Jimmie Johnson, starting last, has his work cut in Sunday's New Hampshire 301 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Yes, it's a big Jimmie Johnson season, and championship rivals appear to be fading fast.
Johnson's sizzling 8.9 finishing average is head-and-shoulders better than the rest.
Denny Hamlin is all but out of it.
Matt Kenseth is stumbling.
Brad Keselowski hasn't done much in months.
Kyle Busch, for all his driving talents, has yet to prove he can be a legitimate title contender.
Ford's guys appear still down on either horsepower, aero or chassis; they're not leading laps.
Kevin Harvick may be overlooked at the moment, and he's got good stats. However the looming move to Tony Stewart's team at the end of the season may becoming an increasing distraction. And current team owner Richard Childress may be struggling with his own 2014 roster, including sponsorships.
Kurt Busch, remember, did win the 2004 championship, though he's struggled at times since. His performances this season, particularly the last few weeks, have been impressive. But he may get sidetracked with his own negotiations behind the scenes for 2014: Is there really a Toyota-Joe Gibbs' offer on the table? And how much does Chevrolet want to keep him in the fold?
Clint Bowyer -- second last season, after Homestead, remember -- could be one of the few title challengers without much extraneous baggage.
The best in the stock car business today, at the midpoint of the season, sure. But what would the NASCAR picture look like if we could take Jimmie and Chad out of the equation. Let's run the numbers (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
So it's looking like this championship is Johnson's to lose. And he doesn't like to lose.
If NASCAR officials had slapped points penalties on those teams with unapproved safety roof flaps last weekend at Daytona, Johnson's already sizeable Sprint Cup tour lead would be even larger.
And this sport's marketers may be starting to sweat out the impact of a Jimmie Johnson title runaway, as the second half of the stock car tour kicks off here, with Sunday's New Hampshire 301.
While awaiting the start of Race #19 of the 36-race season, here's something interesting to ponder.
How much does Johnson's success skew (to coin a term) team owner Rick Hendrick's standing, in the big picture?
Apparently a lot.
Running some numbers, on Best Average Finishes so far this year, to size up which team owners are getting the job done and which team owners aren't, something curious pops up:
Hendrick, with Johnson/Chad Knaus in the equation, is still easily atop the NASCAR power rankings.
But Hendrick, factoring out Johnson/Knaus, is just a so-so operation. In fact three other team owners have better finishing averages than Hendrick-minus-Johnson.
Perhaps the shocker, the top team owner -- ignoring Johnson's team -- is Michael Waltrip's Toyota bunch.
And Hendrick without Johnson/Knaus is only average in the numbers.
Taking Jimmie Johnson out of the equation:
Sprint Cup team owner standings
(average finishing position for all teams, except Jimmie Johnson/Chad Knaus)
(for 2013's first 18 races)
1. Michael Waltrip 14.963
(Clint Bowyer 10.278)
(Martin Truex Jr. 16.778)
(Team 55, Mark Martin/Brian Vickers/Michael Waltrip 17.833)
2. Jack Roush 15.315
(Carl Edwards 12.0)
(Greg Biffle 15.667)
(Ricky Stenhouse 18.278)
3. Roger Penske 15.889
(Brad Keselowski 15.667)
(Joey Logano 16.111)
4. Rick Hendrick 16.129
(Dale Earnhardt Jr. 13.778)
(Jeff Gordon 17.278)
(Kasey Kahne 17.333)
5. Richard Childress 16.541
(Kevin Harvick 12.111)
(Kurt Busch 16.611)
(Paul Menard 18.667)
(Jeff Burton 18.778)
6. Joe Gibbs 16.957
(Matt Kenseth 14.944)
(Kyle Busch 15.5)
(Denny Hamlin 20.429)
7. Richard Petty 19.305
(Aric Almirola 18.333)
(Marcos Ambrose 20.278)
8. Tony Stewart 19.722
(Tony Stewart 16.611)
(Ryan Newman 17.556)
(Danica Patrick 25.0)
9. Chip Ganassi 19.833
(Jamie McMurray 17.944)
(Juan Pablo Montoya 21.722)
Feisty and fun, Clint Bowyer is charging into title contention. But beating Jimmie Johnson won't be easy (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)