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Is Jimmie Johnson Really the Best or Just Good at Playing the Chase?

Tim Arcand@@TArcandCorrespondent IJanuary 2, 2010

MARTINSVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 25:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont/NationalGuard.com Chevrolet, races Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 25, 2009 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Jimmie Johnson has gotten used to making history.

In 2007 when Johnson won his second consecutive championship, he joined a short list of five drivers to have won the Cup in back-to-back years.

A year later, 2008, he joined Cale Yarborough as one of two drivers that have won three consecutive titles.

But as of 2009 he has the record book to himself, becoming the only man to win four consecutive championships. Not since Dale Earnhardt won six titles in nine years has anyone been this dominate.

It begs the question: Should Jimmie Johnson be considered among the best, or do he and crew chief Chad Knaus know how to play the Chase system?

As Mark Twain is quoted - "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."  If average finish was used to crown the champion, Johnson would only have one Cup Championship, from 2006. Jeff Gordon had the best average finish in 2007 at a 7.33, compared to 10.75 for Johnson.

In 2009 Gordon was better again (10.17 compared to 11.08) as well as 2004, the first year of the Chase format. In 2008 Carl Edwards' average finish was 9.5 while Johnson's was a 10.5.

Of course some of you are saying "wait a minute, the new Chase format implemented in 2004 puts a greater emphasis on wins. Surely that's how Johnson is winning championships."

Looking at the results for the past 12 seasons - six seasons preceding the Chase format and the six since, only four times has the driver with the most wins earned the Cup Title. Jimmie Johnson has two of these in 2007 (10 wins) and 2009 (7).

However, the greatest overiding statistic may be the number of wins since the Chase format has been implemented. Johnson has more than twice as many victories as the next closest driver with 41 trips to Victory Lane since 2004. Gordon is second with 19.

The truth is, Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson play the system to their strengths and when the Chase begins, it is usually a runaway. They have found a way to dominate the current NASCAR format.

The great debate? Where he ranks with the all time greats and would he have dominated in another decade?

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