- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 21, 2009

HOMESTEAD, Fla. | NASCAR chairman Brian France wants Jimmie Johnson to be commended for his four-year run atop NASCAR - not used as an example of why the championship format might be flawed.

Johnson heads into Sunday’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway poised to become the first driver in NASCAR history to win four consecutive titles, all under the Chase for the Sprint Cup format implemented in 2004. His dominance has made it easy for Chase critics to blast the system, which France called unfair.

“The only way fair to look at it is not to pick apart the format, but recognize excellence,” France said Friday. “I don’t think historians could have predicted how good they are. What I wouldn’t want to do is take away from the accomplishment of Jimmie and his team. In this format, dominating four straight years is incredibly difficult to do.”

Although the 2007 Chase was a close fight between Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, Johnson has rolled into Homestead the past four seasons well in control.

This year, he needs to finish only 25th or better to beat Hendrick teammate Mark Martin for the historic title. He’ll start that quest in front, having won the pole position Friday with a lap of 173.919 mph.

France said NASCAR has no plans to tweak the format.

“This isn’t a formula exercise in a computer to get some result that you want,” France said. “This is about sports and live things that happen by the best drivers and the best teams in the world and who performs at a high level.”

France answered questions for nearly 45 minutes, covering everything from the continued evolution of the race car, NASCAR’s toughened drug policy and Danica Patrick’s potential move to stock cars.

*On Patrick, for whom the Nationwide Series team at JR Motorsports - co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rick Hendrick - is believed to be the front-runner:

“She has taken a very hard look at this sport,” France said. “She’s a very recognizable, accomplished driver in her own right. I would love to see her compete at the highest form of racing in the world. I think she’s thinking about it. I don’t know how well she’ll do.”

*On young driver Brad Keselowski, who met with NASCAR last week after yet another run-in with Denny Hamlin:

“We want drivers who are driving hard, that are driving to win. When that happens, you’re going to have some situations where there’s contact. What you’re always worried about, with retaliation, is escalation, unintended consequences. You have to make sure that there are limits to hard driving and rivalries and whatever. But we certainly want them.”

*On potential changes to the NASCAR-designed Sprint Cup car:

“We will look at some things in the offseason going into Daytona to see if we can make the car and the racing better than it is now. … Absent to having passes every three seconds and photo finishes every race, which we would prefer [and] love to see that. If we don’t achieve that, we’re going to keep looking at ways to achieve somewhere between the great racing that we have now and utopia.”

*The drug policy that led to Jeremy Mayfield’s suspension and a drawn-out lawsuit between NASCAR and the driver:

“We believe we made the right decisions to make an already tough policy even more tough. … The fact that we have a 200-mile-an-hour race car, we think it was very imperative that we improve our policy, which we did.”

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