The Big Q: Does The No. 48 Team Go Down in 2010?
There are a lot more questions concerning this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship than there are competitors in the field. Perhaps sitting atop the heap of questions is the one which has been around for about three years now:
Can anybody dislodge Jimmie Johnson as champion?
While many drivers and teams – out of prudence, good sense or manners – have opted to stick with four-time-winner Johnson when it comes to answering that question, some others say they are sensing weakness on the No. 48 team. And, they are sensing increased power among the other 11 teams in the Chase.
This, they say, is the year Jimmie and Chad and the boys go down.
“You don’t have dominant race cars like you did the last couple of years with Jimmie Johnson and the Hendrick Motorsports camp,” Clint Bowyer of Richard Childress Racing, said. “You are actually seeing Superman struggle a little bit and everybody has caught up to them.”
Bowyer may have a point.
Though Johnson has won five races this year, and will start as the No. 2 seed because of those 50 bonus points, he has looked kind of human.
Only once during his four championship seasons did he have more than one DNF – he had four in 2007.
He also had great numbers when he did finish races – from 2006 through last season he finished in the top 10 in races 66, 67, 61 and 68 percent of the time. Johnson’s average finish during his four championship seasons was just over 10th.
But it was more than numbers which confounded the competition. It was Johnson’s bizarre knack for avoiding trouble. Having mechanical problems and getting caught up in wrecks were simply not his problem.
This year, Johnson’s numbers are a bit more crooked. He has had four DNFs already. His top-10 finishes percentage is “down” to 54 percent and his average finish is an “abysmal” 15th.
The mojo seems to be down as well.
Then there is a sense out there that the competition gap between Hendrick and the rest has narrowed significantly.
“Everybody has learned from them and the pace they set,” Bowyer said of Johnson and his team. “I think everybody has caught up a little bit. I really do believe going into Homestead, you are going to have four or three to six cars in a legit shot for the championship. I just think that is how close the racing is these days and the one that can stay the most consistent is going to be the one that comes out on top.”
Others say to forget about the regular-season numbers when it comes to the No. 48 bunch.
It’s the Chase numbers which count and those are scary.
Johnson has won 12 Chase races during his four-straight title runs. Twice – in 2007 and 2009 – he won four of the final 10 races. His average finish in the Chase during his four championship runs is 6.9.
Still, Carl Edwards said, “Jimmie has had an unbelievable ability to perform in the Chase and win championships, but I think all of these guys and everyone would agree that it is anyone’s race more than ever this year. It looks like advantages are smaller and they last a shorter period of time. Over these 10 races I think it is anybody’s. To me it feels like that is truer than ever, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jimmie goes out there and wins the first three to prove us wrong, but I don’t believe he will do that.”
Following the race at Richmond last weekend, Johnson was asked if he thought he was vulnerable this year.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s weird, man. People can draw conclusions however they want, and I’ve never been one to play into any of that stuff. I guess I tried one time with Stewart in 2005 and it backfired on me. So since then, I’ve just decided to left things take care of itself on the track.
“If guys think we are vulnerable, it’s my job to show up at Loudon, qualify on the pole and win the race. That’s what we need to do regardless. I’m not concerned about what people think of my race team and where I’m at and what kind of threat we are for the championship.
“I’m just more concerned about going out and getting the damn job done. That’s what I need to focus on. I think with two good runs going into the Chase, my guys are ready, I’m ready, we have got our mojo back and we are looking forward to it.”
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments