It's come to this: with its championship all but decided a month early, the quality of its racing under fire after a disastrous weekend at Talladega, and with its biggest star mired in the most disastrous season of his career, NASCAR's Cup series enters its final three races with a bit of an image problem.
But fans who choose to tune out the 2009 stretch run will be missing out. Off the top of my head, I can think of five reasons to keep watching... I am a Racing Fan, after all. Here are my five favorite storylines of what's left of the year in wheels:
Montoya might win on an oval. There's no question that, in his third year of Cup racing, the former F1 star is one of the most talented wheelmen in the series. He's been driving for most of the past two months with aggression, passion and serious speed. It would be a triumph for Montoya to continue his run of excellence through the end of the Chase in the sort of sustained run that I think would have a real chance of carrying over to 2010. Despite his successes, Montoya really burns to win, and he hasn't done that since his first Cup race at Sonoma two years ago. If he ever figures out how to stay in front on one of the ovals that make up most of the circuit, Montoya is going to be a championship contender for years to come.
He's won plenty this season, and while he's probably not going to win a championship (again), there's no arguing that he's had one of the best seasons in the Cup by drivers not named
The Shrub was awfully successful with
He's one reason people tune in on a regular basis, and the June-Bug's performance over the last three will be interesting. Has he given up on the season? Or is he laying the foundation for a run to the Chase in 2010? The man is out of excuses and needs to produce results. Any positive sign at this stage is sure to be welcomed by both his fans and NASCAR. Now, more than ever, racing needs its biggest star to perform.
I've already expended a fair amount of space in this column to defend the merits of Johnson's impending fourth championship. Suffice to say that his championship is a big deal -- an accomplishment we're not likely to see again for quite some time. It demands to be acknowledged and honored.
Another clip found over at