The Frontstretch: Why Jimmie Johnson Will Win it All (Again) in 2011 - And Why He Won't by Amy Henderson -- Thursday February 10, 2011

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Why Jimmie Johnson Will Win it All (Again) in 2011 - And Why He Won't

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday February 10, 2011

 

Will it ever end? Following a 2010 season in which the seemingly impossible happened, as Jimmie Johnson won his fifth Cup title in a row, coming to rest dangerously close to the sport’s all-time greats, we’re all left to ask one question: Can he possibly do it again?

A lot of fans are probably hoping to see Johnson’s streak come to an abrupt end this year, and some even go so far as to argue his titles are “bad for NASCAR.” (A ridiculous argument, by the way. NASCAR survived Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt relatively unscathed and it will survive Johnson, too.) But whether Johnson can continue his remarkable streak is up for debate. There is plenty of reason to think that 2011 will be same old, same old. But there is also plenty to think that this time, he won’t. As the new season looms, the title question is already at the forefront. Here are six reasons why Johnson will – and won’t – hoist his sixth straight Cup this year.

Why Johnson will win again in ’11:

The No. 48 team first planted their title flag at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2006… and haven’t had to move it since, riding one of the greatest waves of consistency NASCAR has ever seen.

Momentum is a powerful thing. And Johnson has it on his side – five years of it. There are fans (either young or new to the sport, granted) who have never known another champion at NASCAR’s highest level. Runner-up Denny Hamlin was a Cup rookie in 2006, the year Johnson won his first title, which means he has never challenged another driver for the championship. That’s impressive; and while Johnson and his team may trip at times, may even stumble, there’s no sign of slowing down. When something isn’t working for the No. 48 team, they fix it. When there’s a track Johnson has struggled at, he learns it. Weak spot on the team? They patch it. Johnson is a remarkably consistent driver, and more than that, he wins consistently. The team carries on into 2011 with business as usual. Everyone else is playing catch-up.

Say what you want, the No. 48 is the best team in the business. And super-genius crew chief Chad Knaus makes sure that they stay that way. Part of that comes from sponsor loyalty – it’s nice to know where the money is coming from in today’s NASCAR. Part of it comes from nobody on this team ever resting on their laurels. Win or finish last, Sunday is over at noon on Monday. “Forget about it,” is the overriding philosophy, “Because we’re going somewhere else this week, and dwelling on the past isn’t going to help us win.” Knaus expects – and gets – nothing less than 100% from everyone on the team, all the time. That includes Knaus himself, Johnson, as well as every employee to set foot in the shop at the top of the hill in the Hendrick Motorsports complex. Simply put, this team wins because they expect nothing less. That’s not going to change, though about 42 other teams wish it would.

Say what else you want, there’s a hell of a driver behind that wheel. And he gets better every year. Johnson might not (and that’s debatable) have the most God-given talent in the garage, but his single-mindedness in pursuit of excellence is remarkable. If there’s a racetrack that Johnson hasn’t mastered, he redoubles his effort until he does. Many fans don’t like Johnson because he makes the whole racing deal look ridiculously easy, and this from a driver who will start just his 10th full Cup season in 2011. And Johnson’s bulldog mentality on track gives the competition fits. Once he’s locked onto something, he simply does not give up.

He’s not a dirty driver, either, and that only adds to the illusion of facility. The adage that racers race others as they are raced is largely true; Johnson races with a fierce desperation, but he rarely, if ever, crosses the line. Yes, he can use the nose of his car to move someone – rubbin’s racin’, son – but he rarely goes further than that. He doesn’t have to. Johnson is pure pleasure to watch drive a racecar – aggressive enough to put a pit bull to shame and so smooth it makes Santana look bad. Sorry to disappoint, but he really is that good.

Why he won’t be called Six-Time just yet:

The Law of Averages – nothing lasts forever And face it, Johnson’s five-year run is the stuff of dreams. Only one other driver (nine-time Modified champ Richie Evans) has a longer title streak than Johnson at any non-local level of NASCAR. Given some of the drivers who have not won more than three in a row, what makes Jimmie Johnson so different (well, see above, but still…)? Unless Johnson retires tomorrow, it’s almost certain that this won’t last ad infinitum. There are just too many variables in the sport to keep a dynasty on top forever.

The competition is good – really good And it gets better every year. There is a bevy of drivers with the ability to beat Johnson: Four-time champion Jeff Gordon looks to roar back on the scene with a new, technically brilliant crew chief at the helm; Carl Edwards came on strong late in 2010; Denny Hamlin isn’t going anywhere, either, plus is looking to put two Chase meltdowns firmly in the past; and Kevin Harvick, free at last from the shadows of his early career, finally looks ready to be a champion.

They aren’t the only ones, either. With NASCAR’s “have at it, boys” edict, will the competition play nice with Johnson forever if he continues to romp on track? Huge level of respect aside, there has got to be a certain level of temptation – if not to outright dump Johnson every chance they get, then at least to kick him on the rare occasion that he’s down. With 10 drivers chasing him, Johnson should feel the hot breath on his neck.

There are chinks in the armor 2010 was the first time that Johnson had to go out at Homestead and take the championship. And while wresting the trophy from Denny Hamlin’s grip was arguably Johnson’s most compelling title feat, it was also the result of a disturbing trend within the No. 48: the competition is closing in. While the team is still as good as it gets (see above again), there were moments when they seemed, well – human. Johnson enters 2011 with a brand new over-the-wall pit crew, and while they were handpicked by Knaus, they were handpicked just weeks ago. Crews take time to gel, and the season starts next week. In addition, there are changes to the car this year, and Johnson and Knaus struggled with the feel of the car after the spoiler was reintroduced in 2010, finally getting a tenuous hold on it during the Chase. As difficult as points will be to come by this year, if someone else is strong out of the gate while Johnson lags, the No. 48 team might not be able to pull a Zenyatta out of the bag.

Will he or won’t he? Only time will tell, but as the season looms, there are compelling reasons to think Johnson can ride this wave forever – and others to think it will all come crashing on the shore.

Contact Amy Henderson

Friday on the Frontstretch:
Four Burning Questions: Budweiser Shootout And Daytona 500 Qualifying Weekend
Who’s In, Who Isn’t: Daytona 500
Casey Mears Driver Diary: We’ve Got Potential
Regan Smith Driver Diary: Engagement, Football, And 2011 Expectations
Five Questions For 2011: #4, Will The Nationwide Series Survive?
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Jacob
02/11/2011 06:34 AM
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Amy, the “ridiculous” argument is in comparing Johnson’s 5 straight and it’s effects on NA$CAR, to either Richard Petty’s or Dale Earnhardt’s championships and how they affected NASCAR.
It’s not Jimmie’s fault that he came along at a time when brian france was about to make a serious attempt at murdering a non-living entity. But, his continuing domination of the sports top level doesn’t help the overall state of the sport. As fans find hundreds of excuses to have something else to do on Sunday afternoon, Jimmie’s domination just makes it that much less likely that they will find a reason not to find something else to do.
Now, some “fans” will come out, and in an attempt to discredit what I have just said, they will use their 15 different screen names to claim that Jimmie’s dominance is why they watch. But those people are in a tiny minority.

I’m not a Johnson hater. My attitude is that until someone can beat him, he deserves to stay on top. However, having said that, if NA$CAR had levied the same penalty to Johnson’s team after the shortened lug studs in Phoenix, as they did to Clint Bowyer’s off-center body mount in Loudon, Jimmie Johnson’s streak would already be over, as he would have finished 2010 a distant third.

He will inevitably lose a championship, but it won’t be until after one of two things happens.

  1. Barack Obama decides that Chad Knaus’ brilliant tactical genius is exactly what America needs in order to finally turn the tide in Afghanistan.
  2. brian france quits overlooking the attempts to cheat the system by the 48 team.

My money says that the former will be realized before the latter.

Bill B
02/11/2011 07:16 AM
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I don’t think most non-Johnson fans can watch another movie that ends the same way. I even know someone that is a Johnson fan (right from his rookie year) who has switched drivers (he’s announced that this year he will be pulling for Logano) because even he is tired of watching Johnson win the championship. He realizes that it is taking the wind out of the sport.
IMO I think that the lack of testing has as much to do with 5 straight championships as any other factor. Don’t get me wrong, the 48 team is damn good but had teams been allowed to test someone would have caught him by now. By not allowing teams to experiment and get better NASCAR has, to some degree, frozen things in place.

Sherri T
02/11/2011 08:41 AM
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I think comparing championships via the Chase format and championships when drivers had to duel it out for a full racing season is insane. If NASCAR survives the B. France era, the statisticians will be * these years to delineate the differences. (and I hope that’s coming soon).

Craig
02/11/2011 09:23 AM
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If worst comes to worst NASCAR should just bribe someone to take him out during their phony playoff. B. France and Co. must hate him the most because he exposed the Chase as a farce.

Jacob
02/11/2011 10:25 AM
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The only way Jimmy Johnson doesn’t win another championship is if, for some reason, they separate him and Chad. I am not saying Chad is the reason he wins, but the two of them have something that works. Regardless of your stance on the chase, you have to admit that they are the best driver/crew chief combo ever.

Also, Chad and Jimmy make for some solid eye candy on the tv set.

Bill B
02/11/2011 10:33 AM
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Interesting last sentence there Jacob.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Jimmie
02/11/2011 10:47 AM
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Hey Frontstretch staff…how about limiting the responses to one per column per day. Seems like this site is becoming the personal domain of a couple of people and that is boring.

Jacob
02/11/2011 12:39 PM
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That’s actually kind of funny randy, using your newest screen name to announce your homosexuality. Maybe with a little more practice, you will be able to come out under your other names as well.

Jacob
02/11/2011 01:52 PM
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Jacob #2, I am secure enough in my manhood to admit when a man is good looking. Are you telling me you dont think Jimmy is a good lookin man?

Craig
02/11/2011 04:13 PM
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Richard Petty never won 5 in a row, and some of his 7 came pre-laferty system. Dale came the closest, and might have done it if NASCAR hit the reset button in the middle of the 1992 season. Champion = most points scored in a season and the vast majority of NASCAR fans support that concept. The countdown to 2014 and the end of the Chase begins.

Kenseth probably shouldn’t have won in 2003, but Newman couldn’t keep his car off the wall enough. That is better than 2004 when a driver 8th in points after 26 races is given a chance to beat 2 other drivers who out preformed him in every statistical category. That season proved the Chase was farce just as much as 48 going 5 in a row.

Randy Goldman
02/11/2011 06:06 PM
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JACOB I honestly have no idea what you are referring to. I post under one name, and one name only.

Ice Blue
02/12/2011 04:12 PM
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Why don’t all you fine folks just stick to discussing the article and stop trying to show you’re the biggest smart-ass.
Calling names and belittling other people only shows your juvenile mentality.

Jacob
02/13/2011 03:51 PM
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GOOD POINT Ice Ice Baby! Some people on here dont have enough Nascar knowledge to discuss the facts so they just pick on other people’s posts. As much as Randy can be a smartass, he has valid points most of the time.

 

Contact Amy Henderson

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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.