NASCAR: 6 Reasons Not to Bet Against Jimmie Johnson Winning the Chase
Death, taxes, and seeing Jimmie Johnson win the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
For half a decade, those three things were an inevitability to NASCAR fans everywhere, as Johnson cemented himself as the best driver of this era of racing with five consecutive championships from 2006-2010. It was only last year that Johnson's title streak was snapped as he finished sixth in points, the worst finish of his career.
This year, Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team have come back with a vengeance, scoring four wins so far and hanging around the front of the pack all year. After winning on Sunday at Martinsville, he took the lead from Brad Keselowski, who had led the championship for the previous month.
Johnson has led laps in every race of the Chase so far, and he has been the only driver to do so.
With Denny Hamlin's struggles at Martinsville, Johnson and Keselowski are the only two drivers with a real chance at winning the title heading into the final three weeks of the season. But now that Johnson has the lead, and given how hard it's been to make up points all Chase, don't be surprised if "Five-Time" becomes an anachronistic nickname by the end of the month.
Here are six reasons (for six championships, of course) why Johnson may have this championship in the bag.
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Johnson may only have one race win in 18 starts at Texas, but he's also got 13 top-10 finishes. His average finish of 9.7 is the second-best of all active drivers, behind only Matt Kenseth.
Earlier this season, Johnson finished second at Texas after leading 156 laps. Besides earning him two bonus points for most laps led, it was also a career best for him at Texas. He also scored a third-place finish at Charlotte, another 1.5-mile tri-oval, three weeks ago.
Domination in the Desert
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As good as Johnson is at Texas, he's even better at Phoenix; with four wins and 12 top-fives in 18 starts, his average finish is an astounding 5.3, nearly four full positions better than the second active driver (Mark Martin, with a 9.0).
Johnson won four times in a five-race stretch from 2007 to 2009, including all three Chase races during that span. He's also led laps in eight of the past 10 Phoenix events, including 55 laps in the spring on the way to a fourth-place finish.
Home Sweet Homestead
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Interestingly, Johnson has never won the season finale at Homestead, with an average finish of a pedestrian (for him) 13.5 at the track. He has, however, led laps in six consecutive Ford 400s.
Johnson also knows how to race Homestead smartly, having finished second there in 2010 to clinch his fifth consecutive championship. He managed to lead a lap to score bonus points, and while championship leader Denny Hamlin's hopes imploded, Johnson ran a clean race to regain the title lead when it mattered most.
Brad's Uphill Climb
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On the other side of the coin, Keselowski isn't exactly trying to win this championship on his best tracks; they comprise four of his worst six on the Sprint Cup schedule. Keselowski's average finish at Texas is a dismal 25.2, making it his second-worst track; he's never finished better than 14th there, although he did lead 32 laps in the 2011 spring race and had a decent run this spring before a mechanical failure.
He's only marginally better at Phoenix, with a career mark of 22.2, but he did finish fifth there in the spring. At Homestead, his average finish of 20.2 is augmented by a best finish of 13th in 2010 and 11 laps led last year.
Youth vs. Experience
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Even if Keselowski was going to his three best tracks to finish the season—for the sake of argument, they're Kentucky, Watkins Glen, and Darlington—he'd still be trying to win his first Chase title in his first year of truly contending.
All three drivers to win Chase titles had contended for the championship at least once before; Kurt Busch finished third in 2002 before winning in 2004, Tony Stewart won the 2002 title under the old format before scoring the 2005 and 2011 championships and Jimmie Johnson had four top-five points finishes before his string of five titles.
Never Letting Go
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When Johnson takes the points lead late in the Chase, he usually keeps it. He took it for good at Texas in 2006 and 2007, held it all the way from Kansas on in 2008 and never gave it up after Fontana in 2009. Only 2010, when he lost it at Texas and regained it in the season finale at Homestead, was an exception.
Once again, Johnson has the lead late in a Chase.
He has a lot of momentum and more than enough experience to get the job done, and undoubtedly, last year's failure has made the entire No. 48 team even more determined to win this time around. It's not as interesting as if Keselowski were able to pull it off, but some things may just be inevitable.
For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.