NASCAR: About That Championship Chase...

Christopher Leone@ChristopherlionSenior Analyst IOctober 20, 2009

CONCORD, NC - OCTOBER 17:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series NASCAR Banking 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway on October 17, 2009 in Concord, North Carolina.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

So, two weeks ago, after the Kansas race, I wrote an article about how this year's Chase may not be settled as early as last year's was. I wrote about how Tony Stewart, Juan Montoya, and especially Mark Martin would pose a challenge for three-time reigning champion Jimmie Johnson, and that it wasn't going to be easy for the 48 team to four-peat. And at the time, I fully believed it.

But after this weekend, I'm not so sure I buy into it anymore.

So Johnson couldn't capitalize at Kansas. Big deal. He led huge chunks of the NASCAR Banking 500, both early and late. He had a driver rating of 139.1, nearly 14 points better than that of Kasey Kahne, who ran the second-best race according to NASCAR's loop data. And after Martin finished a mediocre 17th, Johnson now has a 90-point lead in the standings.

Simply put, it's gonna take a bad finish or two from Johnson to give anybody else a shot, and he simply doesn't do that during the Chase.

The maximum point swing that can occur between any two drivers in the same race is 161 points. This requires one driver to finish first and lead the most laps, while the other finishes last and leads none. As the points stand right now, if Tony Stewart was able to pull that on Johnson next week, he'd still only be 11 points ahead of the 48 team in the standings.

Montoya is 190-plus points back in sixth after a dismal run at Lowe's, effectively ending his championship hopes.

Even Hendrick Motorsports teammates Martin and Jeff Gordon, who run the same high-caliber equipment as Johnson, are going to need misfortune to befall the Lowe's boys to make this thing interesting again, and that seems like it's just not going to happen.

It's been three full years since Johnson has finished worse than 15th in a Chase race. That race, the 2006 UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega, could have easily been won by Johnson, too, had then-teammate Brian Vickers not taken him out.

Oh, and about this weekend's race at Martinsville: Johnson has won five of the last six races at the paper clip. He has 14 top-10s in 15 career starts at the track. The 48 car has spent time out front in nine of the past 11 Martinsville races, and he's led at least 42 laps in each of those occurrences (winning six of them).

So, yeah, about that championship chase: Looks like I was wrong. Start buying the champagne, boys, you've all but won it.

Everybody else can wait 'til next year. Or the year after. Or the year after that...