ON NASCAR: Never Say Never Again: Chase Drivers Share ‘Bond’ To Break No. 48’s Sixth Sense

By Cathy Elliott
Cathy Elliott
Cathy Elliott
The beginning of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is reminiscent of the style and pacing of a classic James Bond movie. There is a definite starting point, and an end goal, but everything in the middle is a perilous combination of booby traps, comedy, unexpected twists and turns, and plenty of head-to-head competition. 

In the end, one man with just the right combination of guts, brains, good fortune and a great support system is left standing. He may have been shaken and even, Heaven forbid, stirred (or stirred up) over the course of the 10-week Chase, but at closing time, he is acknowledged as the only guest at the party who has manage to assemble all the ingredients of a perfect cocktail. 

For the past five years, that man has been Jimmie Johnson, who has exhibited the calm and charismatic staying power of Sean Connery. In these early days of the Chase, there is no real reason to believe that has changed, but lest we forget, the role of Bond has been regularly recast over the years. 

Just to make things a little trickier, Bond faced only one “Dr. No” over the course of his career. Johnson has 11 of them breathing down his neck. Headed into the opening race at Chicagoland on September 18, the 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field, in order, is Kyle Busch; Kevin Harvick; Jeff Gordon; Matt Kenseth; Carl Edwards; Jimmie Johnson; Kurt Busch; Ryan Newman; Tony Stewart; Dale Earnhardt Jr.; Brad Keselowski; and Denny Hamlin. 

Bond loves fast cars, and one thing we know we are going to see as we head into the theater for a new film is a great chase scene. 

NASCAR’s Chase involves 10 of these scenes, in situations as varied and unpredictable as in the moon buggy/dirt bike/Ford Mustang sequence from “Diamonds Are Forever.” This famous chase, by the way, ended with a heart-stopping finish on the Las Vegas Strip. Sound familiar?

While the 12 drivers in the Chase probably wouldn’t turn down a moon buggy race if they were invited, this particular contest is played out in stock cars. And while the backdrops traversed on the way to the final destination might not be as exotic as Bond’s frozen lakes, African jungles and barren deserts, they nevertheless offer up a variety of tough challenges to overcome. 

First and foremost, comprising half of the Chase events, are the 1 ½-mile intermediate speedways at places like Chicagoland, Kansas, Charlotte, Texas and Homestead-Miami. This type of racetrack is familiar and comfortable territory for drivers, like a favorite recliner or your most well-worn pair of shoes. 

While Johnson has typically excelled on intermediate tracks in previous Chases, his only victory in 2011 headed into Chicagoland came at a different type of venue. Championship contenders Harvick, Kenseth, Edwards and Keselowski, on the other hand, have all had wins on 1 ½-mile tracks this season. Harvick, in particular, could step up this year to change Johnson’s intermediate-track nickname from “Goldfinger” to Goldbricker. 

Hot on the heels of the five intermediates are three tracks measuring roughly 1 mile in length. These include Loudon, Dover, and Phoenix. Winning Chase drivers at these venues in 2011 include Gordon, Kenseth and Newman. 

Rounding out the events on the schedule are the long and the short of the Chase, literally – Talladega Superspeedway and Martinsville Speedway. Johnson’s only win of the regular season came at Talladega. Short-track winners in the Chase field include Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Keselowski. 

Bond aficionados might say that “You Only Live Twice,” but we know that’s not right. Johnson has proven that in the perilous world of consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships, you can definitely live five times, and at this point, almost no one is willing to rule out six. Bond, remember, had a secret weapon that pulled him out of many a tight pinch. Known simply as “Q,” he was the head of the British Secret Service’s research and development division. 

Johnson has a major ally in the technology department, as well. Crew chief Chad Knaus – we’ll call him “K,” has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat more times than you can count. To think he isn’t capable of doing it again is a major mistake. 

The season so far has shown us the folly in trying to guess what might happen between now and the final race on November 20. While there are no real villains, in the end, there can only be one true hero in the 2011 Chase scene. 

Fittingly enough, we will know his identity and applaud his accomplishments at NASCAR’s annual awards ceremony … at “Casino Royale.”
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