The Frontstretch: It's Jimmie Johnson's World - We're All Just Living In It by Danny Peters -- Tuesday October 21, 2008

Go to site navigation Go to article

It's Jimmie Johnson's World - We're All Just Living In It

The Yellow Stripe · Danny Peters · Tuesday October 21, 2008

 

It’s as good as done, folks. Park the haulers, turn off the seven-post shaker rigs, put away the tools, and send the shop guys home for some well-deserved R&R. It’s over. O.V.E.R. See you in Daytona.

Jimmie Johnson’s gonna three-peat, becoming just the second driver in NASCAR history to do so (joining the immortal Cale Yarborough, who won back-to-back-to-back titles (1976-78) some three decades ago). All that we’re waiting for now is the corpulent lady to belt out a little number, right?

Well, maybe not quite yet.

Johnson’s nearest rivals in the standings certainly aren’t giving up, and the unofficial mayor of NASCAR was unequivocal on the subject. “Hell, I don’t think this is the nail at all,” Jeff Burton said Sunday after losing 83 points on the lead.

“I don’t view things as over,” Greg Biffle echoed. “No. Uh-uh. We can catch them.”

Greg Biffle believes he has what it takes to catch Jimmie Johnson in the Chase, but after a 12th place finish at Martinsville, he’s made it harder than ever to bridge the gap.

Now on the one hand, as professional race car drivers who — Kurt Busch aside — want to run every lap as hard as they can, this is perhaps a predictable reaction. So, let’s take a step back for a minute and look at the evidence a little more objectively. We’ll start with Sunday’s race.

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: Jimmie Johnson is the absolute King of Martinsville. He’s had 14 career Cup starts at the .526-mile paper clip, and here are his finishes: 35th, sixth, ninth, second, fourth, first, eighth, third, third, first, first, first, fourth, and first. Stunning, simply stunning – an average finish of 5.6, and if we discount his first race, it’s 3.3. What happened on Sunday was hardly a surprise, although leading a whopping 339 laps (the most Johnson has ever led in a NASCAR race) made for an impressively dominant performance.

Looking back at the four years of Chase history doesn’t paint a much prettier picture for the challengers, either. It’s not a huge statistical sample, true, but it does give us a sense of the task ahead for the pack if it is to overturn Johnson’s seemingly impregnable lead. In the first year of the playoff, title-winner Kurt Busch held a 96-point lead coming out of Martinsville. While he would never actually relinquish that, his advantage was whittled down over the final races and in the end, Busch won the title by just eight points over Johnson and 16 markers ahead of Jeff Gordon – the narrowest margin in Chase history.

In 2005, Tony Stewart held a slim 15-point edge post-Martinsville over (surprise, surprise) Johnson. Like Busch the year before, Smoke never gave up his lead and, in fact, built on his margin, taking a 52-point advantage to Homestead. Johnson crashed halfway through the race and finished 42nd, making Stewart’s 15th-place run easily enough to propel him to his second championship.

So, in the first couple years of the Chase, the champion elect had the lead coming out of Martinsville. In the past couple of years it was a different story, however, as Johnson has surged from behind to win both titles.

Leaving Virginia in 2006, Johnson sat third in the standings, 41 points behind first place Matt Kenseth and five back from Kevin Harvick. Two straight second place finishes in Atlanta and Texas saw Johnson assume the points lead, while a third consecutive runner-up spot in Phoenix plus a ninth at Homestead wrapped up his first title. Johnson’s final winning margin was 56 points over Kenseth.

2007 was almost a mirror image — only a little better. Jeff Gordon held a 53-point lead coming out of Martinsville despite a Johnson victory; but the four-time champion couldn’t hold off the car he co-owns as Johnson ripped off two more wins to take the lead exiting Fort Worth. A fourth win in a row at Phoenix and a seventh in Miami saw Johnson finish 77 points ahead of his friend and rival to claim his second crown. Statistically speaking, Johnson’s 130-point swing over the final four races is the largest in Chase history, and so far he’s the only driver to manage such a turnaround.

In the 2008 standings, The Biff is already 149 points back. Burton is 152, while Edwards is a distant fourth, 198 points in arrears. Chase history would, therefore, need to be made for Johnson not to win a third title — and a more than historic effort is just what it will take to overhaul the No. 48 car when you look at how Jimmie performs at the next three tracks. Johnson has an average finish of 9.6 in Atlanta, where he won both races in 2007. In Texas, it’s better – an average finish of 8.5 – plus, he was second in the 2008 Spring race and, as mentioned, won the 2007 Chase race. His numbers at Phoenix are even scarier, where his average finish is a miniscule 6.0; oh yeah, and he’s won the last two Cup events there. As the table of average finishes for his nearest rivals shows, it’s very much Advantage: Johnson.

Career Average Finishes : Chase Contenders
Driver Atlanta Texas Phoenix
Jimmie Johnson 9.6 8.5 6.0
Jeff Burton 16.5 16.2 11.1
Greg Biffle 14.8 26.1 16.4
Carl Edwards 12.9 15.7 14.5

Despite the numbers, Biffle is still bullish. “[The last] four tracks I absolutely love … I feel like we can beat them at these next four tracks,” he says.

So the optimism is there, but what is it going to take? Johnson’s “mulligan” for a start. If the No. 48 has a nightmare day in Georgia and finishes 40th or worse, a Top 5 finish for either Burton or Biffle would alter the points situation radically, turning this topsy-turvy season on its head one more time. We were ready to crown Kyle Busch once too, remember? OK, I know the situation feels different this time, and the strength of Johnson’s all-around team is without parallel in the sport.

Hope, though, springs eternal. Don’t forget this is still NASCAR, and anything can happen. A 10 cent hot dog wrapper or a loose lugnut can wreak havoc, and with the way the new car drives, sudden and unexpected right-side flat tires are more than just an occupational hazard. If Johnson opens the door in Atlanta, expect Burton, Biffle and even Edwards to try ramming their way through it. So maybe, just maybe, there is some hope — albeit a tiny glimmer of optimism. Johnson is inarguably in prime position for a third crown — but stranger things have happened, that’s for sure.

One final thing: To the future Mrs. Casey Mears, with love and best wishes from all of her friends who read this column … get well soon. See you at the track in 2009!

Contact Danny Peters

NASCAR NEWS, RIGHT TO YOUR INBOXAND IT’S FREE.
The Frontstretch Newsletter, back in 2014 gives you more of the daily news, commentary, and racing features from your favorite writers you know and love. Don’t waste another minute – click here to sign up now. We’re here to make sure you stay informed … so make sure you jump on for the ride!

Today on the Frontstretch:
Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
A Swan’s Broken Wings Equal NASCAR’s Next Concern?
Thinkin’ Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Pace Laps: Swan Racing’s Future, Fast Females and Dropping Out
Sprint Cup Series Facilities Can Build Upon Fan Experience by Looking to Their Roots
FREE NEWSLETTER! CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP

 

©2000 - 2008 Danny Peters and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Douglas
10/21/2008 07:43 AM
permalink

MMMM, lets see if I can say this and make sense:

So, “plain old vanilla” Jimmie is on his way to the title! Isn’t this just so very boring?

I know, he is a good, not great, driver, and Knaus is the real mastermind in the pits & the garage!

But give me a break! I want excitement! I want something to keep my interest! I want action!

Well, NA$CAR, (NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR SPEC CAR RACING) gave us the “just glorious” chase, and what do we end up with??

BORING!

With Mr. BORING at the top of the heap!

Is next year here yet?

This year is over for sure, thank goodness!

Or better, has the IRL schedule come out yet?

FS_Amy
10/21/2008 12:51 PM
permalink

I’ll take “boring” Jimmie-if surfing on golf carts and falling off, kite-tubing with mixed results (“Jimmie: I somehow kicked myself in my own head”, and toilet-papering Casey Mears’ coach (among other things)can be called boring-any day over some of his arrogant, indifferent competitors…

Douglas
10/21/2008 01:52 PM
permalink

I see this “I’ll take “boring” Jimmie-if”, as an admission that on-track activities are not exciting enough and we now must go to the off-track stuff to make Jimmie “seem” interesting!

OH! WOW! He “toilet papered” a fellow drivers coach!

Certainly not what I would pay over $100/ticket to watch for sure!

Yep, 100,000 fans spend millions OF $$$ to watch a driver whose greatest claim to excitement is TOILET PAPER!

Douglas
10/21/2008 02:16 PM
permalink

AND! I hope Jimmie used THE OFFICIALLY LICENSED TOILET PAPER OF NA$CAR to do his thing, I can see it now:

“Jimmie Johnson has been called to the NA$CAR trailer to discuss his use of non-authorized toilet paper, and probably will be fined 100 drivers points, 100 owners points, and placed on probation for six months along with his crew chief”!

All falling under that umbrella rule: “ACTIONS DETRIMENTAL TO STOCK CAR RACING”!

Wanna bet?

LOL!

midasmicah
10/21/2008 02:18 PM
permalink

Wow!!! Wasn’t the chase format supposed to bring some excitement to the table. Man, it’s been watching a team use the first half of the season as one big test session. I’ll bet some of the other teams had that kind of money to toss away. The first 26 races mean nothing now. Just on big test session. Number one, the points need to be so that if one of the 12 chasers finished 25th, he should get top 12 points. Biut don’t expect na$car to listen to fans unless you’re a Hendrick fan. With 5 races left it’s pretty much over. Hey na$car? Any particular reason why I should even stick around and watch the final races. More lip service and pretty sound bytes is all I’ll get in return.

FS_Amy
10/21/2008 02:43 PM
permalink

OK, off track stuff doesn’t count. So if Jimmie is boring, then winining more Sprint Cup races than any other driver over the last seven years isn’t exciting either? You can’t have it both ways-winning is the point of the sport.

What does the guy have to do? Win all the races while simultaneously TP’ing the other cars on the way by and then do a backflip off the fence after he climbs it to the flagstand?

The funny thing is, i honestly think Tony Stewart is more talented then Johnson or any other driver in Sprint Cup-but Johnson’s numbers are better. Maybe I need to rethink that.

Douglas
10/21/2008 04:38 PM
permalink

Well, can you imagine 43 drivers, Johnson clones if you will, running all the races? Who would pay to see that?

And remember, Hendrick has always had the money to develop cars better than any other team. And my pick for crew chief of the decade would be Chad Knaus, now there is the reason JJ always runs on top. A genius this guy is, and not afraid to take chances!

And as far as the infamous “chase”, it only reset the points for two races, then we are right back to normal!

Gee, with that thinking, /NA$CAR should reset the points every two races, be better than what they have now!

Graceann
10/21/2008 07:34 PM
permalink

Maybe if Johnson didn’t act like he was superior to all the other drivers more people might actually like him. I probably wouldn’t mind him winning the chase 3 seasons in a row if he didn’t act like it was owed to him at times, especially when he stomps his feet at being beat by a classy driver like Jeff Burton and tries to cry “foul”.

Marc
10/21/2008 10:01 PM
permalink

Jimmy Johnson, Cale you ain’t. You may win 3, but you wouldn’t be a patch on his butt. If you weren’t driving for one of the biggies, you would be just another driver. Yeah, go roll another coach, get awesome dude.

Contact Danny Peters