Armijo: Here Is One Vote For John, Not Jimmie

| Senior Correspondent, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 27 2010

John Force won his 15th Funny Car championship this year. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

Yes, we know. Jimmie Johnson continues to perform in crunch time just as smoothly as an ex-NBA superstar with the initials MJ used to do for umpteen years for the Chicago Bulls.

All of sport’s greats are like that. Somehow, some way, they always seem to know how to come through when it counts most. Remember when Muhammad Ali rose off his back to beat Joe Frazier?

Although Johnson didn’t rise off his back just in time to collar a fifth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title, he did rise to the occasion.

By finishing runner-up in Sunday’s Chase season finale at Homestead, Fla., Johnson managed to overtake Denny Hamlin and secure another piece of championship hardware for his living room mantle.

What Johnson didn’t manage to do, however, was convince this corner that he is this season’s Driver of the Year.

No, the winner in our humble opinion goes to… drum roll, please.

John Force

OK, how many diehard Johnson fans did we just alienate? That many, huh?

Still, how can anyone overlook Force’s year. Sure, he’s had drag racing seasons where he’s been a dominant, uh, force, and also won significantly more races.

But has Force delivered a more memorable year to his legion of fans? He turned 61 (that’s not a typo) in May and still had enough fire in his belly to win six Funny Car races in a difficult class and also an NHRA-record 15th pro-category championship.

It was Force’s most wins since 2002, when he won eight, and the title made him NHRA’s oldest pro-category champion in history.

Remember, this is the same guy who suffered multiple, serious injuries in a wicked 2007 crash at the Texas Motorplex, an accident that went a long way in Force winning just once in 2008 and none in 2009, a winless season that ended a streak in which he’d won at least one national event in 22 consecutive seasons.

No. 2

Kyle Busch

What, no Johnson? Sorry, folks.

While Busch didn’t even snare a title this season, he did win a trunk load of NASCAR races in its top three divisions.

Count ‘em. Three Cup wins, a record 13 in Nationwide and eight in the Camping World Truck series (in only 16 starts) for a grand total of 24 trips into victory lane.

Busch led 1,271 laps in 36 Cup races, second only to Johnson’s 1,315, and finished eighth in the final Chase standings.

Busch finished third in the Nationwide standings despite making only 29 starts in 35 races.

No. 3

Larry Dixon

Almost there, Johnson fans.

A convincing argument could be made for Dixon receiving the DOTY nod. And, no, we wouldn’t argue. At least, not very much.

Not only did Dixon end Tony Schumacher’s six-year championship reign, he won his first title in seven seasons and was a perfect 12-for-12 in final rounds (an NHRA record for final rounds without a loss).

Among Dixon’s career-high 12 wins was a fourth U.S. Nationals victory.

No. 4

Jimmie Johnson


Johnson again proved unstoppable. He won six races, posted a series-high 17 top-five finishes and led more laps than anyone.

But Johnson wasn’t the circuit’s top winner (Denny Hamlin had a series-high eight wins) nor was he more consistent than Kevin Harvick, who led throughout most of the regular season.

Johnson, however, was the best when it counted most. Really, is there anything more you can ask of someone?

No. 5

Dario Franchitti

As much as we secretly maintain a school-boy crush on Mrs. Franchitti, it had nothing to do with making Mr. Franchitti the choice ahead of such talented wheelmen as Hamlin, Harvick, Scott Pruett, Mike Edwards, Greg Anderson, LE Tonglet or Tony Schumacher.

Franchitti won three races, including the Indianapolis 500 for a second time, and also collared a second-straight IZOD IndyCar Series championship and third overall.

Give that man a Kewpie Doll. Wait a minute. He already has one.

– Mark Armijo is the veteran auto racing beat writer for the Arizona Republic and a frequent contributor to RacinToday.com

| Senior Correspondent, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 27 2010
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