in gambling a likely win away to help a teammate who was dropping like a rock. That's called being a smart driver. That's not hard to do when you're about the smartest driver out there, as Johnson is.
The wins, the poles and the championships aren't because Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have gotten lucky. They aren't due to a "cheated up" car. If you don't believe that on its face, then just consider the incredible amount of money NASCAR has spent in the last five years to beef up the inspection process that now includes laser measurements. That same process has also caught Knaus when he's strayed from the rulebook – with hefty punishments often not far behind.
Yes, Martinsville has become Johnson's personal playground in recent years. Yes, it's easy to write great things about Johnson when he performs there to the level he expects. But on the same cue, it's pretty easy to screw up a race that seems all but in hand. Johnson rarely, if ever, does that. He didn't Sunday, and it's a good bet he won't in every other great winning opportunity he gets this year.
It's far past time to celebrate just how good Jimmie Johnson actually is.
HOT: Jamie McMurray was never going to win Sunday. His No. 1 just wasn't strong enough to keep pace with the leaders.
However, McMurray had to leave NASCAR's oldest track in the highest spirits he's had in a long time. A car in and around the top-5 all day, McMurray's No. 1 finished seventh at the checkered flag. It marked his second top-10 in three races and looks to be part of a growing sense of competitiveness in the Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing team. In 2012, McMurray scored just two top-10s.
HOT: Marcos Ambrose parlayed his great qualifying effort (2nd) for Sunday's race into an 8th-place finish, his best since a 5th at Bristol last August. For a team who has Chase hopes resting on a top-20 in the points and a win or two at the road course events, Ambrose needed to stop the bleeding from a DNF at Fontana two weeks ago. He's now 19th.
NOT: If we could have fewer than three "What is Denny Hamlin doing on that pit box?" camera views at Texas, I'd be happy. I'll handle more if it means less of Jeff Hammond playing NASCAR's version of Carmen Sandiego on the FOX broadcast.
HOT: Greg Biffle was lapped at one point Sunday and wallowing around 20th with teammate Carl Edwards. Biffle, though, found a groove. The No. 16 finished ninth for Biffle's second-best finish at the short track. Heading to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend – he won there last April – Biffle has to be pleased.
NEUTRAL: Jeff Gordon's third-place finish was his best of the season and his first top-5, but you have to wonder what might have been had he not slid through his pit box after the midpoint of the race. Gordon lost more than 10 spots on pit road in the exchange. On the flipside, the loss of track position allowed crew chief Alan Gustafson to throw more changes at the car in subsequent cautions than possible when trying to maintain a top-5 spot. All in all, third is a good for Gordon at Martinsville – but not great.
NEUTRAL: Danica Patrick was 12th Sunday, which is a very good finish for a rookie in her first 500-lap race at Martinsville. Do you need anything else? You don't.
NEUTRAL: Brian Vickers, still a week away from his first chance at driving the No. 11 for Joe Gibbs Racing, apparently was aiming to match his impressive 2011 Martinsville feat with more hard driving Sunday. His on-track run-ins included contact with Patrick that ultimately spun Earnhardt., contact with Kevin Harvick on a late restart, and more contact with Patrick on the last lap. Harvick, of course, spun Vickers after the checkered flag.
In 2011, Vickers was a part of no less than five cautions at Martinsville – two of which developed into a feud with current teammate and new friend Matt Kenseth.
NOT: Don't believe the hype yet about Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart looking dead in the water for Chase consideration. No, Martinsville wasn't good. Yes, they're 22nd and 23rd in the point standings. Last year? Kasey Kahne was 31st after Martinsville, 96 points from 10th.
Stewart (47 points behind 10th) and Newman (48 points behind) have time to right the ship.
The Stenica Showdown Cup!
We're keeping track each week of how NASCAR's most important (only?) competitive couple does against one another. This is a best-of-36 race, with the highest-finishing Sprint Cup result between Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. each week earning a point. Other points may be earned for various and completely inane reasons along the way (suggestions accepted), and the game ends if the couple uncouples.
1st - Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 4 points (25th at Martinsville)
2nd - Danica Patrick., 3 points (12th at Martinsville)
The streak is broken! Danica beat Ricky! Ricky finished! We got us a game, folks! (Note: bonus point to Danica for beating her whole team Sunday. See? I told you this was arbitrary.)
Next up: Texas. Join us Saturday on the Yahoo! Sports NASCAR Live Chat at 7 p.m. ET.
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