Summer Bedgood · Monday September 30, 2013
Jimmie Johnson won at Dover?
That’s it. It’s over. Sayonara. Engrave the trophy, we’re done.
You know you said it, race fans and you know you believe it. Why should you believe any differently? Johnson is obviously the dominant driver of the day and the seasons always seem to begin and end with his success. NASCAR never seems to get a break from the Johnson story, with the No. 48 either winning the title or solidly in contention each year. It’s like watching the same rerun episodes of an old television show; great to revisit, every once in awhile but, gosh, can’t we move on to something new?
Not so fast. Yes, we’ve seen this story before, with Johnson but we also have a couple of different endings. The five-time champ won at Kansas, in 2011 to reassert himself in the Chase but only finished sixth in the final standings. Meanwhile, Johnson won two of the last four races last season only to watch Brad Keselowski win the title instead.
In other words, Johnson hasn’t won the championship just yet. Matt Kenseth didn’t luck his way into seven race wins this season, let alone two of the last three. When seventh place is a huge disappointment to that race team, at Dover that in and of itself is evidence enough Johnson is nowhere near top dog in this Chase hunt.
Also, let’s not forget the “dark horse” in the fight, Kyle Busch. He may never have won a Sprint Cup Series championship, but 28 wins doesn’t happen on accident. Finishing second behind teammate Kenseth in the first two Chase races, then following it up with a fifth at Dover may be one of the most quietly fantastic runs ever witnessed in the history of the Chase. While people like me are writing stories about the epic battle between Kenseth and Johnson, Busch has firmly held his ground amongst these two since the Chase began. Even though Johnson leapfrogged Busch in the standings — knocking him from second to third — Busch remains only 12 points out of the lead and only four behind Johnson.
Let’s also not forget where we are headed next week. Kenseth has won the last two races at Kansas Speedway and, though Busch’s Kansas statistics are lacking, it’s not as if mile-and-a-half racetracks have been an issue for the No. 18 team this year. Like I said before, he finished second in Chicago, Kansas’ sister track and should be a force to be reckoned with. Granted, Johnson is no slouch there either, with two wins and six top 5s in 14 starts. But a win for the No. 48 team, which could push them ahead of Kenseth is far from guaranteed.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not here to say that Johnson won’t win the championship, period. He very well could and it wouldn’t surprise anyone in the least. He has victories at literally every single track left in the Chase, minus Homestead, which doesn’t really count considering that Johnson usually goes there either on solid footing or needing to walk on eggshells. I would be willing to bet that if Johnson goes into Homestead this year needing a win, he’ll make a run of it; he almost pulled that off before a pit road penalty, then mechanical failure in the 2012 season finale.
But don’t write off Kenseth and Busch just because Johnson won at Dover for a record-setting eighth time. Either of those two could easily win next weekend, just as easily as Johnson could blow a motor. It’s time to stop handing this No. 48 team a trophy every time they win a race, especially at one of their best tracks anyway and acknowledge the competition they have around them. Johnson’s rivals have pulled it off the last two years, keeping Five-Time from number six and there is no reason why they can’t do it again in 2013.
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