MORE TO COME
By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
What’s it going to be — an inexorable march toward a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship for Jimmie Johnson, or another late-season failure for the No. 48 team?
Based on the preponderance of evidence from Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, the sixth title seems the far more likely outcome. Continue reading
Point: He’s Done … Six Reasons Why Six Won’t Happen
#1 The four other champions are clicking: Aside from Jimmie Johnson, four other past NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions are vying for another title: Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon. Stewart won the first two Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup races (Chicagoland and New Hampshire); Busch won the third (Dover). Kenseth is one of four drivers with a Driver Rating over 100 (102.0) in the first three races. Gordon has 23 wins at the next seven tracks, more than any other driver. All four are within 20 points of the leader Kevin Harvick.
#2 Carl Edwards is on fire: Only one driver has scored a top-10 finish in each Chase race thus far: Edwards. He has also scored more points in the Chase thus far than any other driver. And his immediate future shines particularly bright. Edwards considers Kansas Speedway his home track, and puts this race atop his “most coveted” list. Click here for video of Edwards talking about racing close to home.
#3 Despite Dover stumble, Keselowski on a mission: Kansas Speedway was Brad Keselowski’s coming out party, winning there in June during the series’ first trip to the 1.5-mile track (for more on Keselowski and Kansas, see page two). Keselowski hiccupped at Dover, finishing 20th – his first finish outside the top 15 since July. Though he slumped to sixth in the standings, Keselowski still has eight top 10s in the last 10 races. He also has victories at two of the next seven tracks: Kansas and Talladega.
#4 Points leader Kevin Harvick knows this pressure: One reason Johnson wins championships: He knows how to handle playoff pressure. After last year’s championship flirtation, so too does Kevin Harvick. Though Harvick, the current points leader, came up short last season, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Only once did the two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion finish outside the top 10 during last year’s Chase, and his average finish over the last five races was a pressure-shirking 4.0.
#5 Top seed Kyle Busch will meet expectations: In past years, New Hampshire and Dover have thwarted Kyle Busch’s attempts at a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. At Chase Media Day, he had mentioned how he wanted to get through those two personal landmines, and go from there. He has. Though eighth in the points, his finishes at New Hampshire and Dover were a respectable 11th and sixth. Kansas, though, is another object of frustration for Busch. He has only one top 10 in eight starts.
#6 Statistically, this is the most competitive year ever: Johnson has one victory through the first 29 races, the fewest in his career. His previous low was three wins through 29 events. Last year, he had six at this point. The 16 different winners this season are the most through 29 races since 2007. Additionally, there have been an average of 13 different leaders and 27 lead changes per race, most through 29 races in series history. Simply put, stringing wins together – like the time he won four straight in 2007 – just doesn’t seem likely.
Counterpoint: Are You Nuts? Johnson’s Still The Man
Count Jimmie Johnson out. He dares you.
Most folks likely first dismissed him in 2006. Johnson opened the Chase with a 39th-place finish in 2006, then followed it up with “just OK” runs of 13th and 14th. Of course, he won the title that year – thanks to a win and three runner-up finishes in the second half of that year’s Chase.
Last year, the “Jimmie Johnson’s Done” drumbeat sounded after a 25th-place finish to start the Chase. He hushed those critics in a jiff, winning at Dover in Chase race No. 2.
This familiar chorus sounds again. After dropping to 10th in the points after the second Chase race at New Hampshire – the lowest he has ever been in Chase history – Johnson quickly rung up a runner-up finish at Dover to catapult to fifth in the points standings, 13 points behind leader Kevin Harvick.
Though Johnson’s vulnerability feels like it’s at an all-time high, statistically that’s wrong. Over the last 10 races, he has the second-best Driver Rating (97.4), the second-most laps led (360) and is tied for second in top fives (five) and top 10s (seven). At Kansas, he’s a whiz. He won in 2008, and has finished outside the top 10 only twice.
Johnson In Unchartered Territory
Jimmie Johnson, he of seemingly never-ending Chase success, is currently 10th in points. That’s his lowest Chase position ever. His previous low was ninth, three different times.
An 18th-place finish at New Hampshire put him 29 points behind the points leader, Tony Stewart. Johnson need only look at his own past history to know that this lead is not insurmountable. In 2006, he was 136 points behind then leader Jeff Burton after two Chase races – and came back to win his first championship.