Crunching numbers after Charlotte

October, 20, 2009

In addition to being a fan of the more traditional sports, I'm also a big poker fan.

Try to control your disbelief. Yes, a guy who makes a living dealing with statistics and other numbers also enjoys a game based largely around odds and strategy.

Well, the biggest event of the poker year is the World Series of Poker, and the main event final table decides who will win millions upon millions of dollars. Money usually reserved for bloggers, right? Anyone? Bueller?

The only problem is that the final table is taped and edited down to fit into a reasonable amount of time for TV. So, working at the Worldwide Leader, it's hard not to find out who wins unless you go out of your way to sequester yourself that day.

Enter Jimmie Johnson.

Now with a 90-point lead in the Chase, Jimmie Johnson is another ultimate spoiler. It's obvious he's the best in the sport right now, but he doesn't have to shove it in our faces. It seems obvious that he's going to win the title now, although some of us (me) hold out hope that Talladega or any other race could still shake up the standings. It's not that I'm rooting against him, I'm just looking for it to be a little tighter.

So this is what Johnson's become. He's the guy who tells you the ending of the movie while you're standing in line. He tells you what you're getting for Christmas at Thanksgiving dinner.

Or maybe he won't win, odder things have happened. But this blog is going to give Johnson his due.

Patriot games

For the sake of this section, Jimmie Johnson will be playing the role of Tom Brady, and standing in for Bill Belichick is Chad Knaus.

If you followed along with the NFL action on Sunday, you probably noticed that the New England Patriots led the Titans 45-0 at halftime. New England wasn't the only team to wrap up a great first half over the weekend. Jimmie Johnson has amassed 893 points in the first five races of the Chase, the most in Chase history.

Most points in first five Chase races
Season -- Driver -- Points
2009 -- Jimmie Johnson - 893
2007 -- Jeff Gordon - 840
2008 -- Jimmie Johnson - 838
2004 -- Kurt Busch -- 830
2004 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- 811

Of course, Gordon didn't go on to win the championship that year, but Johnson's 90-point lead is the biggest at this point of the Chase in the six seasons of the Chase's existence.

Trivia break: Who held the previous record for biggest Chase lead after five races?

Follow the leader

Jimmie Johnson's now led 16 straight races at Charlotte, but it's not like we're going somewhere where he's even better.

Wait, what's that? Johnson's won five of the last six races at Martinsville? Oh, snap.

Well, let's take this middle section to take a big-picture look at the man in the 48. Johnson got his 46th career win at Charlotte on Saturday night, and he draws ever closer to joining that elite group of drivers who've won 50 races.

The 46 wins ties Buck Baker for 13th on the all-time list. The big difference there is Johnson got his 46th win in his 286th start just after turning 34.

Baker got win number 46 in his 502nd start at the age of 45.

Trivia break: Who's next up for Johnson on the all-time wins list, ranking 12th all-time with 48 wins?

Flashback time

In the 1997 Daytona 500, Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte and Ricky Craven finished one-two-three.

The next week at Rockingham, Gordon was again a winner. Craven finished fifth and Labonte seventh, giving Hendrick the top three drivers in points. By the way, who else misses Rockingham?

That, after the second race of the 1997 season, was the last time three drivers from the same team held the top three spots in the Cup Series points. That is, until Saturday night.

Yes, 450 races later, it's Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon occupying the top three spots in the standings, giving Hendrick another trifecta.

Trivia break: Who was the last set of teammates to finish a season ranked first and second in points?

Trivia break answers

1) You don't have to go back too far. Jimmie Johnson led last year's Chase standings by 69 points after five races.

2) Next up is 1951 and '53 Cup Series champion Herb Thomas, with 48 wins. That might just be enough for two weeks.

3) Don't strain yourself thinking. It was just two years ago when Jimmie Johnson won the title over Jeff Gordon.

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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