Top 10 reflections on Jimmie Johnson's fifth straight Sprint Cup championship aboard the Lowe’s Chevy of Hendrick Motorsports.
1. Yes. Now it’s a dynasty for the No. 48 team and Johnson. What’s missing from thedynasties enjoyed by the Yankees, the Boston Celtics, the Green Bay Packers or John Force are the intense rivalries with other teams and competitors during the regular seasons and in the post-seasons. Chalk this one up to a driver determined not to get drawn into controversy or a rivalry. Gentleman Jimmie wins again.
2. Denny Hamlin's championship bid ultimately proved as weak as his slogan of wanting to be the guy who ended Johnson’s streak of titles, which he offered up with all the determination of a kid asking for a train set at Christmas. A combination of Kevin Harvick’s psychological methodology – “the sport needs a new champion” – and Hamlin’s driving skills would have been a better one-two punch. Instead, Hamlin played the Virginia gentleman and ended up making the classic mistake. He tried not to lose instead of being determined to win. Starting with an extremely poor qualifying performance on the Miami-Homestead Speedway oval, he never looked, sounded or acted like the guy destined to end Johnson’s streak, especially when he got too anxious and hit Greg Biffle on just the 23rd lap, damaging his front splitter.
Even when you have the cattle, you have to wear the big hat.
3. Can a crew chief win a championship? No, but he can lose one. One had the impression that once Hamlin made his mistake, crew chief Mike Ford felt he needed to take charge, because Hamlin tends to get in a funk when things go wrong. Ford’s decision to initially keep adjusting the FedEx Toyota of Hamlin to account for the out-of-kilter front splitter and a skewed right front tire toe-in was a good choice in terms of track position. But Ford took the race out of Hamlin’s hands when he waited too long to tell his driver to come down the pit road for fresh rubber with 66 laps to go. Ford seemed to get as anxious as Hamlin. Not the stuff of champions. The subsequent strategy to short pit was predictable and didn’t accomplish much, either.
4. Harvick versus Kyle Busch. The latter could have expected to be hit by Harvick after a slide job late in a championship chase. If Harvick lifts or tries to cross over, he puts himself at least one more position behind or possibly in an accident. Couldn’t agree more with Harvick’s “clown” description of his, um, fellow competitor in this late-race incident. There’s a double take on this. This incident brought out the caution that doomed Busch’s teammate Hamlin to the wave around.
5. Was this a great race? I doubt it will be compared to the drama of 2004 in Homestead, the uber-drama of 1992 in Atlanta, or any of the other closer championship finishes in terms of points. Barring the pit strategy mistakes by the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team, we might have added another colussus to the trophy cabinet of the great championship finishes. Alas, not to be.
6. It was an outstanding race in front of a full house. All the elements that made the 2010 season so much more fun to watch than anything since 2004 were present. Car adjustments were crucial to the outcome of the title as well as Carl Edwards’ second straight victory in the Roush Fenway Racing Ford. Pit strategy and execution on stops were huge. There was more side-by-side than at the discount mall on Black Friday (well, almost). The track conditions changed due to occasional cloud cover and teams had the ability to keep up with changing conditions now that the COT is so much more user friendly. A multitude of teams ran up front, including those not in the Chase such as Michael Waltrip Racing, whose Martin Truex Jr. led 62 laps, Red Bull Racing, whose Kasey Kahne won the pole, and Richard Petty Motorsports, a team led by the unlikely tandem of A.J. Allmendinger and Aric Almirola and a team that acted like it will be competing for the championship next year despite the current financial problems.
7. How good a driver is Jimmie Johnson? That’s like asking if Bill Russell could play center or if Johnny Unitas knew how to quarterback. Johnson has trailerized not only his teammates, who have 140 career Sprint Cup victories between them and went winless on the season. He’s put out to pasture all the drivers in the most competitive motor racing series in the world. This is the seventh straight year that Johnson has put himself in a position to win the championship going into the finale. A big hat’s off to Jimmie for his first come-from-behind-in-the-finale title.
8. Has Johnson’s streak of championships really been ho-hum? Well, he makes it look easy (even when it isn’t). He may manifest the smoothness and talent of a David Pearson. But unlike the Silver Fox, he has no trademark like coming from behind at Darlington nor is there a rivalry like the one Pearson had with Richard Petty. And, let’s face it. A lot of the racing was pretty boring over the course of Johnson’s streak until NASCAR and the teams finally worked the kinks out of the COT, which has saved us all from the aero-twitchy predecessors. Not Jimmie’s fault, but the problems on the track put a lot of emphasis on the winning driver’s personality. Having worked with Johnson over the years, quite honestly I think the only thing missing when you compare his demeanor and interaction with the fans or journalists versus that of the ever-popular Richard Petty is a southern accent.
9. If Johnson had the personality and wit of Kyle Petty, we’d have the NASCAR version of John Force on our hands. Whoa!
10. We are now destined to watch the countdown to seven or eight championships by Johnson, in his prime at age 35, crew chief Chad Knaus and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team. They’ve got one for the thumb, next it’s three more to the millennium of title streaks. Who in the field at Homestead is likely to stop them? Carl Edwards, get out of those grandstands and come on down!
Jonathan Ingram has been writing full-time about the world’s major motor racing series and events since 1983 for newspapers, magazines and web sites. Jonathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.