Sometimes, you just have to admire Jimmie Johnson.
His fans do.
Last weekend, his competition did.
“Turns out, he’s pretty good here,” Clint Bowyer said after trying and failing to catch Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet at Martinsville Speedway. “No. 1 pit stall. Fast car. Good driver. Did he lead every lap?”
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No, but close.
Johnson led 346 of the 500 laps in a virtuoso performance at a track where he has won eight times. It left Bowyer, who finished second, and Jeff Gordon, who was third, shaking their heads.
The scene might repeat Saturday night after the NRA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Johnson won from the pole at TMS in November, and he was second in last year’s April race. He’s been second four other times in Fort Worth and won another time.
Bowyer and Gordon figure to be competition again. They have good cars, and they have been good at TMS, also. But sometimes, good cars and good driving aren’t enough against a five-time champion at the wheel of a vehicle prepared by resource-rich Hendrick Motorsports and one of the best crew chiefs in the sport.
“I’m telling you — after the car that we had all weekend long, the damned 48 won,” Bowyer said in amusement at the postrace news conference last week. “I really thought I was going to be battling him for the win.”
Gordon thought he’d be doing the same in his No. 24 Chevrolet, another Hendrick car.
“The 48, you give him that No. 1 pit stall at Martinsville, and I mean, it’s near impossible to beat him,” Gordon said. “I’m guessing Hendrick has got something figured out pretty good here… and Jimmie, he just has really figured this place out.”
Danica Patrick, also on the postrace podium, said, “Nobody has straight fenders after the race, although Jimmie might.”
Turning to Bowyer, she said, “Does Jimmie have all of his fenders straight?”
Bowyer, with a half-smile and shake of his head, answered: “Every one of them.”
He knew, because he saw Johnson’s car up close for the last part of the race.
“We all have a good idea what we’ve got for competition and how you stack up against them, and certainly I thought that, for once, I was a little bit better than maybe even the 24, and that both of us were better than the 48 somehow,” Bowyer said. “The tide turned.… You know, I qualified bad, got it wrecked, got it tore up on both ends. You get up there, you’re door-to-door with the 48 that’s been enjoying clean sailing all day long, you look at him — and his car’s ready to go to the next short track. Mine is all tore to hell and ready to go put a new body on it.
“I mean, you know what you’re up against.”
Even Denny Hamlin, one of Johnson’s toughest rivals at Martinsville’s short track, could not keep his admiration to himself.
He tweeted after the race, “@JimmieJohnson won’t have it that easy in the fall I promise. Congrats to them”
Right now, it’s about all anybody can say.