Drivers Most Likely to Go on a Jimmie Johnson-Type Run of Titles

Kevin McRae@@McRaeWritesFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2014

Drivers Most Likely to Go on a Jimmie Johnson-Type Run of Titles

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    Jimmie Johnson set a NASCAR record by winning five straight Sprint Cup championships from 2006-2010. The 39-year-old is now a six-time champion and is widely considered to be among the very best drivers to ever step into a stock car and hit the track.

    Johnson is one title away from tying a pair of legends, Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt Sr., for the most championships in NASCAR history. And that’s why any attempts at comparing him to contemporaries, or prognosticating that one or more of them could emulate his success, is such tricky business.

    But the new Chase format awards aggression, and it helps keep more drivers in the mix for longer than in previous years.

    So who knows, right?

    Let’s take a look at the five drivers who have the best shot of going on a Jimmie Johnson-like run of titles.

Kevin Harvick

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    Well, he’s already got one down.

    Kevin Harvick won his first Sprint Cup championship in 2014 in his first year of competing under the Stewart-Haas Racing banner, and that puts him one-fifth of the way to a Johnson-esque run. The 39-year-old Californian has been one of the most consistent drivers in NASCAR’s top series over the past five years, finishing in the top five in four of those seasons, including last year’s title season.

    Harvick has a certain amount of moxie about him on the track. He knows what it takes to win and doesn’t allow himself to get swallowed up by the moment.

    Especially when all the marbles are on the line.

    Heading into the penultimate race of the Chase, the No. 4 team knew that nothing less than a win at Phoenix would be enough to advance to the winner-take-all finale at Homestead. Harvick won that race and won again the following week at Homestead to capture the Sprint Cup title.

    Harvick is just always in the mix. You can count on him to be around the front on a weekly basis, and with the new Chase format rewarding that level of consistency, even if you don't necessarily win, which he does plenty, you can bank on him being in contention over the next several years.

    And when you’re in it, you can win it.

Brad Keselowski

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    You either love Brad Keselowski, or you hate him.

    The unapologetic driver of Team Penske’s No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion comes to the track every week intending to end his weekend with a trip to Victory Lane, and he doesn’t particularly care whether he hurts some feelings along the way.

    Keselowski’s trademark aggression, combined with a lack of post-race remorse, has earned him a few enemies in the garage, prompting Denny Hamlin to comment during last season’s Chase, per Motor Racing Network, that it would be hard for him to win a championship without many friends on the track.

    NASCAR isn’t about winning friends, but it certainly does help to have someone on the track who is willing to watch your back—someone willing to block off another car or not make that risky late-race pass that could send you into the wall.

    Keselowski, who won the Sprint Cup title in 2012, doesn’t seem particularly worried, per Dustin Long.

    "My No. 1 goal in racing was never to be the most popular driver," he said."It’s a goal that I have, but it’s not a priority. My goal is to win races and achieve the highest level of success on the race track as possible."

    Keselowski has already won a lot of races—15 over the past four seasons—and at 31 years old when engines start at Daytona on Feb. 22, he should have plenty of solid racing years ahead of him.

Joey Logano

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    Joey Logano wins the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship!

    No, that’s not an alternate reality—just the headline you would’ve read on Nov. 16 after the Ford EcoBoost 400 had the old Chase format carried into this season. Logano would’ve entered the race as the points leader, with his 16th-place finish enough to deny Harvick the crown by eight points.

    Instead, he was forced to settle for a fourth-place finish in points, the best result of his six seasons as a full-time Sprint Cup driver.

    The point of this story?

    The 24-year-old had a breakout season in 2014, establishing himself as not only one of the top young drivers in the sport, but also one of its best overall. He has a lot to build on heading into next season and beyond after a year that saw him set career-high marks in wins, top-fives, top-10s and laps led.

    Logano’s going to lift the Sprint Cup trophy in the not-too-distant future—that you can bank on. And it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see him win multiple championships before all is said and done.

Kyle Larson

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    Yes, it would be nice to see Kyle Larson win a race before we anoint him a challenger to Johnson’s historic throne, but that’s exactly why one speaks with trepidation on a topic like this one.

    Larson has loads of potential, possibly more than any other driver on this list. But potential is a tricky, tricky animal. The annals of sports history are littered with all sorts of athletes who seemingly couldn’t miss until they did.

    Larson was so good in his first season driving Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet that he took home NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year award. 

    Seriously, eight top-fives and 17 top-10s in a rookie campaign for a driver some felt was being rushed to prime time just a little too quickly? All that was missing was a victory, and he came close at California, Kansas and New Hampshire—but that will come, likely next season.

    Larson has all the tools to become a driver who can contend for victories on a weekly basis, and he’s a future championship contender for sure.

    Can he win five in a row? Can anyone?

    Remember, potential.

Jimmie Johnson

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    It this a cop-out? Maybe, but Johnson belongs on this list.

    Not many people earn the right to be mentioned in the same sentence as "The Intimidator" Dale Earnhardt Sr. and "The King" Richard Petty, but J.J. has earned his place at that elite table.

    Johnson’s still only 39 years old and remained in Chase contention until he was bumped, along with Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne, after the Geico 500 at Talladega in mid-October.

    How much longer he'll want to hang on after securing a record-tying seventh championship remains an open question. Would he be content with a tie atop that leaderboard? Or would he want to continue pushing the bar further and further?

    Johnson has been a full-time driver in the Sprint Cup Series since 2001, and that means he’s logged a lot of miles—literally—over the course of his career. Asking him to win another five in a row seems like a stretch, but if anyone can do it, you could do worse than picking the No. 48.

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