Jimmie Johnson will become the active win leader after Homestead-Miami Speedway (and a certain champion’s retirement) with 75. Can Johnson surpass Jeff Gordon‘s 93 Cup wins for third all-time? Where should we expect him to end up for a career total?
Mike Neff, Short Track Coordinator: That will depend on how long Johnson chooses to run. At this point it would look like a foregone conclusion that he’ll pass his car owner for third all-time and probably pass David Pearson for second. However, it looked like Gordon would probably have ended up second on the list, but he chose to hang up the helmet before that could happen. Johnson is 18 behind Gordon right now and 30 behind Pearson. Assuming Johnson races for five more years he should catch Pearson, which would put him ahead of Gordon. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him rip off another 10-win season, which would absolutely set him up for the runner-up spot on the all-time win list.
Jerry Jordan, Contributor: Yes, he can do it. But if he catches Dale Earnhardt this year, I will personally kick his ass for adding yet another storyline that we all have to cover next week. As for where his career ends up, that is up to him as long as he doesn’t start rewriting history over the next 14 days.
Amy Henderson, Senior Editor: I don’t see Johnson staying in the game long enough to catch Pearson. He’s already 40 and doesn’t strike me as the type to race until he’s 50. I do think he can easily make 85 to 95 wins, so possibly passing Gordon, but to make 105, realistically you’re looking at needing 30 wins in about four, maybe five seasons max. That’s a tall order. No doubt Johnson’s among the greats, but anything over 90 is hallowed ground.
Vito Pugliese, Senior Writer: He most certainly will, assuming he keeps at it for another five years or so. I think he’ll end up at an even 100, and that will become the benchmark he shoots for toward the end of his career. It will also serve as a platform for NASCAR to form a marketing campaign around to help engender fan acceptance of his statistics. I foresee a driver with eight championships and 100 wins, which will then generate a bazillion articles with comparisons to Richard Petty, Earnhardt and Pearson.
Phil Allaway, Senior Editor: Johnson’s finishing up his 14th full-time season, and at the end of Gordon’s 14th full season, he had 75 career wins – right where Johnson is right now. My guess is that it will depend on how long he decides to race. He can surpass Gordon. Don’t think it’ll be by much if it happens, though.
In light of the tire problems at Texas Motor Speedway, should Goodyear consider a different tire for the championship race at Homestead, or is it too late to make a change?
Clayton Caldwell, Contributor: I think the compound at Homestead should change, but I don’t think we’re going to see it change. I think Goodyear and NASCAR are under the assumption that these tire failures were a result of teams setups and believe their tires for Texas were OK. I disagree. I think there were too many problems throughout the weekend to say it was the teams’ fault.
Mark Howell, Senior Writer: For all the tire woes we saw at Texas last weekend, I can’t help but wonder why Brad Keselowski didn’t have any problems en route to his dominating second-place finish. Debris seemed to be a bigger issue for some teams than lousy Goodyears, and one has to question the various pressure/chassis choices a number of teams made. Did Goodyear provide bad tires? I’d have to say no. Are changes necessary for Homestead? Not really.
Aaron Bearden, Assistant Editor: The issue at Texas wasn’t entirely with Goodyear. The tire issues were feast or famine for different teams, with the ones that saw wear having significant issues and the others showing little signs of wear at all. Their best bet is to stick with the same tire and let teams decide how they want to play the risk.
Henderson: It’s way too late; teams have already tested this tire at HMS. Plus, some of the onus is on the teams to run setups conducive to making tires last a fuel run. That’s part of the game: Go faster and risk a failure, or back off and make it to the end. Strategy, it’s what’s for dinner.
Jordan: I know Goodyear has to make sure the public image of the company is not harmed when we have tire failures on the track but after talking with crew chiefs and others, including Goodyear, I think this was on the teams. Having practice sessions isn’t just so the “best drivers in the world” can learn where to hit their marks, it also allows teams and Goodyear to see what the tire tolerances are regarding air pressure, etc.
Let’s look at the three Rookie of the Year candidates in the Cup Series: Jeb Burton, Brett Moffitt and Matt DiBenedetto. Which of the three has the best shot at long-term success in NASCAR’s top series?
Henderson: Sadly, what it takes today is coming into the sport in a top ride. Anything else and there’s little chance of getting a top ride later. That said, I think DiBenedetto is the most talented among this group. I remember watching him race at Hickory as a teen, and he’d win or finish in the top five all the time. He’s been a boon for his team this year as well. Burton and Moffitt have talent, too, but whether any of the three will ever really get to showcase what they’ve got is questionable.
Sean Fesko, Contributor: DiBenedetto is young, talented, and just happens to drive for BK Racing. Believe it or not, that team has been an excellent stepping stone for young talent to find (marginally) better rides. Alex Bowman, Cole Whitt and Landon Cassill have all driven for the team at some point and are still around in the Cup Series with decent teams. Expect him to find another home soon and stick around.
Pugliese: By name? Burton. Moffitt actually has always done fairly decent in the No. 55 in his limited appearances, but he needs some more time in a decent car to help get his name out there, as nobody has any clue who he is, outside of NASCAR media and some diehard fans who know everything about every driver in every series.
Allaway: Probably Moffitt. He’s shown the most potential of the three this season. However, he’s only produced so much with Front Row Motorsports. I don’t know if David Ragan would have done any better if he were in the No. 34, though. Burton has produced next to nothing. I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s blown what could be his only chance at Cup, which is sad. DiBenedetto was brought into BKR as an afterthought, and he’s generally been the best of the bunch. He’s done very well in some events, only to have problems. If there were room at better Sprint Cup teams right now, I wouldn’t be shocked if either Moffitt or DiBenedetto got some feelers put out on them. Burton probably needs to go to the Xfinity Series.
Jordan: Burton has the name but that only takes you so far. He needs to hurry up and find a good team with secure funding. Moffitt showed he had talent earlier this year but again, it matters which team you are with and how well you run. You could put Gordon behind the wheel of an underfunded team and he is still going to run middle of the pack, at best. As for DiBenedetto, I think he has a ton of talent and he seems to be a very approachable driver. But the same situation applies, these guys have to get a shot at top-tier team to have any real future in the sport. Why? Because you have Chase Elliott, Chris Buescher, Erik Jones, Tyler Reddick, Daniel Suarez and Ryan Reed all moving up in the next few years.
The final cut for the championship race at Homestead happens Sunday at Phoenix. Who’ll make the cut, and who will be looking for better luck next year?
Caldwell: I think Gordon, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick advance to the final round. It’s just too many points for Joey Logano, Keselowski and Kurt Busch to make up on the field in just one race. I believe Harvick will win at Phoenix and Carl Edwards will be one who just misses on points. I feel like if Kyle Busch and Truex run a consistent race, they’ll be OK. Carl Edwards is going to have to win and lead a lot of laps to advance and I don’t see that team doing that; they really haven’t done it all year.
Howell: My final four is Gordon, Truex, Kyle Busch and a toss-up between Kurt Busch and Keselowski. My head says Kurt’s the best choice here, but my gut says Keselowski needs to atone for what transpired at Texas. Close isn’t quite close enough. Poetic justice would have Phoenix shake out to where the leading multi-race winners wind up going home early. Having single-win drivers fight it out for the Cup title would be nothing short of sweet.
Bearden: Gordon’s in, and barring Harvick getting punted or issues befalling the snake-bitten Kyle Busch or underdog – if you can really call him that – Truex, the top four now will be the Championship 4 at Homestead. Should bad luck befall one of the top dogs, expect Edwards to top-15 in his way into the mix.
Fesko: Harvick should dominate Phoenix and win there again. Because of that, I don’t foresee the Nos. 2, 22 and 41 advancing as they’re just too far back. Kyle Busch is the real wild card here. He’s won here before, but that was 10 years ago. If he can avoid trouble, he’s set. I expect Edwards to be strong but not able to finish far enough ahead of Truex. The current top four is who’ll race for the Cup at Homestead.
Neff: Gordon is in. Kyle Busch and Truex will keep their noses clean and make it through on points. The fourth car will come from Stewart-Haas, but it won’t be the No. 4 that everyone is anointing. Don’t forget, Harvick wrecked a dozen cars thanks to his intentional spin of Trevor Bayne at Talladega. That incident also prevented three drivers from potentially advancing to the next round. It is a safe bet that Harvick will not make it through Phoenix unscathed, which will ultimately knock him out of championship consideration. That means Kurt Busch will be your fourth and final driver. Harvick, Edwards and Team Penske will be left wondering what could have been. That also means that the top three drivers in wins will not have a chance to win the title in a points system that is focused on winning.