Yes, the points will be completely reset following the Sprint Cup Series' next visit to Richmond, but it's hard not to notice the commanding points lead that Jimmie Johnson has built up during the first quarter of the season.
Despite sustaining damage in the aftermath of a spin with Tony Stewart, Johnson finished 12th on Saturday night at Richmond, which extended his lead to 43 points over new second-place driver Carl Edwards. That margin is essentially an entire race; it's the base points a driver gets for a win minus a point for leading a lap and three bonus points for the win.
In the three years of the Cup Series' new points system, it's the largest lead a driver has had through nine races. Last year, Greg Biffle was the leader by five over Dale Earnhardt Jr. In 2011, this year's roles were reversed and Edwards left Richmond nine points ahead of Johnson.
Johnson's been able to build that lead by maximizing poor performances. He had a tire issue and hit the wall earlier in the year at Bristol but still finished 22nd, his lowest finish of the year.
How does Johnson's lead stack up going even further back? Through 2001, the first year that the series expanded to the since-standard 36 races, only Jeff Gordon has held a bigger lead through the first nine races. Gordon's lead in 2007 was 207 points over Jeff Burton. And being the leader at the quarter pole is nothing new for Johnson. (Under the old scoring system, a driver received 185 points for a win until an additional five point bonus for a win was added in 2007.)
2001: Dale Jarrett, 145 point lead
2002: Sterling Marlin, 109
2003: Matt Kenseth, 51
2004: Dale Earnhardt Jr., 94
2005: Johnson, 130
2006: Johnson, 21
2007: Gordon, 207
2008: Burton, 22
2009: Kurt Busch, 5
2010: Johnson, 26
Pssst, 2006 and 2010 were also the bookends to Johnson's five-year title reign.
If Penske Racing wins its appeal Wednesday and gets the points penalties against Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano overturned, then Johnson's lead is down to a measly 34 points. But even that stacks up to well to the points leads at this point in time over the last 12 years. Will we see a nine race stretch like this in the Chase?
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