Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sprint Cup 2009, Race 34: Deep in the Heart of Texas

Texans are known for BIG thinking and it will take something BIG to derail Jimmie Johnson’s march to his fourth consecutive championship with three races remaining. The Sprint Cup action runs at Texas Motor Speedway tomorrow with Jeff Gordon on the pole, Mark Martin starting seventh, while champ in waiting Jimmie Johnson starts twelfth in competition that could all but finalize Johnson’s bid for the big reward given he is essentially a full race ahead of Mark Martin leading by 184 points and Jeff Gordon by 192 points. Johnson would have to finish dead last with no laps led and Martin would have to win the race to swap the lead. All Johnson has to do is show up and start to be more than a race ahead of Jeff Gordon.

In the shadow of the 2009 World Series where the New York Yankees won their 27th championship who won multiple championships chained together many times, sports fans can appreciate just how significant Johnson’s accomplishment is. He is already tied with Cale Yarborough for the most consecutive championships. Winning the 2009 Cup puts him alone with the record. Additionally, his fourth championship put him in the company of only Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, and Jeff Gordon with four or more championships. Even more spectacular, keep in mind that Johnson began his full-time career in 2002. In eight seasons, four straight championships and 46 wins. If that’s all not hot enough, he missed winning his first championship in 2004 by just eight points behind Kurt Busch, the first year of “The Chase” format. He also finished second in his sophomore year, 2003. He finished fifth in his other two seasons, 2002, his rookie year and 2005.

There’s no way to determine just how powerful Johnson’s accomplishments are given NASCAR has become obsessed with creating technological parity for race teams and he’s up against some very stiff competition from within his own organization, Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush-Fenway, and Richard Childress, all multi-championship operations. Look at Richard Petty’s dominance at the peak of his career when he often clearly had superior equipment and few teams could compete full-time at a highly competitive level. How does Johnson’s racing size up against the King’s? If we can compare his accomplishments to Petty’s than who plays the roll of David Pearson or Bobby Allison? Dale Earnhardt battled Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace as his most notorious rivals while Jeff Gordon rivaled Earnhardt himself during most of his championship runs. Perhaps Tony Stewart could be that figure if his operation continues to grow in year two. Many see multiple championships in Kyle Busch’s future. However, for 2009, Johnson dominates like he never has before.

Fans who watch Sprint Cup races for the battle to crown a championship, there is not much to stay tuned to the remaining three races, but for fans who love good racing and realize there are plenty of drivers who could provide an exciting win, the last three races are full of good old tire smoking action. Can a Roush driver pull in another victory? Could things pull together in proper fashion of Dale Earnhardt Jr. to gain a moral victory? He starts 9th on Sunday. One can never rule out the Busch brothers.

Remember Sprint Cup fans, former New York Yankee, Yogi Berra observed, “It’s not over ‘til it’s over.” However, if you stick a fork in it, let’s be honest, the roast is at least a nice juicy rare going into the third to last race.

Let’s see who’s still hungry.

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