Title chase takes backseat

Johnson grateful after Hendricks survive plane's crash landing

November 02, 2011|By George Diaz, Tribune Newspapers

As years go, it hasn't been a great one for Jimmie Johnson.

He still has a fighting chance to claim his unprecedented sixth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup title, but that's strictly an optimistic spin. Johnson's shot at winning the title would rely on multiple strokes of luck, like all of the other top contenders piling into each other at the start of a race.

Johnson still engages in some Monday morning quarterbacking on what could have been, but he's also wise enough to take a step back and gather some realistic perspective. Winning five consecutive titles was insane. The crazy train had to stop at some point.

Besides, there are more pertinent matters to consider:

Johnson's friend and team owner, Rick Hendrick, was involved in an accident Monday night when a team plane veered off the runway while landing in Key West, Fla.

Hendrick suffered a broken rib and a broken clavicle. His wife Linda suffered minor cuts and bruises. The Hendricks, along with the two pilots, were treated and released from the Lower Keys Medical Center early Tuesday morning.

The crew had radioed that the plane had "no brakes" just before veering off the runway. The jet came to a stop in a safety zone at the end of the runway, stopping just short of a small body of water.

The plane came to a standstill on a 600-foot unpaved safety area that was built in May, with the left wing was partially submerged in the water. That safety area likely prevented a tragedy, according to airport officials.

"We are beyond grateful," Johnson said in a teleconference Tuesday morning. "It certainly was a crazy evening for all involved."

What made the dynamics more disturbing is the history: Seven years ago, a Hendrick plane crashed into a mountain in Virginia, killing all 10 people aboard. They included Hendrick's brother, two nieces and son.

Johnson will have to regroup emotionally in the next few days, as he prepares for the final three races in the Chase, starting this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Johnson is sixth in points, 43 behind Carl Edwards. That's a whole race. Not good odds at all.

He deferred to his easygoing, sportsmanlike nature by not attempting to nudge Tony Stewart in the final laps at Martinsville. He could have used those extra four points with a victory, but finished second instead.

"The window is getting smaller," Johnson said of his championship chances." It's out of my control where things are at this point.

"I have to look back and reflect," Johnson said later, when asked if he has done any Monday morning quarterbacking this season.

"We have to learn from our mistakes. That's the only way to get smarter."


Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.