Brant James
Wednesday October 22nd, 2008

Musings, observations and the occasional insight while all eyes are firmly on Jimmie Johnson ...

• One of the happy by-products of Jimmie Johnson's run to a third-straight Sprint Cup championship is a renewed interest in and appreciation of Cale Yarborough, the only driver to have accomplished the feat. For much of the public at large, Yarborough is best known for his role in a brawl with Bobby and Donnie Allison following the 1979 Daytona 500, the race where NASCAR came of the modern age.

"Well, it's sure something I will never forget because the fans won't let me forget it," Yarborough said of the fight. "That's all they want to talk about, still to this day."

Kevin Harvick can empathize with the postmortem Kyle Busch will deal with regarding his 2008 season. Busch has won eight Cup races, nine in Nationwide and three in trucks but won't capture a title in any of the series. Harvick won 14 in Cup and Nationwide in 2006 without raising the big trophy.

"The way that our sport works is if you're not hot at the right time, you don't come out on top and win the championship," Harvick said, alluding to Busch. "It's all about being consistent through the whole year. No matter whether it's the old-style points or the new-style points, with the year he had, he would not be on top.

"It's obviously going to be tough for him to have won that many races and not win the championship, but that's just how tough our sport is."

Joey Logano's long-awaited debut in a Home Depot car might have to be postponed again, unless the home-improvement warehouse can suspend a tarp over Atlanta Motor Speedway. Logano has made two Cup starts in the No. 96 Toyota but his first race in the No. 02 was washed out at Richmond. Rain is forecast for Friday in Atlanta also. With Logano set to take over the No. 20 next season with Home Depot, the Atlanta-based company would very much like to roll out its new standard-bearer this weekend.

• Are race car drivers athletes?

There's no argument that handling the exertion of four hours in a race car, making millisecond decisions and maintaining focus as anger and emotion intrude makes the job of race car driver difficult. But are they athletes? If so, aren't fighter pilots and policemen athletes, too.

Ryan Newman: "We are. Are poker players athletes? Yeah, they are. Because it is a sport. Not just poker players, but anything that requires physical and mental characteristics to be able to beat your competitors, if you're shooting a basketball through a hoop or driving a golf ball down a fairway -- it's athleticism and therefore it defines it as a sport and a sport makes it's competitors an athlete.

"I don't think that there is any sport out there that doesn't have athletes competing in it. Obviously, some athletes are better than others, but what we do mentally and physically behind a wheel is true athleticism. Now, am I in the same tip top shape as Tiger Woods or Tom Brady? Probably not, but we are for what we do. I think it would take those guys some training to do our job as much as we would theirs."

Kurt Busch: "It's a tough sport, and it's continuing to gain its flair and its color and to be compared to the NFL and baseball. It's a sport that's a little bit easier to get around. I don't think that there is anyone in the garage area that's on steroids, so we don't have that issue around here. You want to go out there and prove to people that it's a tough sport, because it is tough. You sit in a race car for four hours, it's 130 degrees in there on those hot summer days, your body is dehydrated, you get cramped up, especially when it gets down to the end of the race. You're nervous. You're pushing the gas pedal through the floor board, but the biggest thing is wrestling that wheel all day long.

"You're staying focused and committed with your team and what changes you need to make on the car, how many laps are on your tires, how many laps until you have to pit and you're pushing yourself every lap to run the best lap time that you can. That would be the same as in any sport. Grabbing your glove and heading out to the field after the inning is over or when the defense has to take the field and put up a stand on the goal line. There are many comparable things, and yet at the same time we've got your team around you. You've got your pit crew, which is very athletic and they can jump over the wall, and you've got your crew chief, who acts as the coach. There are those same elements that are there in any sport."

• The corporate staff at Homestead-Miami Speedway has to be getting a little nervous about now. The season-ending NASCAR Sprint Cup race has been mostly about hitting foul shots and running out the clock since the Chase for the Championship formula was put into place in 2004, but Jimmie Johnson could seal his third straight title by Phoenix, the next-to-last race, at his current clip. He has a 149-point lead over Greg Biffle with four races remaining.

Homestead can't want to pit its whole weekend on 267 meaningless laps and a trophy ceremony.

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