Johnson's quest for No. 4 right on track

Updated: October 19, 2009, 2:53 PM ET

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Three-time defending Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson is the man to beat in 2009 ... again.

If NASCAR doesn't want Jimmie Johnson to win a sixth straight Sprint Cup title -- conceding this one already and figuring the next one is wrapped up, too, because next season's schedule is set -- it'll need to change the 2011 Chase schedule.

Johnson is too good at the 10 current playoff tracks. He knows it. His competitors know it.

"Yeah, they [Johnson's team] have something magical about the final 10 races," Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon said after finishing second to Johnson on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. "You know, these 10 tracks really suit them."

So something has to change, otherwise the No. 48 will continue on this torrid pace of 16 Chase wins in five-plus seasons. Those wins, by the way, are as many as Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards each have for their careers, and more than Ryan Newman (14 wins), Kasey Kahne (11) and Kevin Harvick (11) each have.

"It really boils down to the fact that the tracks in the Chase are my strongest tracks," Johnson said, repeating what he said after winning at Dover. "If you look at Martinsville, if you look at all of them … this track, you go through them, and they are tracks we win at."

It's up to the governing body to fix that. Here are 10 recommendations to consider:

• Bristol Motor Speedway: Johnson is winless here with only -- and "only" is relative where Johnson is concerned -- eight top-10s in 16 starts and an average finish of 15.9.

• Infineon Raceway: I've always said the Chase needs a road course, and this may be Johnson's worst track statistically speaking. He has no wins and only three top-10s in eight starts with an average finish of 17.4.

• Michigan International Speedway: No wins here, either, and only six top-10s in 16 starts with an average finish of 16.0. And remember, Johnson is not very good in fuel-mileage races, and this is a fuel-mileage track.

• Watkins Glen: Why not two road courses while we're adding one? The average finish of 13.0 isn't bad, but he has no wins, so he wouldn't get bonus points, and he has only four top-10s in eight starts.

• Chicagoland Speedway: The good news is he has no wins here. The bad news is he has been out of the top 10 only once in eight tries for an average finish of 8.1. But that's still not as good as his record at many tracks in the Chase and well below his average finish of 3.75 through this year's first four Chase races.

• Homestead-Miami Speedway: Again, no wins here, and he has only five top-10s in eight starts. He even crashed here in 2005.

• Richmond International Raceway: OK, so he has three wins here. He also has seven finishes of 20th or worse and only four top-10s in 16 starts with an average finish of 18.2. Did you really think we could find 10 tracks where he hasn't won?

• North Carolina Speedway: I know, they'd have to add it back to the schedule first. But for the sake of keeping Johnson from winning the title, it would be a good thing. Johnson has no wins and only two top-10s in five starts here with an average finish of 23.2. That'd stop momentum.

• North Wilkesboro: No wins. Forget the technicality that he never raced here before the track was closed. And the advantage would swing to Gordon, who has a win and five top-10s and is one of the few who have been around the track.

• Daytona International Speedway: The season finale needs to end here instead of Homestead anyway. A plate race also would add some drama in case the title already is decided. Besides, Johnson isn't great here. Yes, he won the 500 in 2006, but that was with Darian Grubb, not Chad Knaus, as his crew chief. During the past seven races here, he has an average finish of 23.4.

You already can hear Tony Stewart repeating what he said at Dover when I suggested the regular-season champion get 50 bonus points before the Chase begins. Something about not being smart enough to reinvent the wheel or the points system.

For the record, with the bonus, Stewart would be within 34 points of Johnson instead of 84 heading into Saturday's race at Lowe's Motor Speedway, where Johnson has five wins with an average finish of 9.1.

And if NASCAR would switch to the tracks above, Stewart would have a decided advantage because he is much better than Johnson on road courses. He wouldn't need lucky days like he had at California, where he overcame a pit-road mistake that put him a lap down to finish fifth.

The revised schedule also would give Greg Biffle, Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Newman, Kahne and Brian Vickers, all 188 or more points behind first with six races to go, reason to believe Johnson could have a hiccup that might allow them back in the Chase.

Otherwise, there's no reason to think Johnson won't win the championship again. Juan Pablo Montoya, who is 58 points behind despite four top-5s, admitted he simply is trying not to lose many points.

He lost 25 on Sunday despite finishing third. He's 58 points back despite an average finish (3.5) that is better than Johnson's.

He needed a little luck as well, avoiding a crash when Hamlin decided to cut in front of him on a restart that took Hamlin out of Chase contention.

Johnson doesn't need luck. He just needs the Chase schedule to remain the same.

Nationwide Series: Edwards on the prowl

Somewhat lost in Saturday's postrace drama of Tom Logano, the father of winner Joey Logano, flipping off Greg Biffle and having his hard card yanked was a substantial gain in the standings by Carl Edwards.

Edwards finished third at California to cut 90 points into Kyle Busch's lead with five races remaining.

Of course, he needed some luck. Busch led 36 laps with a car capable of winning. But he had to be replaced by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin on Lap 39 because of flu-like symptoms, and Hamlin was involved in a late-race incident with Biffle and his archnemesis, Brad Keselowski.

Hamlin admitted he was so focused on Keselowski, with whom he'd had a confrontation two weeks ago at Dover, that he didn't realize Biffle had a good run. He faded up into the Roush Fenway Racing car and wrecked, leaving Busch with a 31st-place finish.

Busch was hot afterward, but with fever and not anger at Hamlin.

Logano's father was hot with anger because Biffle had put his son into the wall early.

Edwards was happy because his deficit was down to 155 points with some good tracks ahead. Asked whether he can make up the difference, Edwards said, "There are five races left, and that's only 32 points a race, so we can do that."

Why not? Edwards won last year at three of the remaining tracks -- Memphis, Phoenix and Homestead. He was fifth (Charlotte) and second (Texas) at the other two tracks.

Camping World Truck Series: Convoy moves to Martinsville

The series had the weekend off and will resume in two weeks at Martinsville Speedway.

David Newton covers NASCAR for He can be reached at



You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?

ESPN Video

Racing Resources Says …

Sprint Cup Series

Jimmie Johnson


  • Jimmie Johnson won the Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway. It marked the third straight victory by Johnson in the fall race at California. He scored his fourth Cup win in 14 races at California, the most by any driver.
  • A Chase driver won the 21st straight Chase race.
  • Johnson scored his 45th career victory in his 285th start. He took over sole possession of 14th on NASCAR's all-time wins list.
  • Johnson took the points lead by 12 over Mark Martin. Johnson scored his fifth victory in 2009, tying Martin for the most by a driver in 2009. It marked his second victory in the four Chase races. He also won at Dover.
  • Johnson has won a race in eight consecutive seasons (2002 to 2009).
  • Johnson scored his sixth straight top-10 finish at California.
  • Hendrick Motorsports earned its eighth victory at California, the most by any team.
  • Johnson scored the 11th win for Hendrick Motorsports this season.
  • Johnson led 10 times for a race-high 126 laps, including the final seven. Johnson has led in 41 of the 54 Chase races. He has led in 25 of the 30 races this season, the only driver to do so.
  • Johnson's worst finish in the past 30 Chase races is 15th (Texas and Homestead in 2008).
  • Chevrolet has scored 16 wins in 2009, leading all manufacturers. Toyota has nine, while Dodge has three and Ford has two.
  • Jeff Gordon (second) scored his fourth straight top-15 finish at California and second runner-up finish in the Chase. He finished second at Kansas. Gordon has finished second in eight of the 30 races in 2009.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (third) posted his best finish and first top-10 in six races at California. Montoya is the only driver to score top-5 finishes in all four Chase races. He remained third, 58 points behind new points leader Johnson.
  • Martin (fourth) scored his seventh straight top-10 finish, extending a streak that began at Bristol.
  • Tony Stewart (fifth) scored his third top-10 finish in the past four races at California. He has been running at the finish in the past 53 races, the longest current streak.
  • Carl Edwards (sixth) scored his fifth straight top-10 finish at California.
  • Matt Kenseth (13th) ended an eight-race streak of top-10 finishes at California.
  • Kyle Busch (24th) ended an eight-race streak of top-10 finishes at California.
  • Jeff Burton (30th) has finished 16th or worse in the past 16 races since Michigan in June.
  • Joey Logano (14th) was the highest-finishing rookie of the year contender.
  • Denny Hamlin (37th) was the lowest-finishing Chase driver at California.
  • Elliott Sadler (32nd) ended a 52-race streak of running at the finish (accident).
  • The top 10 consisted of seven Chevrolets, two Fords and one Dodge.

Nationwide Series



  • Joey Logano won the Copart 300 at Auto Club Speedway. It was Logano's sixth Nationwide win in his 38th start and his first at California in his third start there.
  • Logano won his fifth race of 2009, ranking second among all drivers to Kyle Busch with six.
  • Logano won the race from the pole for the third time.
  • Logano has won in three of his past five starts.
  • Logano led three times for 20 laps, including the last seven.
  • Joe Gibbs Racing won its 11th race of 2009, the most of all teams. It was JGR's fourth victory at Fontana, all in the past four races there.
  • Toyota won its fourth race at Auto Club Speedway and its 12th of 2009.
  • The 10 cautions set a track record; the old record of eight happened three times.
  • The race ended under green-white-checkered conditions for the eighth time in 2009 and the first time at Auto Club Speedway.
  • On Lap 39, points leader Kyle Busch was replaced in the car by Denny Hamlin. Busch had led 36 of the first 38 laps of the race. Hamlin was battling for the lead with 10 laps to go when he was involved in an accident with Greg Biffle. Hamlin finished 31st, while Biffle finished 14th.
  • Brian Vickers (second) posted his best Auto Club Speedway finish in his sixth start.
  • Carl Edwards (third) posted his 20th top-5 finish of 2009. He gained 90 points on points leader Busch and is now 155 behind.
  • Brad Keselowski (fifth) posted his eighth consecutive top-5 finish.
  • Michael Annett (sixth) was the best-finishing rookie of the year contender for the fifth time this season.
  • The top 10 consisted of three Toyotas, four Chevrolets and three Fords. Mike Bliss (13th) was the best-finishing Dodge.

-- Racing Resources