Blame it on Jeff Gordon.
That’s what NASCAR.com writer David Caraviello wrote in his Nov. 21 column. The words carry so much meaning and can adequately describe different situations, but for now, blame it on Jeff Gordon that there will be new meaning of "Drive for Five" when the 2010 season gets underway.
Since February of 2002, the "Drive for Five" was associated with Jeff Gordon, who was set to defend his 2001 title by obviously wining his fifth. But 2002 also marked the year that a dynasty was born—it was Jimmie Johnson’s rookie season.
The story of how Johnson was discovered and came to work with Hendrick Motorsports has been told over and over throughout the last four years, so there's no need to bring it up again. However, when Johnson came to work for HMS, no one would have imagined that Johnson and Gordon would be tied with titles just a few years later.
At least some Gordon fans blame him for this, too.
In 2010, both Gordon and Johnson will be driving for five. Gordon will continue searching for the title that will bring him one step closer to Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, men who many have put Gordon into the same category with. However, title number five is the one that has been eluding him for the last eight years.
Johnson, on the other hand, will be out to make history by winning a fifth straight. Even if Johnson doesn’t win it in 2010, odds are he’ll at least beat Gordon. Besides his rookie year, where Gordon finished seven points and one position ahead of him in the standings, Johnson has bested Gordon in points every year since 2003.
Johnson has gone from student to teacher, and has schooled Gordon and everyone in the Sprint Cup Series for the last four years.
The "Drive for Five," which used to be only in Gordon’s reach, is now in Johnson's reach, too. Many believed Gordon would be the only driver to come close to accomplishing the feat. However, Johnson will most likely accomplish it before Gordon; that’s if Gordon ever does it.
Team owner Rick Hendrick said he expects Gordon to be around for another three to four years, but with a back that has been giving him problems and a daughter that is quickly growing up, three to four years seems like a big goal.
Even if he does stick around, Johnson isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, which is unfortunate for everyone else. The 2010 season will only be his ninth full year, and he’s got plenty of fight left in him. He’ll also have the momentum from four titles, and the confidence in his No. 48 team, led by Chad Knaus.
In a head-to-head fight, it’s fair to say that Gordon will never win another championship. He can't beat Johnson and, at this point in the series, if you can’t beat the Lowe's team, you can’t win anything of importance.
Yet, regardless of stats and theories, 2010 will be an interesting year for these two drivers. Both are competitors who want to win badly, as do the 41 other drivers, but also Gordon and Johnson are not only teammates, but really close friends, even if their relationship has been strained, according to Gordon.
As friends, teammates, and competitors, they’ll now want to beat each other even more to be the first one to five. No one wants to be tied for titles, not when there are more out there for the taking.
Gordon knows that. He knows as well as anyone what Johnson is capable of. In Caraviello’s column he explained, "I think they’re very capable of doing it again next year. You know, that’s still just five. Seven is a big number. That’s tough to get to. I remember a lot of people telling me, asking me, oh man, seven is in reach. A lot changed."
Johnson is the top dog, the No. 1 guy. Both in NASCAR and at Hendrick Motorsports, he’s taken the place of Gordon, and for now there is no telling how far he might tally up the numbers in the championship column.
"I can remember looking at him [Gordon] with wide eyes, and it was like, wow, how did you do it? How do you get there?" Johnson revealed after he won his fourth title.
"And really coming to grips with it in my mind that there’s no way I would ever do it. So to be here and to have the same amount of championships and the experience and all the success we’ve had and race wins, it’s hard to believe. When I really think about it, it is really hard to believe that eight years ago, I was like, hey, man, can you help me win one? And here we are with all this."
There will be a championship battle in 2010, like every year, and whether it comes down to these two drivers or others, it might be safe to say the "Drive for Five", and then the "Fix for Six," as well as "Seventh Heaven," plus many more, will belong to Jimmie Johnson.