NASCAR & Auto Racing

Title or not, Jeff Gordon isn't griping about his 2007 season

Nice guys finish second.

One will finish there Sunday, in fact. Nice guys finish first, too. One will win the Nextel Cup championship Sunday, and it will almost assuredly be Jimmie Johnson.

For Jeff Gordon to win, something very bad must happen to Johnson Sunday in the Ford 400. Gordon is in an uncomfortable position: He is Johnson's friend, the co-owner of the No. 48 car and the man who basically gave Johnson his start in Cup racing. Yet Gordon will prosper Sunday only if Johnson finishes worse than 18th. That hardly ever happens unless Johnson -- who will start from the pole -- gets in a wreck. Gordon needs "a miracle," as he put it after qualifying 11th Friday.

One man's wreck would be another man's miracle. So does Gordon want Johnson to wreck Sunday?

"I guess the only way that things are going to change for us is if Jimmie has a problem," Gordon told reporters last week. "And we don't wish that upon anybody, and certainly not our teammate."

If this was a football game, Johnson is up 42-20 and the third-quarter horn just sounded. Gordon needs great defense, three touchdowns, an onside kick and a couple of 2-point conversions to pull it off in the fourth quarter.

But all that happens occasionally in NASCAR. Much depends on how the other drivers act when Johnson is nearby.

Do they pretend like his car is equipped with an invisible force field that keeps them at least five feet away at all times? That has happened in the past at Homestead-Miami -- it turned into a victory parade for Johnson last year. Or will the other drivers race him like everyone else and let the rubber fall where it may?

Gordon, of course, must go for broke. "We're not going to lay down and just ride around," he said.

Gordon has had a season that would have won a title in most years. He's had six wins and 29 top-10s in the season's 35 races. Most importantly, he became a father. That's an extraordinary year in anyone's book.

The problem is that Johnson has been even more extraordinary on the track. No one would be surprised if he wins again today -- he's already won the past four races. The No. 48 car looks just like Gordon's No. 24 did in the late 1990s -- untouchable.

Rusty Wallace said last week that winning 10 races in a season now is analogous to winning 20 once upon a time.

For Gordon, one of his best years hasn't been good enough, although he's still flying high because of fatherhood.

"Of course I want to win," Gordon said. "I agree it would kind of put that cherry on top, and that would be a year almost too good to be true, to be honest. To me, if Jimmie wins it, we've both won, because I've had something that means the world to me by becoming a dad."

There is one way Gordon could conceivably guarantee his own championship. As the first listed owner of Johnson's car, he could simply not enter it in this race.

But Gordon isn't going to do that. He's not going to put Johnson into the wall, either. He's a nice guy.

Not everyone in Homestead, Fla., today, is though. And if Gordon makes a miraculous rescue of this championship today, that will be the reason why.

IN MY OPINION Scott Fowler