Rudy -- Monday column
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 22, 2010 1:46 PM
Remember when you and your friends searched for that big hill in your neighborhood to play "king of the mountain?"
NASCAR resembled that childhood game this season -- on an adult stage. No one could knock Jimmie Johnson off the pedestal he has owned for the previous four seasons.
Not Denny Hamlin.
Not Kevin Harvick.
Even on an afternoon when flawed pit stops could have haunted Johnson, he still found a way to claim his fifth consecutive Cup championship.
Hamlin never recovered from an early-race incident with Greg Biffle that caused more damage than expected to the right side of his car. Harvick drew a speeding penalty on pit road, then received harsh words from Kyle Busch when he knocked him out of the race a few laps later.
And there was Jimmie.
Cool as the underside of a pillow, he pounced on his rivals' mistakes and avoided any significant incident that could end his reign as NASCAR's champ. Johnson concluded the year with two poles, six victories, 17 top-five finishes and 26 top-10 finishes.
Johnson moved past Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon for the most NASCAR titles among active drivers. He now ranks third on the career list behind seven-time champions and Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. It took Johnson 327 starts to win his fifth Cup. Earnhardt needed 390 races and Petty ran 655 to accomplish the feat.
While Johnson continued his unprecedented run, Carl Edwards emerged the victor on the 1.5-mile oval in southern Florida. The Columbia, Mo., native concluded the season with back-to-back wins and earned the 18th Cup Series victory of his career in 229 starts.
Roush Fenway Racing has 120 Cup Series wins overall.
Back to Johnson.
Hamlin put the most pressure on Johnson as the Chase became a three-man race over the past month. You could tell once the green flag dropped Sunday afternoon that the margin for error would be slim on every pit stop and restart.
Johnson's competitiveness, and the calming influence of Chad Knaus, certainly factored into the outcome. Not once did either driver or pit boss seem to panic throughout the 267-lap affair.
They stayed on course and rolled to a historical finish.
Johnson is still "king of the mountain."
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