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CUP: Johnson’s Gold Piece Needs Pit Stop

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The 48 Car Is In Trouble! – It turns out that the week in Las Vegas wasn’t perfect for NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

One of the highlights of Champion’s Week is the presentation of a unique award – the 24-karat-gold 1/12th-scale replica car Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. gives to the top Sprint Cup driver.

Of course, Johnson already has four golden No. 48s.

The fifth he received Friday a couple of hours before the Sprint Cup awards banquet had a very visible ding on the front of the hood.

What happened? Despite Johnson’s theory – presented in humor – that either Denny Hamlin or Kevin Harvick scarred the valuable car, it actually was damaged in transit from Virginia, where it was built, to Las Vegas. Goodyear officials discovered the hood damage and a couple of golden tires askew when the car arrived in Las Vegas Wednesday. The damage occurred despite the fact that the car was packed in protective foam.

Goodyear officials presented the car to Johnson in a ceremony Friday anyway but said it will be repaired before the permanent delivery.

That’s an expensive pit stop.

Viva Elvis, And Everybody Else – For the second year, the huge Las Vegas ballroom setting gave producers the opportunity to put on a blowout show, and they did.

A Vegas-based Cirque de Soleil troupe opened the banquet with a rousing song-and-dance number based on the Elvis Presley tune “Viva Las Vegas” as photographs of Presley playing a race car driver alternated on big screens with video of NASCAR race action.

Singers Martina McBride and Colbie Caillat and the band Rascal Flatts were well-received, and comedian Frank Caliendo, the “host” of the program for the second straight year, again did a nice job of mixing topical NASCAR humor with more general material.

And there was enough neon dancing and flashing around the multi-tiered stage to meet the expectations of those who wanted an over-the-top show.

Hey, He’s Really Fast – Quote of the evening went to Greg Biffle, who opened his speech with this: “I’d like to congratulate Jimmie on the birth of his first child. You even beat me on that. You must be fast at everything.”

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.