By admin | November 24, 2009
By Richard Allen
When the checkered flag fell at the Homestead-Miami Speedway Jimmie Johnson wrote himself into a unique place in the NASCAR history books. He captured his fourth consecutive Sprint Cup championship separating him from Cale Yarborough, the only other driver to win three consecutive titles in NASCAR’s top division.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Johnson’s run of championships is that there is no reason to believe it is going to end at four straight.
At age 34 Johnson ought to be entering the prime of his driving career. Dale Earnhardt won six titles after the age of 34.
And more, Johnson drives for the unquestioned best team in the sport. Hendrick Motorsports provides the best equipment in racing, bar none. Their record of race wins and championships speaks for itself. So, there is no doubt Johnson will have the best equipment with which to extend his title run.
Also, Johnson has the best crew chief in the sport. Chad Knaus seems to have the ‘total package’ of abilities needed for running a Sprint Cup team. Not only are his cars well prepared when they arrive at the track but he is excellent at making the right calls during a race and leading any damage control that might be needed.
Perhaps most important, who is going to step up to challenge the potent Johnson/Knaus duo?
Tony Stewart is certainly a possibility. Many believe Stewart to be the most talented driver in the sport and a good argument can certainly be made in his favor. However, even with all his talent he is now being pulled in many directions with his multiple business interests. And, he showed in the Homestead race that he is still prone to those emotional outbursts that can cost points. Johnson does not seem to be prone to those type issues and rarely gets into positions to give points away.
Jeff Gordon, like Stewart, is driving similar equipment to Johnson. However, Gordon has reached the age in which he may be coming to realize there are more important things in life. While this driver does show flashes of that burning drive to win that made him the most formidable force in the sport a few years ago, he does not seem to have the candle burning on both ends like he used to.
How about Mark Martin? Again, he has the same equipment as Johnson but he is over 50 years old. No matter how determined or how hard working, there are only so many more opportunities for a driver of this age.
Ford proved to be a disappointment after the first two races of the season which will prove to hold the likes of Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne back unless the ‘Blue Oval’ can find something to compete with HMS. Perhaps the new FR9 engine will provide the key ingredient but that has yet to be proven.
Kyle Busch is incredibly talented but is prone to making costly mistakes of aggression and emotion that Johnson rarely makes.
There are other quality drivers such as Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle and a few others who are among NASCAR’s best, but each has a way to go before matching the #48 team.
As it stands right now there is no reason to believe Johnson could not go as high as five or six consecutive titles. With that said, the Chase for the Championship has benefited Johnson in some of his championship runs. This year it allowed him to make up a big deficit to Stewart. However, the same format could work against him in a given year as well. Having two bad races that just happen to occur in the midst of the final ten could end the run.
But for right now, if I had to pick an early favorite for the 2010 championship, it would have to be Jimmie Johnson.
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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