Jimmie Appears To Be In Line For Another DOTY
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Ballots for 2013 Driver of the Year on two levels are due on Black Friday, and the guy now known as “Six-Pack” clearly will be dealing from a position of strength.
That guy is Jimmie Johnson, whose updated business card reads “Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion.” Johnson is a four-time winner of Driver of the Year, originally known as the Martini & Rossi Award which traces its history to 1967 as the most prestigious honor in North American motorsports.
It certainly is plausible that Johnson could sweep the fourth quarter and final balloting as conducted by a national panel of 19 motorsports media. I’ve been a voting panelist since 1996, a period during which the NASCAR champion _ otherwise known as the 600-pound go-rilla in the room – has been crowned DOTY 13 of 17 times.
There’s a definite sense of déjà vu surrounding my 2013 finalists starting with Johnson, 16-time NHRA Funny Car world champion John Force and three-time IndyCar Series champ Scott Dixon. In 2010, my leading candidates were Johnson, Force and IndyCar’s Dario Franchitti in a vote eventually won by JJ.
Brut Force was voted DOTY in 1996 _ amazingly, the first drag racer so honored. Equally amazing is the fact that Franchitti, the now four-time IndyCar Series champion who recently announced his retirement because of injury, never has won this award. Such is the influence wielded by almighty NASCAR.
For the record, Johnson (2006-07 and 2009-10) and Hendrick Motorsports teammate/mentor Jeff Gordon (1995, 1997-98 and 2001) are the only four-time winners of Driver of the Year. Nine drivers have won multiple DOTYs, with open-wheel icon Mario Andretti – first winner in 1967 and 1978 and 1984 – and NASCAR’s Darrell Waltrip (1979 and 1981-82) three-time honorees.
Actually, the media panel is dealing with two votes this week, beginning with the fourth quarter winner. Nine points are awarded for a first-place vote, with six points for a second-
place vote, four for third, three for fourth, two for fifth and one for sixth. NASCAR’s Matt Kenseth, Johnson, and Kyle Busch are the 2013 quarterly winners, respectively, to-date.
The final vote that decides DOTY is conducted via a written “secret” ballot, with each panel member required to list the reason(s) for his/her selection. Unlike previous seasons, however, no teleconference has been scheduled among the panelists to discuss the merits of the top candidates – an unfortunate fact that surely will work against those voters wanting to lobby for either Force or Dixie.
The DOTY media panel includes three staff members of RacinToday.com – Managing Editor Jim Pedley, Senior Writer Mike Harris and this reporter. Final voting results for the 47th edition of DOTY will be featured on RacinToday.com, home site of the award.
With that background, I’ve typically looked at the fourth quarter vote as a consolation prize – a sort of “first runnerup” to my final ballot selection. Worthy contenders for the fourth quarter award are five-time NHRA Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. of Coughlin
Brothers Racing LLC; first-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Shawn Langdon of Al-Anabi Racing; NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton of ThorSport Racing and Austin Dillon, NASCAR Nationwide Series champion from Richard Childress Racing. Kudos, also, to Daryn Pittman for his World of Outlaws Sprint Car championship.
For anyone wondering about Sebastian Vettel, who clinched his fourth consecutive Formula One World Driving Championship, DOTY voting is limited to North American-based series. That eliminates Seb from consideration, even though he won the second annual United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, won a record nine consecutive races and record-tying 13 of 19. It has to do with logistics.
Let’s review the leading 2013 contenders alphabetically:
Scott Dixon – The longest-tenured driver at Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Dixon finished 27 points (577-550) ahead of Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves in the final standings after 19 events on ovals, street and natural-terrain layouts.
Dixon, who previously won his titles in 2003 and 2008, is the 12th driver to win three or more domestic open-wheel titles and only the third to earn at least three IndyCar Series championships, joining Franchitti (2007, 2009, 2010-11) and Sam Hornish Jr. (2001-02, 2006) in the latter category.
Dixon won four races this season to raise his career total to 33, seventh on the all-time open-wheel list. Included was a summer stretch of three consecutive wins in his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda. Dixon, who qualified on-pole twice in 2013, added 10 top-five and 12 top-10 results.
“Racing is still in my veins and hopefully my career is a long one and something that I can enjoy for a long time,” said Dixon, a 33-year-old native of Auckland, New Zealand. “I don’t know whether you know you won’t do it in 10 more years or what, but the drive is still there. I still wake up every morning to go to the track and hopefully win some more races.”
Dixon ended the season working on a streak of 157 consecutive starts. “I think the championships in 2003 and 2008…the ups-and-downs make you realize it’s not that easy to win races,” Dixon said.
Impressive stats by a very cerebral driver. Still, attention spans in this business are shorter
than ever these days, and the relatively early conclusion of the IndyCar schedule in mid-October likely will work against Dixon, as well as the notion that the series remains basically a two-horse competition between Ganassi Racing and Team Penske. And be advised that the last open-wheel driver to win DOTY was Cristiano da Matta in 2002, the year the diminutive Brazilian won the Champ Car World Series title.
John Force – At age 64, Force is the oldest champion in major motorsports history. He clinched his latest NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship title at the 23rd of 24th national events and immediately announced plans to chase No. 17 in 2014.
“A lot of kids weren’t even born when I was winning championships,” said Force, of Yorba Linda, Calif. “Nobody remembers when I was losing, when I was being spanked by “The Snake” (Don Prudhomme) and “Mongoose” (Tom McEwen) and Kenny Bernstein. The first 10, 12 years of my career, like Snake said, I was a joke, just somebody they called what I guess the term was ‘fodder’ _ somebody they would put in the show so they could get beat. When I got to the winner’s circle, it was like finding the fun.”
Force finished 140 points (2,688-2,548) ahead of 2011 world champion Matt Hagan of arch-rival Don Schumacher Racing, clinching the title with his 138th career national event victory against daughter Courtney at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 27. Force strung together three consecutive wins to clinch his 16th championship, the only driver in either the Funny Car or Top Fuel categories to win three straight races during the season.
Force advanced to nine final rounds and won four races in two different Castrol GTX Ford Mustang Funny Cars, with two different crew chiefs (Mike Neff and Jimmy Prock) and two crews. Force also tied the Countdown record for Funny Car race wins (three) and set the record for Funny Car round wins (19). He was the No. 1 qualifier six times during the season, running his career poles total to 146.
Force posted the fastest finish line speed in 1,000-foot Funny Car history at 323.50 mph at Reading, Pa., in Round 4 of the six-race Countdown and also notched the second-quickest 1,000-foot elapsed time at 3.985-seconds. And on-and-on…
Jimmie Johnson _ Recall that when Johnson won his record-setting fifth consecutive Cup championship in 2010, “Sports Illustrated” declared in a banner headline that “Jimmie Johnson Is The Greatest Driver Ever, Yes.”
So, what does JJ do for an encore? Fix the Affordable Care Act website?
A 38-year-old native of El Cajon, Calif., Johnson finished 19 points (2,419-2,400) ahead of Kenseth, who enjoyed a banner first season with Joe Gibbs Racing. Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, earned three poles and won six of 36 races along with 16 top-five and 24 top-10 results. Johnson, who clinched this title with a ninth-place finish during the season-ender at Homestead-Miami Speedway, has teamed with crew chief Chad Knaus to win championships in half of their 12-year Cup careers.
“To have expectations to win championships is unfair or what,” Johnson said during his post-championship teleconference. “I think it’s more realistic to expect an opportunity at a championship. To win, that’s a whole different story. I made the (10-race) Chase every year it’s been around, so I’ve had that opportunity. I take a lot of pride in that. My motivation to follow through this year and to work as hard as I can really is the same motivation I’ve always had to succeed in this sport.
“I’ve worked so hard and long to get to this point, I’m finally on top of my game. I’ve worked a lifetime to get here. There’s more motivation staying on top for those reasons than chasing stats and the historical things that are out there in front of me now; it’s really something that comes from within.”
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.com Comments