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.