Jimmie Johnson is now the proud owner of five straight Sprint Cup titles. It’s “one for the thumb” in championship parlance.
Here’s something you may not have thought about yet: he’s the favorite to win next year too.
He protects the lead down the stretch; he can come from behind and win.
He looks invincible, and when he looks mortal, he snatches new life from the jaws of death.
He does it over and over again.
Johnson is James Bond in a stock car—no matter how bad it gets, no matter how many man-eating sharks or death rays you put on him, he still ends up in the raft with the girl and the champagne.
Sunday after the race, Kevin Harvick mused about the No. 48 team’s dominance.
“I think you have to respect it for sure, knowing how hard it is to do this. I think that you have to step back and look at it and realize what they have accomplished is pretty remarkable.”
But headed into the offseason and into 2011, Harvick offered a caveat: “I think you step back looking at they are also vulnerable. This is the first crack at it. They have obviously done a great job but there's a few chinks in the armor and I think everybody has caught up to being more competitive to them.”
Is the 48 team more vulnerable than ever?
He must know something we don’t.
The 48 team has simply mastered the Chase. They’re just better at it than everyone else. No matter how far everyone comes, Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus seem to have something more in the tank.
If anyone thinks there’s some wise sage with the secret to beating the guys from Hendrick Motorsports, there isn’t. Someone would have found him already. The search has lasted five years.
What the 48 team has done is remarkable. It may never happen again, until one year from now when he fulfills the 2011 expectation and wins his sixth straight and zeroes in on Earnhardt and Petty for total titles.
There’s just no end in sight and no easy solutions.
Harvick outscored everyone all season, yet he finished third. Hamlin was the winningest driver of the Chase, and he finished second.
Johnson just does something different.
Other teams set the bar for the high jump; the 48 hurdles it. They wait to see what you can do, and then they show they have the talent and knowhow to exceed it.
Until the 48 team trips on their own laces on the way to the height others set, it’s doubtful they’ll fall on their faces on the way to more championships.