Woody: Johnson Has ‘Choke Hold’ on Competition
By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
Last Sunday King Jimmie the Fifth was crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway, concluding a race and a season that followed a familiar scenario for success:
Jimmie Johnson did a masterful job of driving.
And the competition did a masterful job of choking.
Denny Hamlin, Johnson’s closest challenger, spun out early in the race.
Kevin Harvick, Johnson’s next-closest threat, got a pit-road speeding penalty.
And suddenly, with Hamlin and Harvick hobbled by self-inflicted shots to the feet, Jimmie was home free. For the fifth straight year.
We’re witnessing two unprecedented phenomenon in NASCAR. One is the record-breaking job done by Johnson and his team. The other is the record-breaking failure of any other driver to mount a successful challenge. Not even Petty or Earnhardt, during their glory years, was allowed to make such an uninterrupted romp.
Did Jimmie win it or did some others lose it? You be the judge:
With nine races to go, Johnson was buried in 6th in the standings. He trailed Hamlin, Harvick, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Kurt Busch, and was a mere three points in front of 7th-place Carl Edwards.
Down the stretch every one of them swooned like a debutante at a hog-killing.
There’s never been a half-decade span in the sport’s history when the Rest of the Field was so spasmodic. Think about it: the most championships that any driver prior to Johnson was able to string together was three.
Jimmie tied that record held by Cale Yarborough two years ago. He broke it last year, and continued unabated this year.
Look back over Johnson’s five-year reign and name one other team that has been of consistent caliber during that period. You can’t, because there’s not one.
It’s not Jimmie’s fault that nobody else can keep up with him. His three Hendrick Motorports teammates have (ostensibly) the same resources, yet they can’t produce the same results.
And frankly I’m not sure how much of the credit goes to the team that surrounds him. The “team” concept was tossed out the window when crew chief Chad Knaus shanghaied the pit crew of teammate Jeff Gordon with two races to go. Yet despite bumbles by his substitute crew last Sunday, Johnson sailed right along.
Now with the ribbon on No. 5, the question looms: how many more will Johnson win? He’s in his prime at 35. I see no reason for any drop-off in performance.
Just as significantly, I see no major threat on the horizon, no powerful team threatening to usurp the throne. Several took their best shot this year and their best wasn’t good enough.
In many ways this was an off-season by Johnson’s standards. He slipped and he tripped and he committed uncharacteristic mistakes that opened the door wide for someone else. Yet nobody was able to take advantage of it.
And so Jimmie won another one. Or did a lot of others lose it?
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment