Harris: GM Is Winning On Sundays
It’s been a lousy year for General Motors, but you’d never know it from the results on NASCAR’s premier tracks.
As we head into the penultimate Sprint Cup race of the 2009 season, Chevrolets have just about decimated the rest of the Cup field.
That’s pretty obvious if you note that Chevy drivers Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon are the top three in the points heading into Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway. But the overall numbers are still mighty impressive.
The GM brand has won 17 of the 34 races so far this season. The Bowtie brigade has led 5,174 of 9,913 laps – 52.2 percent – and has posted 84 top-fives and 169 top-10s; far more than any of the other makes competing in Cup.
Led by Hendrick Motorsports drivers Johnson, Martin and Gordon and Stewart Haas Racing entries Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman, Chevy Impala SS drivers wrapped up the 2009 Manufacturers’ Cup for GM four races ago.
And it’s unlikely that the Chevy charge will slow down a bit on PIR’s one-mile oval.
The only big question remaining is whether Johnson, with a lead of 73 points over Martin and 112 over Gordon, can do what he has done the last three years and roll to a record fourth straight Cup title.
Since he has proven to be a great finisher, it’s highly likely the only real irritant Johnson will have this week and next is answering the same questions over and over – just as he has at the end of each of the past two seasons.
But Johnson isn’t showing any unusual nerves or reacting with any undue angst as people all but concede him another championship.
“I would say, looking at the schedule, the best track remaining for us would be PIR,’’ Johnson said earlier this week. “We had a really fast car in the spring and had some different issues on pit road and some bad luck with the timing of the caution (flag) that kept us back in the pack. And we still ended up with a reasonable finish (fourth).
“We passed a lot of cars, and in our opinion, felt like we had the strongest car. So going back to Phoenix is exciting for us.’’
But Johnson, who has three victories at PIR, takes nothing for granted – especially after getting caught up in a crash early in last week’s race at Talladega and losing a huge chunk of what had been a 184-point lead over Martin.
“For me (Phoenix) is a great track, but it’s also a great track for Jeff (Gordon),’’ Johnson said. “He runs very consistent there, and then Mark (Martin) won in the spring. The two guys I’m trying to stay ahead of in the points have that track as a strong one, as well.’’
Gordon, a four-time champion who hasn’t won a title since 2001, would like to believe he still has a shot this season, even though he would have to hurdle both Martin and Johnson to get it done.
“A lot can happen in these final two races,’’ he said. “There are hundreds of moments that you have as a team every single weekend that maybe don’t materialize, or that don’t get seen by the public or even the media. But we see it.
“There are close calls all the time, and it can happen at any time. I get through every race and think, ‘Whew, we survived this moment or that moment.’ Phoenix has certainly been on our radar because it’s a track that’s been hit or miss for us. I’m a little disappointed in how we performed earlier this year (25th), and we certainly need to improve on that this weekend.
“A lot still has to happen if we are going to realistically battle for the championship in the season finale (at Homestead-Miami Speedway). But we need to make sure we do everything in our control to secure as many points as possible this weekend.”
Considering Johnson’s track record – no pun intended – Gordon and Martin are going to need all the help they can get.
But, considering the top three are all driving the dominating Chevys, it doesn’t seem very likely anybody else can horn in on the title show.
– Mike Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments