Jeff Gordon is Jimmie Johnson's teammate, mentor, friend, the co-owner of his car -- and one of the guys trying to beat out Johnson for the NASCAR Nextel Cup championship.
Gordon has been through this before, racing Hendrick Motorsports teammate Terry Labonte for the 1996 title, and losing by a mere 37 points.
"I wasn't as close to Terry as I am to Jimmie," Gordon said. "We had just come off a championship the year before and there was definitely some heavy rivalry going on within the organization. It got very intense."
The drive to win is still there for four-time series champion Gordon, but this championship battle is different.
"I want one of us to win that championship," Gordon said. "If I can't win it, I certainly want him to win it."
Johnson said he feels the same way.
"We each want the championship for our own reasons," Johnson said. "Jeff wants to chase [Dale] Earnhardt's mark of seven [titles] and I want my first one.
"And, regardless of how it turns out . . . we're still going to be friends."
Entering today's GFS Marketplace 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., Gordon trails Johnson by just 40 points at the top of the standings. But both drivers need to regain momentum with only four events remaining until the new 10-race "Chase for the Cup" showdown begins.
For the first time, only the top 10 drivers after the 26th race of the season -- Sept. 11 in Richmond -- will be eligible to race for the title over the final 10 events.
Since winning his fourth race of the year at Pocono, Johnson has faltered the last two weeks, finishing 36th at Indianapolis because of an engine failure and 40th on the road course at Watkins Glen because of a broken transmission. Gordon won for the fifth time this season at Indianapolis, but he also had late-race transmission trouble at the Glen and wound up 21st.
Johnson's lead over second-place Gordon has been reduced from 232 points after Pocono to 40, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. trails in third place by just 128. Those three will be at the front of the field today, with all the other contenders for the championship right behind, thanks to rain washing out qualifying and the lineup determined mostly by car owner points.
* BUSCH SERIES: It took Kyle Busch 27 laps to work his way to the lead despite starting second. After that, though, there was little doubt as to who was the fastest driver in the Cabela's 250 in Brooklyn, Mich.
The 19-year-old Busch, younger brother of Nextel Cup driver Kurt Busch, led 87 of 125 laps on the two-mile oval at Michigan International Speedway. Three times he had leads of more than five seconds wiped out but still beat runner-up Mark Martin by 3.861 seconds -- nearly half a straightaway.
"Kyle Busch was just in another league," said Martin, a longtime Cup star who started last in the 43-car field in his first Busch race since 2000. "He put it on us really bad, but I'm still pleased we were able to beat all those guys behind us.
"Even getting beat like that, it's a relief. I was afraid I'd come back and not uphold the tradition of what we'd done in the Busch Series," added Martin, the career series victory leader with 45.
Series points leader Martin Truex Jr., who led only the first 22 laps after starting from the pole, finished third but saw his lead over runner-up Busch cut from 117 to 97 points. It was the series-best fifth victory of the season for Busch, the first rookie to win that many races since Greg Biffle won five in 1989.
* IRL: Tony Kanaan finished with the best practice time before qualifying for the Honda 225 in Fountain, Colo., was rained out, and will start on the front row today next to teammate Dan Wheldon. Fellow Andretti drivers Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta will start fourth and sixth, respectively.
"It's a shame we didn't get to qualify because I think it could have been one, two, three, four," said Kanaan, who leads the IRL IndyCar series by 50 points over Buddy Rice with five races left. "I was really hoping to get that."
Rice, runner-up last week in Kentucky, spent most of his practice sessions working on race setup and never got up to full speed. He'll start 11th.
"Obviously, we didn't read the weather properly," Rice said.