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Johnson facing greater challenges in comeback attempt than in 2006

By admin | October 1, 2011

By Richard Allen


Jimmie Johnson has won five consecutive Sprint Cup championships which means he has had the opportunity to win those titles in just about every conceivable fashion. That includes one instance in which Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team had to overcome a significant deficit.

In 2006, Johnson started off his Chase for the Championship run with four straight finishes of 13th or worse, including a 39th in the opening round of the playoff series of races. This year he has begun his title quest in a similar way having scored results of 10th and 18th which have landed the five time champion in the 10th spot of the overall standings.

But for Johnson, this is not 2006 in a couple of important ways. First of all, Johnson recovered from his poor start in that year by reeling of five consecutive top-2 finishes to hurl himself back into the top spot in the standings. Although the #48 team ended this ‘regular season’ as the points leaders, they have not really shown the kind of strength that would indicate they can go on a five race run like that of 2006.

So, just simply going out and overpowering everyone else to force himself to the top of the heap does not seem to be a realistic option for Johnson.

Secondly, this season is shaping up like few in the history of NASCAR. Seemingly, most every race boils down to a final fuel mileage stretch run. That has meant a certain degree of randomness and luck is playing into many of these events. Such has shown itself in the number of first time and surprise winners to emerge in 2011.

While many of Johnson’s detractors have attributed his run of success to such factors as luck or even NASCAR favoritism. Neither of which is accurate. He has won five straight titles by simply being better than everyone else and playing the Chase game better than his competitors.

This time around, Johnson and his team have not shown the ability to simply go out and beat everyone else into submission. And more, the rules of the game have changed. Fuel mileage stretch runs could very well negate other advantages an organization such as Hendrick Motorsports might have over everyone else.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column asking “Why pick anyone other than Jimmie Johnson?” I am beginning to believe that there is reason to pick someone else. Circumstances are not the same as they have been in the past.

The chances of Jimmie Johnson running off a streak of five consecutive top-2 finishes, as he did in 2006, is far less likely than it would have been back then. He says he doesn’t need a “walk off homerun” to get back into contention. However, he will be in that position very soon. And it doesn’t look like the #48 team has the same capability of hitting those game ending shots that it once had.

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