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Busch awakens the sleeping giant

LOUDON, N.H. -- Don't make Jimmie Johnson mad. He may look laid-back and tame, but it's an illusion.

Johnson will bite you if you bite him. He showed the racing world a textbook definition of payback, the way it's meant to be, in his second consecutive victory.

The battle up front at the end of the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 was the right way to "have at it, boys."

Johnson was leading on a restart with eight laps to go, but Kurt Busch came calling. Busch got a fender inside Johnson's No. 48 Chevy and performed a little bump-and-run, shoving Johnson up the track and zooming on by.

Nice move. A little rough? Sure. So what? That's racing.

Only one problem: Too many laps were left. And Johnson was not happy.

"I was livid," Johnson said. "I was so pissed off. At that point, I thought, 'I don't care if I win this damn race. I'm going to run back into him.' My thought was to wreck his ass.

"I had great visions of a huge, spectacular crash. One way or the other, I was going to get to him."

He meant it. Johnson was right on Busch's bumper with three laps to go. They were side by side when they crossed the line with two laps left.

Time for payback. But when the time came, Johnson had rethought his plan.

"It's amazing how much your perspective can change in a few laps," Johnson said. "A couple of laps later, I thought, 'I can't wreck him. You'll wreck yourself and look like a fool.' I calmed down once I got to him and just gave him a nudge."

Johnson moved inside entering the turn and put the same nudge on Busch that Busch had given him a few laps earlier.

Busch slid up the track and Johnson was gone. See ya. How does it feel?

Not good, no doubt. But Busch was OK with the paint-trading moments down the stretch.

"It wasn't him doing something to us and I had to do something and then him do it back," Busch said. "We did what we could to get the lead. It would have been great to hold him off. You do the best with what you've got."

Was Busch thinking about wrecking Johnson?

"I was thinking those 10 points for winning would look a lot better in our deck than in his chip count," said Busch, who finished third when Tony Stewart got past him at the end. "I wasn't trying to wreck Jimmie. It was just a nice nudge we're all used to seeing on the short tracks.

"My intent was to pass him inside, and I just got into his left rear fender a little. My motive was to do it clean.''

They had at it, there was a payback and everything was done to try to win without intentionally wrecking the other man. Now that's good racing.

Neither man went over the limit. Neither man did anything dirty. But Johnson wanted to make a point. He is not going to let anyone get the wrong impression about his courteous nature.

I can't let people do that. I don't want people to think, 'I can knock the 48 out of the way because he's not going to wreck me.' That's not the case.

-- Jimmie Johnson

"I can't let people do that," Johnson said. "I don't want people to think, 'I can knock the 48 out of the way because he's not going to wreck me.' That's not the case. This time, he didn't wreck me and I didn't wreck him, so I guess it worked out."

Johnson's mindset in the final laps Sunday shows why he has 52 Sprint Cup victories in less than nine full seasons, and why he may win a fifth consecutive Cup title.

He is the consummate competitor. He will do whatever he has to do to win. He will think through his options and make the proper decision the vast majority of the time. And he will constantly analyze his performance to plot a course for making it better.

A slump? Forget about it. The end of his reign at the top? Hogwash.

That's what we heard a few weeks ago. It just ain't so. The fact is we are watching one of the great race car drivers ever to zip up a fire suit.

"I don't think we went anywhere," Johnson said when asked where he was in his 10-race winless streak. "At some tracks, I was driving over the limits of the vehicle. I was being a little cocky and it bit me a couple of times."

Sunday was Johnson's fifth victory of the season, tying him with Denny Hamlin at the top of the all-important win column that seeds drivers in the Chase.

Don't doubt Johnson and don't bite him. He will bite you back.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks." He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.