CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Oh boy, another easy victory for Jimmie Johnson.
Just what NASCAR didn't need in its bid to use an exciting championship race to spark its sagging ratings.
With a runaway win Sunday at Dover International Raceway, Johnson stepped up and practically dared the competition to wrestle the Sprint Cup from his grasp. He's going for a record fourth straight championship, and is prepared to embarrass the 11 drivers in his way.
That dominance is annoying to fans and aggravating to the Chase for the championship contenders.
It's also pretty darn amazing.
So instead of complaining about the monotony of another Johnson title march, why not pause to recognize his assault on the record books?
"I'm pretty sure that dude's Superman," said teammate Mark Martin.
But for some bizarre reason, his accomplishments aren't properly appreciated. Someday, long after he's retired, fans may finally acknowledge Johnson as one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history. For now, though, it's easier to gripe about his success and blame him for a lack of drama in the made-for-excitement Chase.
After narrowly missing the title in 2004 and 2005, the first two years of the Chase format, Johnson has been unstoppable.
He won five races in 2006, and finished no lower than second in five consecutive Chase races to win his first title. He followed it up with a 10-win 2007 season that included four straight wins in the Chase. His average finish of 5.0 that year beat teammate Jeff Gordon, who averaged a 5.1 finish to lose the championship to his one-time protege.
Last year was another amazing rout — three Chase wins and an improbable second-place finish at Atlanta that sucked the air out of Carl Edwards' impressive challenge. It gave Johnson his third title, tying him with Cale Yarborough as the first driver to win three straight in NASCAR history.
Yarborough, by the way, did it 30 years earlier.
Yet nobody outside of Johnson and his No. 48 team has much of an interest in watching him roll to another championship. Why would they? Fans grow to loathe a winner. They root against the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys and Duke basketball.
So when Johnson crushed the field Sunday to sweep Dover (for a second time in eight years) you could almost hear the collective groan in the Cup garage and living rooms across America.
"It makes you feel a little sick," said Edwards, the popular preseason pick to dethrone Johnson.
Only Edwards finished 11th and dropped to 11th in the standings, a hole too steep to climb from if Johnson is the hunted.
What's bizarre is that Johnson isn't even leading the points. Nope, that honor goes to sentimental favorite Martin, his 50-year-old teammate who has never won a NASCAR title.
Johnson, though, is a mere 10 points behind and headed this weekend to Kansas, where he's the defending race winner. Everybody knows he'll run well on Sunday. Everybody knows crew chief Chad Knaus has been saving something for these final 10 races, and everybody knows Johnson turns it up a notch at title time.
"He really manned up today," Knaus understated after Johnson led 271 of 400 laps Sunday.
What everybody doesn't know about Johnson, though, is just how hard he works for his success and the calculations and mental preparation he puts into each season. Sure, he drives supreme Hendrick equipment and has the best active crew chief in NASCAR.
But Johnson, no slouch on the party scene when it doesn't interfere, puts the time in both on and off the track. He follows a strict diet and intense workout routine, and often drives his wife crazy with his meticulous planning.
"I think that Jimmie being the man that he is, and what it is that he wants to try to do, which is win races and championships, he has forgone a lot of the normal pleasures that somebody would have that's been successful in life," Knaus said. "There's a lot of people out there, that they get to the top — you know, football players, baseball players, racers for that matter — they get to the top and they're like, 'Oh, I made it. I've got a big house, a cool plane, man, let's party on Monday.'
"Jimmie does the opposite. He wakes up on Monday morning, 8:00 o'clock, gets on the treadmill. Goes to work. Watches what he eats and pays attention to details. It's a commitment to his lifestyle. It's a part of his life."
He's earned everything. Nothing has been given to him. And if he pulls this off and indeed wins his record prize, he deserves some appreciation.