HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Jimmie Johnson is finally sold on NASCAR's Chase for the Championship.
After speaking out against stock car racing's new plan to turn the final 10 races of the Nextel Cup Series season into a playoff among 10 drivers, he changed his mind after the races attracted record television ratings and proved to be popular in the garage area as well.
"This is going to be good for years to come," Johnson said after finishing second in the championship by a NASCAR-record eight points. "There's more positives than negatives than I spoke about earlier this year."
Johnson finished second in the season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but it wasn't enough to overtake Kurt Busch for the title.
Busch finished fifth to clinch his first championship and give Roush Racing back-to-back titles. Matt Kenseth won a year ago.
Under the old system that awarded points for all 36 races, Jeff Gordon would have won his fifth championship. But under the new made-for-television system that divided the season into 26 regular season races and a 10-race shootout, Gordon finished third.
"It's exciting to know how close the points were," Gordon said after finishing 16 points short of Busch. "This one was so much harder to win.
"It would have been an emotional championship win for us, but we didn't do it. I'm here to tell you this point system only makes your career shorter. The pressure is unreal. I don't know how many more years I have left, but I will tell you I can't wait to get out of this racetrack and not see another racetrack until January."
Busch had his problems in the final 10 races, especially when he blew an engine three weeks earlier at Atlanta. But as it turned out, everyone else had at least two problematic races in the stretch drive - and that allowed Busch to lead the Chase for nine weeks.
"I can't believe everybody had problems the way they did," Johnson said. "I figured I was out of it a month ago (after blowing an engine at Talladega, Ala., and crashing at Kansas City). We can go to bed knowing we gave everything we could. I still believe somebody's going to win one of these things by going through the last 10 races without any problems."
Busch used to read water meters in Las Vegas. He got his start in the Southwest Tour when Chris Trickle was killed in a drive-by shooting.
From there, he won a tryout among several drivers to win a job on the Craftsman Truck Series with car owner Jack Roush. He spent one year racing trucks, and he won the stock car title in his fourth year.
Johnson said Busch will be a good ambassador for the sport in 2005.
"He's not afraid to be in front of a camera; he's not afraid to speak his mind," he said. "Down the stretch, he didn't buckle."
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