Over the course of the next two weeks, I will be taking a look at two different drivers at a time. The two drivers will be connected somehow. Whether they are teammates, or drivers that finished right together in the point standings last season. I will compare them, and make a final verdict as to which one will have the better season in 2011.
Our first pairing will be the Hendrick duo of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. These two drivers have been linked together and compared since Johnson's rookie season in 2002.
The obvious reason for the comparison is the fact that they have been teammates for the better part of 10 years, and have been working side by side the entire time. Both drivers have won multiple championships, with Gordon being a four time champion, all between 1995 and 2001.
Johnson meanwhile is the five time and defending Sprint Cup champion having fended off all challengers to his championship throne, including Gordon himself, back in 2007.
So, as the 2011 season is just a couple of weeks away, which driver will find more success in the coming season?
It has an up and down ride for Gordon the last few seasons. Back in 2007, he scored six victories. He and Johnson actually combined to win a total of 16 races that season, and were the only two drivers to score more than three wins that year.
He also led the series with 21 top five finishes, and his 30 top 10 finishes were six better than Johnson, who was his next closest competitor in that department. Gordon also led 1,300 laps that year, which also led the series.
Since that time Gordon has fallen on some tough times however. In the three years since, Gordon has only visited victory lane one time total. His 16 top fives and 25 top 10's in 2009 were the most he has scored in a season since, and his points standing finishes have just been seventh, third, and ninth, respectively.
Last season, Gordon seemed to be on the verge of busting back into victory lane on many different occasions, but for one reason or another he could never quite seal the deal, and for the second time in three seasons, he went winless.
So, what does 2011 have in store for the four time champion? I expect him to have a big year. His winless draught will end very abruptly. He is my pick to win the Daytona 500, but should he fail to capture what would be his fourth 500 win, it shouldn't take too much longer for him to find victory lane.
Look for Gordon to score at least four wins in 2011, and be in the championship mix right through the season finale at Homestead. But, is that enough to better Johnson?
Jimmie Johnson has been the King of NASCAR for the last five years. He has won the championship in each of those seasons and put up some incredible numbers against the best competition in the world.
Johnson's average season over the course of his championship domination looks like this: Seven wins, 16 top five finishes, and 24 top 10 finishes. He also averages leading 1,531 laps per season, which is roughly equivalent to leading for 15 percent of the time.
During his championship run, Johnson has never won fewer than five races in a season. Twice during that time, he has led the series in wins, twice he had the second most wins, and once he had the third most trips to victory lane.
Johnson has been nothing short of dominant. But, 2010 saw a few chinks in the No. 48 armor. We all remember the crew chief swap with the No. 24 team during the Texas race late in the season, but there were a few signs earlier in the year.
For a five week stretch at the end of the first third of season from late April through late May, Johnson scored just one top 10 and had three finishes outside of the top 30.
Then over a seven race period from the July Daytona event through the Bristol event in late August, Johnson once again scored just one top 10, while five out of those seven races saw Johnson finish outside the top 20.
That string of bad finishes dropped Johnson to ninth in the points, which is the lowest he has ever been after 24 races in his Sprint Cup career.
But, alas, the Chase soon began, and once again Johnson returned to form. After a 25th place finish at the Chase opener in New Hampshire, Johnson rattled off nine straight top 10's, including seven in the top five, to clinch his fifth straight championship.
So, what does that mean for his 2011? It would be foolish not to expect a few trips to victory lane once again for Johnson this year. But, I think the rest of the field may be very close to catching up with Johnson and team No. 48.
Much like Gordon, I expect four wins out of Johnson this year, and there is no reason to think that he won't be a factor in deciding the 2011 Sprint Cup champion.
So, whose year is better? Call it a hunch, but I think for the first time in six years, Gordon will finally get the better of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate. They will be neck and neck all season long, but I think that teamed with new crew chief Alan Gustafson, Jeff Gordon is primed to return to the form that we all remember from a decade ago.