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- Published on Tuesday, 17 November 2009 18:14
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Jimmie Johnson’s chance for a record fourth straight championship absorbed a body blow at Texas. An early race crash led to a 36th place finish for Johnson and a seemingly safe lead in the points went down to just 73 over second place Mark Martin, heading into last Sunday’s race at Phoenix.
“It was definitely not the day we wanted,” Johnson said. “We did not want to lose points like that. Luckily we had a big margin. We’ve been saying all along that anything can happen.
“It’s an exciting time for sure,” Johnson said. “I’m really trying to keep my head down and keep this team focused on doing their job. What got us in this position was racing hard and going for every point, and until it’s mathematically locked up, we’re going to keep that mindset and try to get every point we can.”
If Johnson does win the title, he will make NASCAR history by becoming the first driver in 61 years of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition to win four consecutive championships. Chad Knaus also will become the first crew chief to win four consecutive titles.
Catching Johnson is doable, but it won’t be easy. The two biggest comebacks to win the championship in the final races of the season occurred in 1990 and 1992. In 1990, Dale Earnhardt came back to win the title after being down 45 points with two races to go. Ironically, Earnhardt overtook Mark Martin that season to win the championship.
In 1992, Alan Kulwicki set a series record for the largest points comeback with two races to go. Kulwicki was third in the standings 85 points down with two races left, and overtook Bill Elliott and Davey Allison to win the only championship of his career.
“I don’t know why everybody tries to cap this thing out and doesn’t just wait and watch,” Martin said from Phoenix last weekend. “There are still two races to go and still things that can happen.
After Johnson’s disastrous showing at Texas, the championship picture has come into sharp focus. To clinch at Homestead, Johnson needs to average a fourth place finish over the final two races, or fifth place and lead a lap at both Phoenix and homestead. If he does that he’ll clinch no matter what any other drive does.
Mark Martin looks to be headed toward his fifth series championship runner-up finish. If that happens, his consolation will be a simply outstanding season. In his first full season driving for Hendrick Motorsports, Martin has five wins, second only to Jimmie Johnson’s series leading seven victories.
Kyle Bush could be the guy outside the Chase to watch. Bush nearly pulled off the ultimate sweep at Texas, winning races in both the Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide Series before falling just short of in the Sprint Cup race when he ran out of gas in the race’s final moments.
Busch is obviously on a roll. He’s closing in on winning the Nationwide Series Championship with eight wins and a 247 point lead over second place driver Carl Edwards heading into last weekend at Phoenix. Then, just for fun, Busch entered a few truck races throughout the year and won seven times. Although he did not make the Sprint Cup Chase this year, he did win four Cup races, for a grand total of 19 wins in NASCAR’s three top series in 2009.
Speaking of Kyle Busch, Steve Addington has been the crew chief for Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Sprint Cup car for the past two years, but a week ago Sunday at Texas, Joe Gibbs Racing replaced Addington with Dave Rogers on Busch’s Cup series car. Rogers and Busch have worked together in the Nationwide Series and were familiar with each other, but the Texas race was the first time they worked together in the Cup series. Busch dominated most of the day at Texas leading 232 laps of the scheduled 334 laps, only to run out of gas in the final laps.
Rogers joined Joe Gibbs Racing in July of 1999, where he worked with Greg Zipadeli on Tony Stewarts Home Depot car. He worked side by side with Zipadeli from 1999 until 2005, when he became crew chief of JGR’s third Nationwide series car.