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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Why is Johnson a 3-time champ? He shows up when it counts

Associated Press photo
Jimmie Johnson hoists his third straight championship trophy Sunday at Homestead.

I can just picture the other teams’ discussions after Jimmie Johnson held on to his points lead and came out of an unspectacular final race of the season at Homestead with a top-15 finish and his third straight title.

“How the hell does he do it? He never has mechanical problems, never wrecks … how can you catch up to that?”

Well, if things continue for Johnson next year the way they did this year, they may not catch up for a while and we could see Johnson go beyond tying records and start to create his own page in the history books.

Point blank: He wins and finishes strong when it matters. Early in the season he struggled, and many said his reign was over. But sure enough, just like the sun coming up in the morning, Johnson was light years beyond the other drivers when it came to consistency in the Chase.

There are several factors behind that. For starters, he has top-of-the-line equipment from Hendrick Motorsports. But that’s not it, because Roush gives Carl Edwards great cars, too. Also, he has a great knack for avoiding bad luck. If a wreck happens in front of him, he always seems to find a way around him. I don’t know if I could count on one hand the amount of times Jimmie Johnson even got into a wreck this year.

Don’t forget his seemingly unstoppable crew chief Chad Knaus, who makes brilliant call after brilliant call and helps get Jimmie back to the front even on days when the car is not at its best.

But beyond all of this, it’s pretty simple: Jimmie Johnson doesn’t make mistakes. And that’s a pretty good recipe for being a champion. If you look back, this Chase was really decided at Talladega, when Carl Edwards, who was awesome for the rest of the Chase, screwed up big-time and ruined his own day and the day of his teammate and title contender Greg Biffle. If that wreck had not happened and the rest of the races played out like they did, Edwards might have had a realistic shot at the title going into Homestead.

But while Edwards made his mistake, Johnson did not put himself in a bad spot at any point. If you look at pure driving ability, many would argue Johnson is not at the top of the list. Others, such as Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, often are regarded as better pure drivers.

But even if he is not an excellent driver, Johnson is at least very good. Combine that with a top-notch crew, good machinery, and an ability to avoid and not cause trouble, and you have a good shot at the title before a single green flag is even dropped.

Going into 2009, everyone else will still be chasing Jimmie Johnson. If he struggles early, don’t get too excited. It probably won’t last and that fourth straight title may be in his future.

That’s why they run the races, and I can’t wait to do it all over again in 2009.

Regan Smith wins Rookie of the Year, but class was weak
Regan Smith, who will likely be out of the Cup series in 2009 with his #01 DEI team shutting down, took the rookie crown this year, but it’s nothing to cheer about. Smith -- who was invisible all year other than his crossing the finish line first at Talladega, only to have it taken away due to an “illegal pass” -- finished 34th in series points and did not score a single top-10 finish. If that’s our Rookie of the Year, I want a rebate. Nothing against Smith, as I’m sure he’s got some talent. But look at who he beat -- Sam Hornish Jr., who finished 35th in points and didn’t even qualify for Homestead; Michael McDowell, who showed promise early, then was a complete failure for Michael Waltrip Racing; Dario Franchitti, whose team shut down after half the year; and Patrick Carpentier, who also lost his ride before the year ended.

Next year, look for Joey Logano to actually achieve something and get the rookie award by a mile. If he can gel with his team as the year goes on, he could have a rookie season of greatness a la Tony Stewart or Davey Allison in 2009.

No rest for the wicked
The season may be over, but I’m still around, and will be writing about everything NASCAR through the off-season -- from the new testing policy to the likely slew of layoffs in the garage, and much more.

So stay tuned.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congrats to Jimmie, Chad and their team. I'm not a Hendricks fan by any means but that team has got it together. I don't think Chad ever stops trying to make the car better. He's always thinking one lap ahead for the best adjustment or move. If he pushes the envelope a little too far sometimes, so be it. NASCAR keeps an eye on him and lets him know when he's stepped over the line. Ask Jr. Johnson how many "adjustments" he was able to sneak by NASCAR back in the day. Jimmie has the focus and the fire and right now he seems to be the ONLY one at Hendricks that does. They're just proving that the Best equipment is only part of the equation.

November 17, 2008 at 2:25 PM 

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