Call JJ, King!

Mar 14, 2006 5:20 AM

There is no denying Jimmie Johnson as the King of NASCAR right now.

Are you kidding me with this guy? Three races into the season and he’s got two wins and a second place finish. In the process, he’s won the biggest race of the year, the Daytona 500, and coupled that with two straight victories at Las Vegas.

Johnson is starting out about as well as one could and doing it all without his suspended crew chief Chad Knaus.

Following the Vegas win, some reporters jokingly suggested that due to the current state of affairs with the team, maybe they should tell Knaus to stay away until the luck runs out. This weekend in Atlanta will be the last week of suspension for Knaus.

Knaus will be back in time for Bristol, a much tougher place for any crew chief compared to the tracks they have done well on without him. Should Johnson have a poor run that will surely be a huge topic.

You’ll notice how we just assume Johnson will run well in Atlanta, setting up the perfect Bristol situation for Team Lowe’s to be critiqued. That’s because Atlanta is a place Johnson should run well. The track is almost identical to Charlotte, a place where Johnson is becoming the most prolific driver on the track since Elvis played Steve Grayson in the Movie "Speedway."

Last season in Atlanta, which was again the fourth race of the season, two drivers managed to continue their onslaught over the rest of the Cup series. For three consecutive races beginning with California, then Las Vegas, and finally in Atlanta, Greg Biffle and Johnson put on a show.

They were the only drivers to finish each of those races in the top 6. Johnson managed to place no worse than second in each event. The correlation between the three tracks is that they are all down force, but that’s where it ends. The banking in Atlanta allows for the speeds to get over 20 mph faster than Las Vegas. The racing is much closer in Atlanta and the margin of victory always seems slim.

Carl Edwards (7-1) took all that Roush technology and not only used it to beat the hottest driver on tour at the time in Johnson, but swept the Atlanta season.

The last sweep of Atlanta goes back to Bill Elliott in 1992, who not so coincidentally also did it in 1985. Edwards ran very poor in Vegas with same car that he entered last fall at Atlanta. The very same car he ran fastest in Vegas test sessions. Chances are they’ll be fine this week and ready go for three in a row.

Bobby Labonte (100-1) used to be the King of Atlanta, while driving for Joe Gibbs. Now, Labonte will need a lot of help while driving for the Petty organization.

Labonte has six career wins in Atlanta as the beneficiary of the Gibbs horsepower may be a nice long shot choice for this week. Another could be J.J. Yeley (40-1), who looked very racey the last two weeks of Cup racing.

Look for Jeff Gordon to have a great run this week as he continues to improve his chances on these type tracks.

Gordon finished second behind Edwards in the fall race last season and looked better than average in Vegas last week.

Mark Martin is a two-time winner in Atlanta, but doesn’t have a win there since 1994. Last season he finished fourth and third in the two Atlanta races. Look for him to take over the Roush reigns for Edwards in Atlanta.

Matt Kenseth can’t be ignored here just because he is on fire. He doesn’t have a win in Atlanta, but has won on the similar tracks at Charlotte and Texas. His team is dialed in right now.

Formula 1 to Vegas?

Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone wants to stage an F1 event in Las Vegas if Indianapolis Motor Speedway doesn’t renew the contract for the United States Grand Prix after this season.

"Indianapolis might not be interested in renewing after the tire farce that happened in 2005," Ecclestone stated to the Italian magazine, Autosprint.

"I’m looking at alternative solutions. The best would be a street race in Las Vegas that passes the main road where all the big casinos are."

Only six cars raced in the U.S. Grand Prix at Indy last season because of safety concerns by the teams racing with Michelin tires.