If I were to ask you who was the last one to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, other than Jimmie Johnson, would you be able to tell me? If not, it’s solely because Johnson has practically won everything he has ever been in, including five-straight Chase for the Sprint Cup championships.
This season, however, is a much different story for the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s machine for Hendrick Motorsports. This is not to say Johnson won’t win this season’s championship, but if he does, he better get that ‘ball’ rolling quick.
“We’ve been in this situation before and have been behind,” said Johnson. But has he really?
Johnson currently sits tenth in the point standings, his lowest Chase position ever (he has been ninth in the standings during the Chase, which has happened on three different occasions). So why is the defending champion struggling to get the finishes needed to contend for his sixth straight championship?
Johnson did not have the finish desired at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last week, as he finished in 18th-place. That finish outside the top-15 really hurt Johnson in the point standings, as he is now 29 points behind the points leader, Tony Stewart.
Something to keep in mind- In 2006, Johnson was 136 points behind then leader Jeff Burton after two Chase races, and as well all know, the rest is history (came back to win his first championship).
So can you see why I’m so reluctant to not count Johnson out of winning a sixth championship? Granted, I personally feel that this year we will have a ‘closer’ finish, as we probably won’t know a champion until the end of the last race of the season in Miami.
Now there are some who will probably point out that in 2006 we had a different point structure. To disprove that argument, a 29 point deficit now roughly translates to a 120-point deficit under the old structure. So, do you see where I’m coming from now?
If Johnson wants to continue his good luck, and prance on to victory waving his ‘golden horseshoe’, he must first start racking up some decent finishes (probably top-five’s and wins at this point). All of this is possible, as we pay attention to the upcoming schedule.
However, Johnson seems to disagree, “I don’t think we are looking for the walk-off home-run by any means right now, it’s just finishing where we should. In Chicago, we didn’t have the fortune to finish where we should have, that’ s just the way it works with fuel mileage. Last weekend, we had some contact on the track, and this weekend we just need to go out and finish where we should.”
Johnson is a favorite of mine for this weekend at Dover, being that he has led the most laps in the last six races at Dover (total of 1273 laps), which is more than everyone else combined. Following Dover we have Kansas, Charlotte, Talladega, Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix, and Miami.
Typically when I make my picks I take a look at driver consistency at each track. Having said that, I must say Kansas, Charlotte, Talladega, Martinsville, and Phoenix will be the best opportunities for Johnson to get that first win of the Chase.
Needless to say, Johnson is in a situation he much rather not be in, but that doesn’t help him at this stage of the game. Sure it would be a lot easier to be in Stewart’s shoes, but just remember- During the Chase era (2004-Present), the points leader after the second Chase race has never gone on to win the championship. In four of the seven previous Chases, though, the driver in second after two Chase races did go on to win the championship – including Jimmie Johnson in each of the last three seasons.
Johnson and his crew have all the capability to navigate out of these uncharted waters, which gives them the advantage as we head into the third week of the chase.