Johnson has little use for new points system

Posted: Sunday, August 01, 2004

LONG POND, Pa. Sometimes, Jimmie Johnson lets his mind drift to how he could be building on his Nextel Cup points lead, not worrying about fighting for it over the last 10 races.

If Johnson had a 165-point lead over the next driver in previous years, he would have been in a very promising position for his first NASCAR championship. Instead, NASCAR's new 10-race ''Chase for the Championship,'' will lump him in without much of an edge with nine other drivers.

''Sitting here complaining too much about it isn't going to do me a lot of good,'' Johnson said Saturday after practice was rained out at Pocono Raceway. ''It's the same for everyone and it's time to get to work.''

Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team have made this season look easy and they'll try to build on it in Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 on the same track where Johnson overcame a caution-rules foul up to win seven weeks ago.

Johnson has been perhaps the most dominant driver this year, finishing out of the top 10 only five times. He has three wins and finished second four other times to put some distance between him and second-place Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Jeff Gordon, the only driver close to outperforming Johnson the last six weeks, is third. Normally, Gordon would have struggled to gain ground the rest of the season on Johnson, his teammate at Hendrick Motorsports. Not with the new reset system.

Is it fair? That question's been tossed around in the garages more often than some used tires.

While who's in or out will be a played-out theme over the next several weeks, Johnson knows there's no use complaining no matter how much he dislikes the change.

''I think on the entertainment side, the new points system is great,'' he said. ''On the competition side, I don't think it's something a lot of teams favor, including myself. I think the champion is somebody who races all 36 weekends and proves over the long haul that they're the best team.''

For Gordon, there's been little doubt who that is so far.

''My third year in, I won the championship. We're looking for them to be right there with what we accomplished,'' he said. ''If the points were the same as they were in the past, they'd be right on track to do that.''

Johnson has thought very little about what could have been.

''One thing I've always been good at mentally looking at reality and what I'm really faced with,'' he said. ''I can't sit here and fantasize about the old points system because that's not what we're racing under right now.''

Johnson has hit few bumps on the track this year with his No. 48 Chevrolet. He won twice in three weeks Charlotte and Pocono in one stretch that featured one of the top performances ever in the Coca-Cola 600 when he led 334 laps and lost the top spot only during pit stops.

A win in the Pocono 500 started a string of five straight races where he finished no worse than fifth. That made it easier to brush off last week's 11th place result at New Hampshire.

''The way I look at it is, on a bad day we ended up 11th and I think that shows it's a championship type of year,'' Johnson said.

Johnson qualified 14th for Sunday's race, turning a lap of 170.467 mph. Recent history shows that's not exactly the best place to start.

Eleven of the last 14 races at Pocono have been won from a top-five starting position. Only five have been won from a position worse than 15th, most recently by Jeremy Mayfield who won the 2000 Pocono 500 from 22nd.

Then again, with a similar setup and a similar car, Johnson hardly seems worried.

''We're just trying to find an advantage so that in the final 10 we have the best car out there,'' he said.

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