Did You Notice? … The other milestones Jimmie Johnson could be chasing soon? Sure, the eighth championship stands out above all others. But Johnson’s 81st victory a little over a week ago came as a reminder he’s entering exclusive territory.
That Texas triumph marked the 16th straight year Johnson has earned at least one Cup Series win. Only two drivers, David Pearson and Richard Petty, have longer streaks. Petty holds the record at 18 seasons, winning at least one race every year from 1960 through 1977. Pearson’s run stopped at 17; his lasted from 1964 through 1980.
In each case, both drivers squeaked through a few times with close calls. As for Johnson? He’s won at least twice every year during this stretch. It’s not like he’s feeling the pressure, either. The latest in a season Johnson has ever won was Memorial Day Weekend at Charlotte. He’s never known what it’s like to go even halfway through the season without winning a race.
Considering the resources of Hendrick Motorsports, Johnson’s fitness level and the quest for title number eight, that streak should continue on intact. If Johnson races just three more years, he’ll break the record sometime in the middle of 2020 at age 44-45.
By then, we could see Johnson also closing in on an elusive number of Cup all-time victories: 100. Only Pearson and Petty have eclipsed the century mark; Petty’s got 200 while Pearson sits a distant second with 105. While The King’s record may be the most unbreakable in sports, especially considering the modern Cup Series schedule, it looks like Pearson’s number could be within reach.
Johnson, through his first 15 seasons on the Cup tour has averaged about 5.3 victories a year. If he keeps that average up through 2020, he’ll hit 101 total victories at the age of 45. Why such an important timeframe? It’s the same age mentor Jeff Gordon decided to retire for good; it’s also when Tony Stewart recently chose to hang it up.
But let’s say Johnson goes one more year, matching Greg Biffle at age 46. That’ll get him, in theory to 106 victories, leaving him second all-time to Petty before riding off into the sunset. He’ll have done so in roughly 700 starts; by comparison, Gordon sits with 93 wins in 805 career starts. That’s easily the most impressive record in the modern era which, combined with at least seven championships should propel Johnson right into the conversation of greatest driver ever to race in NASCAR.
Did You Notice? … The parity Thunder Valley has produced in recent years? Bristol Motor Speedway, since 2010 has held 14 Cup Series races; no driver during that time has won more than twice.
Here’s the list of winners….
Those drivers come from all three manufacturers (you can add a fourth; even Dodge won with Keselowski). They’re from all sorts of teams, from Joe Gibbs Racing to Team Penske to Hendrick Motorsports. It leaves this short track race wide open during a year where we’ve started with good parity (six winners in seven races).
It also raises the chances we could have another Ryan Newman type of Phoenix breakthrough. Six of these eight drivers on the list haven’t won a race this season. A guy like Kahne, who has faded after a strong start to 2017, knows that Bristol equals opportunity. Guys like Logano and Harvick, eager to match laps led with Victory Lane, have past success at Bristol to rely on.
The only edge we can see, in this decade of a revitalized Bristol is qualifying. Only twice has the Bristol winner qualified outside the top 12: Kyle Busch in 2010 (19th) and Harvick last August (24th). The last two spring winners here have won from the pole, meaning those extra thousandths of a second Friday will make a real difference. But once you figure out who’s in the top 12? All bets are off. Expect a wide open race where aero push finally takes a bit of a back seat.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off….
- Bristol is a place where underdogs can shine; don’t sleep on the small teams. Just ask Matt DiBenedetto and Landon Cassill. Who can forget Cassill’s run to the front, leading part of last spring’s race for Front Row Motorsports before some bad luck late? A spin left him toward the back of the lead lap, but it was easily the best FRM has ever run at a short track. Ditto for BK Racing, riding DiBendetto to a sixth-place, lead-lap effort which they haven’t come close to replicating since. Could this weekend be the one where rookie Corey Lajoie, the new No. 83 BK driver stops wrecking and starts working his way toward the front?
- You know where NASCAR’s franchising system hurts? Moments like this week when one of the world’s famous drivers, Lewis Hamilton, shows interest in running the Daytona 500. In theory, it sounds great, similar to Fernando Alonso crossing the pond in order to run May’s Indy 500. But who is Hamilton going to run for? Teams like Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports are already maxed out with four cars. It pushes Hamilton into the clutches of a middle-class team, one he’s less likely to drive for with fewer resources and less of a chance to win. Then, consider the 36 guaranteed spots for franchising leaves only four spots open for people like Hamilton in a one-off scenario. That makes it harder than it could have been to put him in a car, which NASCAR was good at doing with open-wheel stars back in the day. Hendrick, for example, ran Al Unser Jr. in 1993 while Mario Andretti won the 1967 Daytona 500.
- No matter what Wednesday’s press conference is about, Matt Kenseth needs Bristol to get his act together. Kenseth has run 42nd, 36th and 37th in three starts since winning the spring Bristol race in 2015. Another run like that would be his fourth wreck in eight races; that’s hardly playoff worthy. I’d say no major driver is out of contention yet (except perhaps Danica Patrick) but people like Kenseth are hitting a time where they need to start showing speed.