There's little chase left in championship

HAMPTON, Ga. --- Sports fans across the country have a lot of choices today. The NFL has 13 games; the World Series is in Philadelphia; and the NHL season is underway.


And there's a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Drivers not only spent the past two days getting ready for the Pep Boys Auto 500, they made pitches to keep fans from turning the dial, especially with the way Jimmie Johnson is running away with another possible championship.

Johnson's 149-point lead in the Chase for the Championship is the biggest advantage since NASCAR started its playoff system for the 2004 season and he's won two of the past three races at the 1.54-mile track.

So why should anyone watch?

"I think that there is only one reason why you watch NASCAR racing and that's because it's exciting," Jeff Gordon said. "It's fun and there's some great racing. Atlanta puts on one of the greatest races out there.

"I never try to strong-arm fans into watching; I think they should watch it because they want to watch it. If they've got to pick and choose that's what VCRs are for. You can record some things here and there. Make sure you watch racing live and you can go back and watch those other things."

The 10-race Chase was supposed to interject excitement at the end of the racing season. The NFL is a runaway leader in sports television ratings so NASCAR wanted a way to hold its ground -- or attract new fans -- during the final three months of the season. That's getting more difficult since Johnson won the past two championships and he's turning this year's playoffs into a blowout.

"Jimmie has extended the point lead and there are a lot of people that are looking at this thing and saying, hey this thing is over," Jeff Burton said. "I don't believe that it's over, and I think that anybody who has watched racing long enough they probably know it's not over as well."

The race is scheduled to start at 2 p.m., or an hour after kickoffs for the first wave of NFL games.

Rain washed out pole qualifying on Friday, forcing NASCAR to set the starting lineup by the point standings. That puts Johnson on the pole.

Johnson said his attempt to match Cale Yarborough's record for three championships in a row is another reason to watch.

"It's a chance someone to do something that has only been done once before," he said. "On top of that, the cool thing about our sport and we talk about this all the time, you have 43 stars out there. It is a great race, great show."

Kyle Busch said there's always a chance for a big crash or another heated rivalry.

Gordon said it's too early in football season to get excited, and most baseball fans like the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, not the Philadelphia Phillies or Tampa Bay Rays.

Kenseth said Atlanta's history for final-lap passes is why fans should kick the stick and ball habit. Kenseth also had another reason:

"I'll be in it so I'll be watching," Kenseth said.

Reach Don Coble at



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