Sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship on the Horizon for Jimmie Johnson

by Ryan Isley

Well that NASCAR season was fun while it lasted.

Oh sorry – there are three races left? It’s just a formality anyway. After three more races, we will be celebrating Jimmie Johnson winning his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship in seven seasons.

Why’s that?

It’s because when the dust settled after the TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway last week, Johnson had not only won the race, but he had taken the points lead from Brad Keselowski, and now leads Keselowski by two points. He also leads Clint Bowyer by 26 points and Kasey Kahne by 29 points.

The rest of the Chase field can stop trying now.

Sure, there is still hope mathematically for a driver other than Johnson to hoist the trophy at the end of the season. But mathematically, Johnson also dominates at the next three tracks.

The NASCAR season has three tracks remaining – Texas Motor Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. While it might seem early to crown Johnson as the champion already, a look at his success at those three remaining tracks – and the lack of success from Keselowski – gives you reason to believe that the other drivers in the Chase are battling for second.

Johnson has an average finish of 9.7 at Texas in 18 races, average finish of 5.3 at Phoenix in 18 races and an average finish of 13.5 at Homestead in 11 races. He has one win, eight top-5s and 13 top-10s at Texas, four wins, 12 top-5s and 15 top-10s at Phoenix and four top-5s and seven top-10s at Homestead.

So, yeah – Jimmie is pretty good at those tracks.

In comparison, Keselowski has an average finish of 25.3 at Texas in eight races, average finish of 22.2 at Phoenix in six races and an average finish of 20.3 at Homestead in four races. He doesn’t have any wins at any of the three tracks and has just one top-5 finish at Phoenix, when he finished fifth. His best finish at Texas was 14th and his best at Homestead was 13th.

Even this season, Johnson has gotten the best of Keselowski at the two remaining tracks that NASCAR has raced already – Texas and Phoenix. Johnson finished second at Texas and fourth at Phoenix while Keselowski finished 36th at Texas and fifth at Phoenix. Johnson gained 85 points at those two tracks this season so far, and Keselowski earned just 48.

What about Bowyer and Kahne?

Bowyer has an average finish of 13.3 at Texas in 13 races, average finish of 16.9 at Phoenix in 14 races and an average finish of 13.8 at Homestead in six races. He doesn’t have any wins at any of the three but has just three top-5s and seven top-10s at Texas, two top-5s and five top-10s at Phoenix and one top-5 and three top-10s at Homestead.

Kahne has an average finish of 18.8 in 16 races at Texas with one win, four top-5s and five top-10s, average finish of 20 in 16 races at Phoenix with one win, two top-5s and five top-10s and an average finish of 14.8 in eight races at Homestead with one top-5s and four top-10s.

While Bowyer and Kahne have more success at the three remaining tracks than Keselowski, they aren’t anywhere near Johnson.

Johnson has bested them as well this season at Texas and Phoenix.

Bowyer finished 27th at Texas and 14th at Phoenix while Kahne finished 34th at Texas and seventh at Phoenix. Bowyer earned 41 points and Kahne 47 points at those two tracks. In fact, the only driver in the Chase who had more points than Johnson at those two tracks is Greg Biffle with 88.

Add up all of the numbers and it looks like Johnson is about to run away from the field en route to his sixth championship.

And this doesn’t even add in the fact that Johnson has been there and done it five times already. He and crew chief Chad Knaus know what it takes to get the job done when the chips are down, while the other three have never tasted the victory champagne after 36 races.

This is the ninth season that NASCAR has gone to the Chase format and Johnson has been in the Chase each season. Along with his five championships, he has two second place finishes, a fifth place finish and a sixth place finish.

Keselowski is in just his second Chase (his third full season), finishing fifth last season. Bowyer is in his fourth Chase (seventh season) and Kahne is in his third Chase (ninth season). Keselowski’s best finish was fifth, Bowyer’s was third and Kahne’s was eighth.

Another trend that favors Johnson is his ability to be a frontrunner as he is extremely comfortable with the points lead.

In the five seasons that Johnson won the championship (2005-10), he was either leading the points or in second place with three races remaining. In each of those seasons, Johnson never fell further than second after that point and found a way to win all five seasons. The way he has won is to not give up the lead once he gets it for the most part.

In 2006 and 2007, Johnson took the points lead after race No. 34 and went on to remain in first place through the end of the season. In 2008, he took the lead after race No.28 and never gave it back and then in 2009 he took the lead for good after race No. 30. 2010 was a different story, as Johnson gave the lead to Denny Hamlin after race No. 34 but came back in the final race of the season to take the championship when he finished second and Hamlin finished 14th.

So while the schedule says there are still races left at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead, it seems that the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship has all but been wrapped up. You can go ahead and engrave the name “Jimmie Johnson” in the spot for the 2012 champion.

Don’t worry – he knows where to go to pick up the trophy.

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