Gimme Five: Jimmie Johnson Captures Fifth Consecutive Sprint Cup Title, Among NASCAR Elites
To the victor goes the spoils, and in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, it means Jimmie Johnson captured another championship winning season.
Much like The Beatles reeling off solid albums one after another, even in their most tumultuous periods in the late 1960s, the El Cajon, Calif. racer and his crew chief Chad Knaus just keep finding ways to win when the odds are stacked against them.
Coming into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Johnson and his No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet team found themselves in an unfamiliar position - trailing the points leader rather than heading into the Ford 400 race weekend as the pacers themselves.
Most of the focus was on the title contending trio of Denny Hamlin, Johnson, and Kevin Harvick, marketed as NASCAR's "Young Guns" last decade and currently carry the veteran badge on their sleeves.
Hamlin and Harvick were the raw, aggressive, and hungry drivers who were ready to pounce and capture the title from the Johnson dynasty. While Harvick remained the more relaxed of the two challengers, Hamlin was intense and determined to fulfill his word last year that he'd be the man to win the title this year.
What about Team Johnson?
Well, just like the Miami sun, which embraces and soothes beach goers (and apparently the Miami Heat's "Tres Grande"), there was an air of quiet but resolute confidence with the No. 48 team.
They've been here before, having battled for titles since their rookie season. From their heartbreaks in 2004 and '05 to their dynastic march towards stock car immortality from 2006 onwards, Johnson and his crew knew that all they had to do was give it their all on race day.
In hindsight, the title race was probably decided earlier than expected, especially from the moods of the Hamlin and Harvick camps, who struggled mightily with their qualifying efforts (37th and 28th, respectively).
Meanwhile, the blue and white No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet piloted by Johnson grabbed the sixth qualifying spot, which virtually seemed like a pole position in comparison to his title rivals.
Essentially, in spite of the votes of confidence with the No. 11 and 29 camps, the inevitable was going to unfold on Sunday afternoon.
So how did the Johnson Express deliver once again on a championship, which vaulted them ahead of four-time titlist (and co-car owner) Jeff Gordon?
Simply put, when the results truly mattered, especially during Chase time, no other team gets it done unlike the No. 48 team.
After their gaffe at Loudon, NH, in which they placed 25th, they never dipped below the top 10 for the remainder of the Chase. Witness:
- They captured the checkered flag at Dover, DE, starting off their nine consecutive top-10 finishing streak,
- Placed second on two occasions (Kansas and Homestead),
- Captured third twice (Fontana and Charlotte), and
- Finished fifth at Martinsville, seventh at Talladega, ninth at Texas, and fifth at Phoenix.
While most observers will point to their ninth place finish at Texas as the turning point of the title race, which ultimately salvaged their championship efforts, the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte last month defined this team's season as a whole.
Consider how early in the race, Johnson found himself in trouble, spinning out of control along the backstretch. Shaken but not defeated, the No. 48 team rallied around its driver, urging their way from a sub-30 finish to a third place result.
Sure, their summer stretch was about as successful as Brett Favre convincing Minnesota Vikings fans that he's the right QB.
Nevertheless, when the leaves went from green to red, instead of stopping to reflect, Johnson and company went on a torrid streak, taking no prisoners along the way to clinch a fifth consecutive title.
Winning a championship in any sport requires total dedication on all aspects of discipline and focus, which is something that Hendrick Motorsports has emphasized with its previous winners like Gordon and Terry Labonte.
In fact, when you consider what HMS' winning trio share in common with one another, it's the fact that they're among the most cool mannered individuals in the sport.
Fans may like a fiery personality like Kyle Busch, Harvick, or Hamlin, who tell it like it is and aren't afraid to ruffle some feathers with anyone. (And speaking of ruffling feathers, how about the Harvick/Busch accident in the closing stages of Sunday's Ford 400?)
Even so, in the big picture, it takes a composed individual to take in the insanities of competing in 36 points races, traveling, fulfilling sponsor obligations, and all the likes and privileges that come with being a sports star.
For all the talk that Johnson gets for being "vanilla," perhaps that's what his detractors eat when they complain about NASCAR's first dynasty since the Earnhardt/Gordon era of the 1990s.
Far from the predictable, dull personality often attributed to the 35-year-old, he's shown his true colors and let loose...literally.
He sports a beard that Paul McCartney would have envied during the Let It Be sessions, mocks himself in an online video, dabbles in other racing series during the off-season, and has shown his emotional side when he becomes Jimmie Johnson, father of Genevieve Marie.
Perhaps this solid unit may capture a sixth straight championship next year, which would certainly incite polarized reactions among fans and media personalities who feel a new champion would be a nice change in the sport.
Years from now, his accomplishments will probably receive the due credit it deserves, especially when his numbers and stats are reflected with the greats of NASCAR racing.
In terms of next season, there's a chance that Johnson will finally lose a title race as well, simply because of other teams catching up to the No. 48 Chevrolet.
And why not?
Carl Edwards and his No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion team, with crew chief Bob Osbourne, went from an 0-for-70 winless streak to sudden two straight race victors, crossing the line first at Phoenix and Homestead-Miami in as many weekends.
Ford Motor Company, in particular Roush-Fenway Racing, cannot be discounted next season. Perhaps it's reliability with the RF-9 engine or the fact that Edwards hasn't forgotten how to drive a racecar.
Still, they still have a ways to go before catching up to the likes of Toyota's Joe Gibbs Racing efforts as well as the Chevrolet triumvirate of Hendrick, Childress, and Stewart-Haas.
That said, until the first haulers pull into Daytona International Speedway for the 2011 Daytona 500, there'll be about two months to reflect and discuss about the season that was in NASCAR, which has once again crowned Jimmie Johnson as Sprint Cup titlist for an unprecedented fifth straight time.