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Can anybody here beat Jimmie Johnson?

Wonder what Matt Kenseth, the 2003 champ, might have up his sleeve? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


By Mike Mulhern



   That seems to be the question hanging over Jimmie Johnson as the chase begins, after this last 10-race stretch where Mr. Four-Time has averaged a dismal 17.0 finish each week.
   Consider Johnson's run in 2009, the 10 races from Loudon in June through Richmond – he averaged only a 13.3 finish. In 2008, he averaged 9.7; in 2007, he averaged a 12.5.
   But if Johnson's chase record the past few years is any indication of what may happen over these next 10 races, all his title rivals better step it up:

    Is that a sticky-note on Kevin Harvick's helmet? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Johnson won the 2009 title with an average 6.8 finish in the 10 races. And that includes that 38th (wreck with Sam Hornish Jr. ) at Texas. Subtract the Texas mishap, and Johnson averaged a sizzling 3.33 for the chase.
   In 2008 Johnson took the title with a 5.7 finishing average.
   And in 2007 he won with an amazing 5.0 finishing average.
   No wonder other chase drivers are still pointing at Johnson as the title favorite...until someone beats him.

   Jeff Burton (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Here's another interesting statistic to ponder, as we await the start of the 2010 NASCAR playoffs:
In the 60 championship chase races since 2004, Jimmie Johnson has won 18. No one else has won more than six.

   Denny Hamlin with his game face (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   The current standings:
   Denny Hamlin leads in wins this season, with six. Johnson is second with five.
   But Johnson leads in laps led, with 1,083. Kyle Busch is second with 978 laps led; followed by Hamlin with 918, Kurt Busch with 817, and Jeff Gordon with 813.
   In average finishes through the 26-race regular season:

   Kevin Harvick has by far the best: 9.769.
   Jeff Gordon, 12.115.
   Kyle Busch, 12.50.
   Kurt Busch, 14.385.
   Jimmie Johnson, 14.462.
   Denny Hamlin, 15.154.

    Jimmie Johnson, on a run (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   While considering possible tweaks to the championship rules for the 2011 chase.....
   If the Sprint Cup championship were based on total season wins:

   -- Jimmie Johnson would have still won in 2009, with seven. (Mark Martin was second with five.)

   -- Carl Edwards would have won in 2008, with nine. (Kyle Busch had eight; Johnson, seven.)

   -- Johnson would still have won the title in 2007, with 10 wins. (Jeff Gordon had six.)

   -- In 2006 Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart each had five tour wins; if laps led were the tie-breaker, Stewart (1,360 laps led) would have taken the title, over Harvick's 895 and Johnson's 854.

   -- Greg Biffle, with six wins, would be the 2005 tour champion. (Stewart was second with five wins, Gordon and Johnson each had four.)

   -- Johnson would have won the 2004 title, with eight wins. (Dale Earnhardt Jr. had six; Gordon, five.)

   Kyle Busch, one of the four favorites in the title chase (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR) 


If the championship were determined by laps led:

   -- Johnson would still have won in 2009, with 1,663 laps led. (Hamlin was second, with 1,344.)

   -- Johnson too in 2008, with 1,892 laps led. (Kyle Busch was second with 1,476.)

   -- But Gordon would have edged Johnson in 2007. Gordon led 1,299 laps; Johnson, 1,288.

   -- Stewart, not Johnson, would have won in 2006, with 1,360 laps led. (Johnson was only fifth, with 854.)

   -- Stewart would still have won the 2005 title, leading 1,784 laps. (Biffle was second with 1,301.)

   -- But Johnson would have won in 2004, leading 1,312 laps. (Gordon was second with 1,237.)


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