Crunching numbers: Is five the sweetest?

November, 23, 2010

Well, here we are again. I guess it must be fate.

But enough Peter Cetera, for now at least.

This seems very similar to where we left off about this time last year, but at the same time, it's very much different. To me, this was the most impressive of his championships, not because of what he did, but because of what he didn't have.

2007 might be his most impressive season, with the 10 wins, and 2006 was something special, because it was his first title, but something struck a chord with me with this season. Mostly because Johnson didn't seem to have the dominant car, especially at the end of the season. But Johnson and the No. 48 team avoided disaster, and fired away with those championship-type days, top-10s while keeping a clean nose.

Johnson finished the year with nine straight finishes of ninth or better, leading in five of those races. he posted two seconds, two thirds and two fifths along the way. It was that consistency that eventually caught up with the other men in the Chase, and made history for Johnson.

He has now joined Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty (heard of them?) as the only men to win five Cup Series titles. He's given Hendrick Motorsports its 10th title, more than any other team has won at this level. And HMS also became the first team to win five straight titles, all of those, of course, coming from the man now known as Cinco, Jimmie Johnson.

And I've got more!

High Five

As I've explained above, winning five titles is impressive. Only Earnhardt and Petty are on that list with Johnson, and that's in the three NASCAR National Touring Series. Winning five straight? Well, that's unprecedented in NASCAR, and puts him up there with some of the great dynasties in sports history.

In the major professional and college sports, you've got the 1949-53 Yankees, the 1956-60 Canadiens, the 1959-66 Celtics and UCLA men's basketball from 1967-73. In major motorsports series, you have John Force in NHRA Funny Car from 1993-2002, and F1's Michael Schumacher from 2000-04.

So, whether you like the run of titles or not, let's take a moment to appreciate the rarity of it all.

Trivia break: We've seen the list of five titles, which two drivers have won four NASCAR National Touring Series titles?

Don't Call It A Comeback

Let's not forget in all the madness that Johnson came into the finale trailing for the first time that late in the season since 2005. He's the first driver to make up a points deficit in the final Chase race to win the title. And, since NASCAR switched to the modern points era prior to the 1975 season, he's just the third driver to come from behind in the final race, joining Petty (1979) and Alan Kulwicki (1992).

But it also capped off a great year of comebacks across motorsports. Going to the final race of their respective seasons, IndyCar's Dario Franchitti, Formula One's Sebastian Vettel and NHRA Funny Car's Force all trailed in the standings, and all three went on to hoist the trophies.

Impressed? You bet I am!

Trivia break: Who was leading the IndyCar, F1 and NHRA Funny Car standings with one to go?

Two to Tango

Don't think I've forgotten that Carl Edwards, fresh off a long winless stretch, is entering 2010 on a two-race winning streak. Hey, two's a streak!

If you think that's a precursor to a championship, it's not necessarily the case. The last time a driver ended the season by winning the final two races was Jeff Gordon in his 1998 championship season. The next year, he finished a disappointing sixth in points.

Only three other drivers have ended a season by winning the final two races. Buddy Baker did it in 1975, and he was fifth the next season in points. Bobby Allison did it in 1967 and Junior Johnson in 1958, but they both finished 11th in the next season's points, however they didn't run the full schedule.

Trivia break: That was Edwards' second Homestead win. Who is the only driver to win there more?

Trivia Break Answers

1. Jeff Gordon and Ron Hornaday Jr. each have four titles.

2. Will Power (IndyCar), Fernando Alonso (F1) and Matt Hagan (NHRA Funny Car) all lost their points leads in the final event.

3. Greg Biffle has three Homestead wins.

Matt Willis | email

ESPN Staff Writer
Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.



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