By admin | October 27, 2009
By Richard Allen
After the resent race in Charlotte Jimmie Johnson surged out to a 90 point lead in the Sprint Cup standings. That race was the fifth of the ten race NASCAR playoff.
With a fairly comfortable lead and five races remaining Johnson faced two potentially serious stumbling blocks on his way to a fourth consecutive title. The first of those was on the half-mile bullring at Martinsville, Virginia. On that flat track a driver can find himself in the middle of a problem that he had nothing to do with the making of. A good day can turn disastrous in the blink of an eye and large numbers of points can be lost.
As it turned out, Johnson got through the event in Martinsville unscathed. For that matter, he left the Virginia track in better shape than when he got there. A solid second place run pushed his lead out to a commanding 118 points over his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Mark Martin.
Now, Johnson and his #48 crew will face the second of those stumbling blocks this Sunday on the Talladega Superspeedway.
NASCARâ€™s longest track is known for massive crashes called â€˜The Big Oneâ€™ which can occur seemingly without notice and in an instant. Because of the carburetor restrictor plates mandated on this track cars tend to run in large packs. Cars packed in tight bunches while racing at high speeds provides a recipe for disaster.
Should Johnson be involved in one of these wrecks and his closest pursuers not then he could lose most or even all of his points advantage. And there is at least some reason for optimism among Johnsonâ€™s rivals. Statistically speaking, Talladega is not one of his better tracks. He does have one win there but he also has had numerous finishes outside the top-10 which has led to an average finish of only 17th position.
If there is to be any place for those pursuers to make up ground, this is it.
Beyond this weeks race, there are not nearly so many opportunities to stumble. There will be only three races remaining in the 2009 season and those will be held at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead. Johnson has solid statistics on those tracks. Any hopes of making up ground on this driver and team who have displayed an incredible knack for getting the job done during the stretch run will he greatly reduced if the margin remains the same or increases after Talladega.
The bottom line is that if anyone is to prevent Jimmie Johnson from winning an unprecedented and historic fourth consecutive championship they had better hope they can weave their way through â€˜The Big Oneâ€™ this weekend and finish well ahead of car #48. If not, they might as well prepare to watch yet another repeat of an all too familiar trophy presentation in Homestead.
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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