By admin | October 22, 2008
By Richard Allen
If I were running a television network, one of the four remaining tracks to host a Sprint Cup race or if I were NASCAR I would write something in this space to let you know that the Chase for the Championship has not yet been decided. I would urge you to continue to tune in or to go to a race and witness the drama that is yet to unfold.
However, I do not work for one of those entities, so I am going to tell you the truth. The race for the Sprint Cup title is all but over.
Jimmie Johnson’s win in Martinsville last Sunday has essentially locked up another title for the El Cajon, California driver and his Hendrick Motorsports team.
Johnson is now 149 points ahead of 2nd place Greg Biffle and 152 points ahead of 3rd place Jeff Burton. The most points a driver can make up in a single race is 161. So, if Biffle were to win the next race and lead the most laps while Johnson finished 43rd, Biffle could barely pull ahead of Johnson. That scenario is not likely to happen.
Johnson and his team, led by crew chief Chad Knaus, have shown they know how to seal the deal when the time comes. “Now, that’s the way to points race,” Knaus said over the team radio as his driver crossed the finish line on Sunday. “Get as many as you can.”
This team wins championships by winning races. They have been able to go out and claim titles rather than have the failures of others drop a gift in their laps. Last year Johnson won four Chase races. This year, he has already claimed two victories within the playoff.
It is an impressive feat for any team to win a Sprint Cup championship, but this one will be particularly impressive. If Johnson does indeed go on to claim the title it will be his third in as many years. Three in a row has only been accomplished one other time in NASCAR’s modern era. That was by Cale Yarborough between the years of 1976-1978.
Yarborough won his three championships under the old points system while Johnson, if he wins this year, will have claimed three consecutive titles under the new Chase for the Championship playoff system. Arguments could be made either way as to which is the more impressive feat. In my mind, both are tremendous achievements.
Yarborough never won another championship after 1978.
The thing about Johnson is that he could conceivably win several more. Should he go on to complete another successful Chase run Johnson will trail only his teammate Jeff Gordon among active drivers in the number of championships. Gordon has four titles.
Johnson could very well be about to tread on historic ground in this sport. Three championships in three years combined with the 21 race wins he has achieved so far in that time span is a remarkable feat in a time when NASCAR has as many or more teams capable of winning than it ever has.
It’s not that I do not like Jimmie Johnson. I admire what he is about to do. However, I would like to be able to report that the Chase is still in question, but for all intents and purposes, it is not.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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