Race Weekend Central

2009 NASCAR Driver Review: Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson

2009 Ride: No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2009 Primary Sponsor: Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools
2009 Owners: Rick Hendrick, Jeff Gordon
2009 Crew Chief: Chad Knaus
2009 Stats: 36 starts, 7 wins, 16 top fives, 24 top 10s, 4 poles, 2009 Sprint Cup champion

High Point: Though fans remain divided over the Chase system, Jimmie Johnson continued to quietly annihilate the competition in the 10-race playoff. In 60 Chase races to date, Johnson has 18 wins, more than the next three drivers on the list have combined. With numbers like that, it’s no surprise this year’s Chase ended where the previous three also did for the No. 48 team – by winning the Sprint Cup championship at Homestead.

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Once he officially accepts the trophy at the season-ending banquet at Las Vegas tonight, Johnson becomes the first driver in Sprint Cup history to win four consecutive titles and the fourth driver with at least four career championships to his credit. That just about leaves him in a class by himself; only Jeff Gordon got to his fourth title younger than Johnson, and nobody has ever earned four Cup titles in just eight years on the circuit. So, Chase or no, Johnson’s season was one for the ages – and the record books.

Low Point: Texas in November. The 1.5-mile oval down in Fort Worth was the only blemish on Johnson’s Chase record in 2009. Not only was the 38th-place run his only finish outside the top 10, it was a crash that cut his points lead by over a hundred, with the contact from Sam Hornish Jr. planting seeds of doubt in Johnson’s mind after the championship seemed a mere formality after Talladega. Though he did not finish the spring race at that restrictor-plate track, either, his 38th at Texas in the fall was his worst result of the year and his third worst ever in a Chase race.

Summary: Although NASCAR’s testing ban should have hurt this team more than any other this season – they tested more than 20 times en route to the 2008 championship – the No. 48, led by crew chief Chad Knaus, thrived under adversity again to score the finishes when they counted the most. 2009 got off to a less-than-stellar start, with a 31st-place finish in the Daytona 500 and a 24th at Las Vegas, but Johnson and Company regained their winning ways by Martinsville, giving them a sixth grandfather clock trophy at the shortest track on the circuit.

The next month was an up and down affair, as two more top-five runs were balanced with crashes at both Talladega and Richmond.

But as the season wore on, Johnson’s team heated up as they usually do once the playoffs draw near. Finding victory lane again at Dover in June, he took seven more top-10 finishes in the second half of the regular season to remain comfortably inside the top five in points. In the process came another major highlight; Johnson’s third win at Indianapolis, where he became the first driver to post back-to-back wins in NASCAR’s 400-miler at the legendary racetrack.

Once the Chase began in September, Johnson was well-positioned for success, with his first three wins seeding him second in the Chase. Then, in the final 10 races Johnson did what he does best: his Lowe’s Chevrolet posted nine top-10 finishes, including four wins, as he coasted to the title for the fourth year in a row.

Team Ranking: First. With four straight titles out of the Hendrick camp, is there any doubt as to which driver is number one?

Off-Track News: Johnson and his wife Chandra continued their charitable work through the Jimmie Johnson Foundation, building homes for more families with Habitat for Humanity while giving grants to needy schools. He also announced that his family will appear in a multi-part edition of HBO’s 24/7 series, set to air in Jan. 2010.

2010 Outlook: Five straight championships is a lot to ask or expect from athletes in any sport, but that is the goal Johnson and his team will carry into 2010. With several others gunning for them – most notably Johnson’s own teammate Mark Martin and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin – it won’t be a cakewalk. But it’s not out of the realm of possibility, either. After all, this team thrives when it comes to on-track adversity, and they’re not expecting any major off-track changes that would hurt them.

In fact, Johnson recently signed a contract extension that will keep him in the driver’s seat of the No. 48 for the next six seasons, while sponsor Lowe’s inked a deal to keep their logo on the hood of the car until 2013. Knaus is also reportedly working on a deal that will keep him on top of the pit box for the length of Johnson’s contract – a deal that must have the competition wondering just what they will have to do to beat the dynamic duo for the foreseeable future.

The No. 48 team is the best of the best – but that just means everyone will be trying harder to beat them next year.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: A+
2007 Grade: A+
2008 Grade: A+
2009 Grade: A+

About the author

Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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