Now would be a good time for Jimmie Johnson to regain the momentum that carried him to four wins and a 232-point lead in NASCAR's Nextel Cup series at the beginning of August.

With NASCAR's new 10-man, 10-race championship playoff beginning today at New Hampshire International Speedway, Johnson is in a slump that has seen him finish higher than 14th only once in the six races since he won at Pocono on Aug. 1 and took his biggest points lead of the season.

Now, with the points reset by NASCAR for the title chase, Johnson -- who actually fell 60 points behind current leader Jeff Gordon after finishing 36th last Saturday night at Richmond -- trails his teammate, car-owner and mentor by just five points.

Johnson, who has finished fifth and second in his first two seasons in NASCAR's premier stock car series, remains confident despite the mechanical failures and accidents that have spoiled his recent outings.

With his recent ill fortunes, Johnson remains cautiously optimistic.

"I think we have a great chance," said Johnson, who turned 29 on Friday. "We've got a lot of really good tracks coming up, but with this new format I think Lady Luck is gong to have to be our your side to do it. I think one DNF [did not finish) and you're out of luck."

Johnson finished 11th in the July race at New Hampshire but has won two of five starts on the 1.058-mile oval, including the fall race last year.

"Loudon is a great place for us," he said. "We tested there. We'll have a great race car. I think [Richmond] showed that we got our flat track program back where it needs to be and we'll do well at Loudon."

Going to a Movie

Most movies about auto racing have not lived up to expectations -- and some have been downright bad.

Ned Jarrett, former Hall of Fame NASCAR driver and now a TV racing analyst, is hoping a new project by Run Lightning Productions LLC, a North Carolina-based production company, will be the exception.

The independent production, tentatively titled "Run Lightning," is scheduled to begin preproduction Dec. 1, with principal photography in western North Carolina starting April 1, 2005.

Written by Asheville, N.C., screenwriters Joseph and Julia Gunnels, the movie will be a character-driven, action adventure, set in 1956, about a young man making the transition from running moonshine to racing stock cars.

Seeking authenticity, the producers sought out Jarrett, a two-time NASCAR champion whose career started in the early 1950s and ended in the mid-1960s when he was only 34. He won 50 races in NASCAR's top series, including the 1965 Southern 500.

"I've felt for a long time that there needed to be an authentic film telling the story of the last days of moonshine running and how stock car racing became the most popular racing series in the world," said Jarrett, also the father of 1999 Winston Cup champion Dale Jarrett.

The project has been in development for the last two years, with original backing coming from local western North Carolina investors. Since then, under the direction of company manager Tim Hubbard, the project has attracted further investors from across the Carolinas and the nation.

The budget for the film is expected to be between $15 million and $18 million.

Driver Signed

Dale Earnhardt Inc. has signed 21-year-old Ryan Moore for its driver development program.

The 21-year-old NASCAR Busch North driver from Scarborough, Maine, will test for DEI and run a limited Busch Series schedule for the team in 2005.

Moore is the second driver in DEI's development program, joining Martin Truex Jr., who is currently leading the Busch Series standings as the driver for Chance 2 Motorsports, the team co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and stepmother Teresa Earnhardt, who also owns DEI.

Richie Gilmore, director of motorsports for DEI, signed both Truex and Moore.

Moore said the opportunity with DEI is the payoff for all that his family has done to get him here.

"It's taken work and sacrifices to get to this point, but that's what you have to do to get to this step," Moore said. "It's certainly a relief for my family, especially my father and grandfather. They've put a lot of time, money and effort into my racing program. Once I get settled in with DEI, it will be easier for them." . . .

There have been 13 different race winners in the 19 Cup races at New Hampshire. The only multiple winners are Jeff Burton with four, Jeff Gordon with three and Jimmie Johnson with two.

Jimmie Johnson hasn't enjoyed much success since winning at Pocono on Aug. 1. He has finished higher than 14th only once in six races since.