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Respect is due

Yet again, Johnson proves worthy of our attention

Posted: Monday August 7, 2006 12:26AM; Updated: Monday August 7, 2006 12:49PM
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Jimmie Johnson won Sunday's Allstate 400 for his first victory in five career starts at the famed Brickyard.
Jimmie Johnson won Sunday's Allstate 400 for his first victory in five career starts at the famed Brickyard.
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Isn't it time to show Jimmie Johnson a little respect? After all, this year he's won some of the richest Nextel Cup races -- the Daytona 500, Las Vegas and the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard -- and the points leader could be closing in on his first season title.

Johnson is probably too young to remember comedian Rodney Dangerfield, whose career was built around a routine called "No respect." On the other hand, he probably knows what the late comedian was talking about.

Last year Johnson was involved in two multicar wrecks at Talladega Motor Speedway and was blamed in the media and, worse, in the garage as the cause of those incidents.

Although he had a convincing victory in this year's Daytona 500, it was tainted by the cheating scandal that resulted in his crew chief, Chad Knaus, being suspended for four races. Although Johnson's Chevrolet passed inspection with flying colors, there was a nagging cloud around his win, which Johnson, acidly, said he dedicated "to the haters of the 48 team."

This clean-cut, outwardly unemotional and soft-spoken driver seems to have as many detractors as fans. Certainly he wasn't the favorite to win on Sunday. He even admitted that he wasn't looking forward to coming to this classic American race track. "Oh, man, here we go, hope not to lose too many points to Matt [Kenseth]," he said.

Knaus optimistically hoped for a top 10 finish, knowing that Johnson's last three races at Indianapolis resulted in finishes of 18th, 36th and 38th. But on Sunday, Johnson drove an inspired race, overcoming a cut tire, which dropped him to 38th place -- on the 40th lap -- and a small pit fire.

Now it's time to give him and his team the respect they deserve. Team owner Rick Hendrick called it one of Johnson's best drives. "Jimmie drove an unbelievable race, and Chad called an awesome pit road race," Hendrick said.

Knaus explained that Johnson's driving style previously had been to try to win the pole, lead every lap and take the victory, which may be why he was involved in those incidents last year at Talladega. At the Brickyard, instead of using aggression, Johnson picked his spots and slowly worked his way to the front, taking the lead on lap 117.

He lost the lead on a green-flag pit stop, but after the final pit stop, which occurred under caution, he passed Kenseth and the cars that didn't pit for tires to take the all-important win. This was a championship team at its best.

For once the jeers turned to cheers as Johnson and his team celebrated the win in signature Brickyard post-race tradition. Hendrick noted, "I watched the fans out there [Sunday], and they appreciated the job he did and the way he drove.... It was nice to see that in the stands when we were kissing the bricks."