Drivers are fans of Colts, Manning

Jimmie Johnson likened himself to Peyton Manning during last year's Chase for the Nextel Cup. The comparisons were striking since both consistently were the best in their sports during the regular season, only to have a problem during the playoffs.


When Johnson finally broke through with his first Nextel Cup Series championship last November, it was up to Manning to do his part in this year's Super Bowl.

Indianapolis' 29-17 victory over Chicago completed the circle.

Manning's biggest fan, however, might have been Johnson's top rival, Tony Stewart.

A native of Columbus, Ind., Stew-art lives about 20 minutes from Indianapolis.

"It's awesome," Stewart said. "It's a huge boost for the state of Indiana, obviously, but it's great to see somebody like Peyton Manning accomplish his dream. It's going to be a big weight lifted off his shoulders. It probably never was that big of a hassle to him to begin with, but now, for sure, he'll feel the weight lifted off his shoulders because he just won't have to answer that question anymore. It'll just make things a lot easier for him. Instead of worrying about what it feels like to win the first one, now he'll be worrying right away about what he has to do to get another one. It's just nice to see him be able to accomplish this goal.

"In fact, it's nice to see all the guys from Indianapolis get this win. Everybody had a great game. They all just did a great job. They showed what a championship team is about. It's just a storybook ending for a great team."

HAIL TO THE CHAMPION: Johnson was the toast of Washington on Monday. The newly-crowned Nextel Cup Series champion joined car owner Rick Hendrick, Lowe's Corporation CEO Robert Niblock, NASCAR chairman Brian France and NASCAR president Mike Helton in a meeting with President Bush at the White House.

They also went to the Capitol, where they met with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.) and some other senators.

PIT STOPS: Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. extended its contract with NASCAR through the 2012 season to be the only supplier of tires to the Nextel Cup, Busch and Craftsman Truck series. ... Darian Grubb was hired Monday as Casey Mears' crew chief on the No. 25 Chevrolet at Hendrick Motorsports. Grubb worked as Johnson's crew chief for four races last year while Chad Knaus was suspended.



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