Jimmie Johnson’s third straight Sprint Cup title no doubt puts him in a league of his own when it comes to present-day Cup drivers. Only Cale Yarborough has ever been able put three championships together before Johnson, and there is no reason not to believe that Johnson will not distance himself from Yarborough next season by winning his fourth consecutive title.
Maybe the only real threat to Johnson’s fourth title run in ’09 is this season’s runner-up, Carl Edwards. By any standards, Edwards put together the kind of season that in most other years would have him headed to New York City and the head table when it is time for NASCAR to hand out the big bucks. Unfortunately, Edwards put together his own monster of a year during the same season that Johnson was chasing some history of his own.
Edwards and his Roush- Fenway team won nine races which were better than Johnson’s seven and the early season dominator Kyle Busch who ended up with eight. The stat sheet didn’t just favor him in wins; he also posted the most top-5 and top- 10 wins of any driver in the series. Comparing those finishes with those of Johnson shows that he had four more top 5’s with 19 and also posted 5 more top 10’s with a total of 27. Those numbers would have been good enough to win the title under the old point system but that was then and now it appears that Jimmie Johnson has the lock on how to win a title over the last 10 races that make up the Chase portion of the Cup schedule.
Johnson’s consistency over the Chase keeps the pressure on the rest of the field and almost makes it impossible for any driver to have a bad day and still be in the hunt when the series heads to Miami for the last race of the schedule. Edwards not only had one bad race during the Chase, he had two.
Talladega and Charlotte were nightmares for Edwards as he finished 29th at Talladega and 33rd at Charlotte, but he still was able to put together the kind of Chase run that found him still with a chance when Miami’s green flag waved. During the last six races of the Chase he actually outscored Johnson but with Johnson being consistent at every stop on the Chase, his two poor finishes had already sealed his fate.
In the end it was a historymaking year for Johnson and a statement year for Edwards where he showed the rest of the sport that he and his team were ready to not only compete for a title but to actually win a championship. Both teams will be there come next November as both are expected to keep their teams intact and benefit by being part of large organizations that make sure they have everything to be successful.
It’s never to early to start picking a favorite for next season and it is never a bad thing to go with a guy that has three straight titles, but let’s not forget there is a driver that just came up 69 points short this year who knows how to win races and run for the title. It’s a long season that runs from February to November and anything can happen, but you just got to think that one of if not both of these drivers will be there battling as the final laps go off the board to determine the 2009 Sprint Cup champion.
GARAGE TALK: The biggest obstacle now facing the series concerns the future of the manufacturers. Toyota sales are down but not even close to the problems that General Motors, Ford and Chrysler are experiencing. There is no way to predict what will happen if one or more of these manufacturers have to leave the sport but it seems every owner is starting to tighten up the belt around his organization. Many teams have already cut back their payrolls by laying off workers while some other teams are still trying to piece together just enough sponsorship to would allow them to be at the track next season. One thing for sure, the number of cars funded well enough to compete for the title will continue shrink and the number of cars that we see show up at the track just to try and make the field will also continue to shrink. It could be some lean times ahead for the sport, but NASCAR is healthy enough to weather some tough economic times and continue to provide us with a highly competitive series.