Johnson: I’m not to blame

Times wires

CONCORD, N.C. – There’s a theory that Jimmie Johnson is to blame
for what ails
NASCAR.

Falling television ratings are because the four-time defending
Sprint Cup champion kills the suspense by winning all the time.
Attendance at races is down because Johnson is boring and lacks the
strong personality of colorful drivers from the past.

Johnson doesn’t buy it.

“Well, I know that I’m not the reason for those things, and I
sure as hell know I’m not vanilla,” Johnson said.

He entered Saturday night’s race at Charlotte in a familiar
position: leading in the Chase for the Championship standings. He’s
won the title every year since 2006.

“We need more drama in our sport,” Charlotte Motor Speedway
owner Bruton Smith said Saturday. “I was joking it would be great
if Jimmie came out of the car and slapped somebody. That would be
drama.”

It’s not Johnson’s style, but he insists he’s a lot different
from the young driver who started in
NASCAR’s lower series.

“I went from being like a C-level driver in Nationwide and
through all the other things in my career, to drive for Hendrick
Motorsports to having success early,” Johnson said. “At the end of
the day, I want to be a professional and do my job. And some people
formed opinions then, and it’s unfortunate that if it still lingers
around because I think I’ve done plenty to show that I’m far from
vanilla.”

But you’ll rarely see Johnson mix it up on the track, call out
drivers or
NASCAR officials, or make
provocative comments. And his dominance comes as
NASCAR is concerned about falling
ratings and attendance.

“We don’t know why. And it’s not just our sport; it’s all
sports, and it’s all television,” Johnson said. “It’s not me, and I
know that. So I just kind of chuckle about it, and if people want
to spend time talking about it, they can.”

Talladega shots: The trip to Talladega in two weeks could be
critical in the championship race, perhaps the last chance for Carl
Edwards to get into contention.

That’s tough to accept for Edwards, who is no fan of the
restrictor-plate races.

“Points should not be awarded at Talladega,” Edwards said. “In a
fair competition they shouldn’t be because it’s so random. It’s
just a treacherous race.”

Edwards was involved in a last-lap crash last year in which his
car went airborne and nearly cleared the safety fence. He escaped
uninjured, but it was a reminder of the dangers of wrecks at those
speeds with cars bunched up because of the restrictor plates.

“It’s such an emotional roller-coaster throughout the day, and
it’s just not fun when it goes like that,” Edwards said.

But sitting seventh in the standings, Edwards acknowledged that
a strong finish at Talladega and a wreck that takes out Johnson or
others could change the dynamic of the Chase.

“Man, I have a love-hate relationship with that place,” Edwards
said.

Going greener:
NASCAR will move from unleaded fuel
to an ethanol blend in all three of its national series beginning
next season.
NASCAR chairman Brian France touted
the switch to Sunoco Green E15 as another step by the auto racing
series toward environment-friendly practices.

“This is the most visible thing that we can do to let our
partners and our fans know that
NASCAR is taking a slow, steady
march as an industry,” France said.

The E15 blend is a mixture of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent
gasoline. It is a clean-burning, high-octane motor fuel, and the
ethanol portion is produced from renewable resources that Sunoco
will get from the Midwest. The blend will replace Sunoco 260
GTX.

Dueling the NFL: Track owner Bruton Smith says
NASCAR should push start times for
Sunday races back an hour to 2 p.m. to better compete against the
NFL. “If people want to tune in and watch football – and every game
seems to be about the same – by 2 o’clock maybe they’re tired of it
and then they’ll come over and watch a real sport,” he said.

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