Jimmie Johnson's 25th-place finish at New Hampshire leaves him 92 points behind Denny Hamlin after the first race of the Chase — a sizable margin even though there are nine races left. But history tells us that Johnson still has a very good shot, even if he struggles in the next few races.
In the 2006 opener, Johnson was involved in a mid-race crash that pushed him all the way back to ninth place in the standings, trailing points leader Kevin Harvick by 139 points. And we all know who the champion was at the end of the season.
However, it wasn't like Johnson started reeling off top fives the next week at Dover. In fact, he didn't get his first top 10 of the Chase until the fifth race at Charlotte where he finished second.
Johnson finished 13th at Dover, and left the Monster Mile in eighth, still trailing by 136 points. After finishing 14th at Kansas, he was still in eighth place — a whopping 165 points down. And after getting spun by Brian Vickers while going after the win at Talladega, Johnson left with a 24th-place finish and a 156-point deficit.
One thing that's not working in Vader's favor this time, however, is the strength of the 2010 Chase field. It seems inconceivable on the surface that Johnson could make up more than 150 points and leapfrog seven drivers, even if he does what he did in 2006. (He racked up a win, four seconds and a ninth over the final six races.) But Johnson did the majority of that work in three races. By the time he left Atlanta in the seventh race of the Chase in 2006, he was up to second, just 26 points behind Matt Kenseth.
So no, don't start counting Vader out yet. And if you are, how much you want to bet that Johnson leads the points standings after Fontana in three weeks?