COMMENTARY | Is anyone surprised after another dominating win by Jimmie Johnson at Pocono on Sunday?
If you are, you must be from another planet, as it's become the trademark of the five-time champion over the past decade -- lead early, lead often and take the checkered flag (that's 63 total wins so far, and he's got probably five years or more left in his driving career; so he'll likely end up behind David Pearson at 3rd all-time in the wins list before he's done).
Meanwhile, all the competitors (including his compatriots at Hendrick Motorsports) are left cursing to themselves, wondering what Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and the 48 team are doing that they are not doing. It's got to be frustrating.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had an awesome day, and several chances to get past Jimmie Johnson on late restarts and take the win. Every time, Johnson got the better start and checked out on his popular but win-challenged teammate at Hendrick.
All the other people competing near the top of the point standings have good weeks on a regular basis, but they're not Jimmie Johnson's style of good. Their definition of a good week is Jimmie's definition of a bad week. He can't compare himself to what they're doing, because he has set a very high bar for himself.
Let's look at the points to see what's really happening. Carl Edwards is somehow still second in the points, but he's kind of an afterthought since he's rarely competing for the lead and doesn't have the speed that Johnson has. How often this year has Carl run in front of Jimmie? Not much. That's because the Fords are pretty much struggling right now (compared to overall Chevy and Toyota performance), and will have a hard time making a serious title run.
The same story goes for 3rd place in points, Clint Bowyer. He's fast each week, but not Jimmie Johnson fast on a regular basis.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., fourth in points now, had a chance to topple his teammate this week, but was not able to climb that mountain . That's because while Jr. is having a fine year and has been very competitive overall, the reality remains that he and all the other Hendrick drivers (not to mention the rest of the field) will continue to be in Jimmie's shadow as long as the 48 team continues to have weekends like they had at Pocono.
DominanceWhy is this so? Well, logic would dictate that Jimmie and the 48 team are just better than them at the moment. Whether it's driver, crew chief, pit crew or a combination of the three, it's noteworthy that whenever Jimmie has an off-week, that's reported as news because that is so rare. Everyone else in Cup, including all of Jimmie's Hendrick teammates, have off-weeks all the time, so it's not really news if they run mid-pack. If you see Jimmie mid-pack, that jumps right out at you, because it's not how this team operates.
Barring last week's restart mistake, the dominant result by Jimmie that we saw at Pocono this week would have happened then too, and we would be talking about Jimmie having four wins this season instead of 3. Jimmie has momentum now and he'll probably knock out a couple more wins, at least, before the Chase starts, putting him in a dominant position in the points when the Chase begins due to bonus points for those wins.
So here's the nightmare scenario facing Jimmie's competitors: Even if they run great for the remainder of the regular season and finish in the top two or three in points, they'll still be a good amount behind Jimmie Johnson when the Chase begins. And with all of the Chase tracks being strong Jimmie Johnson tracks (are there any weak tracks for Jimmie?), the Chase might as well be renamed, "Can anyone catch Jimmie?"
The answer to that, it appears based on recent activity and the team's history, is Capital N, Capital O. I'd love to predict someone will step up unexpectedly and take the crown like Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski did the past couple years. But the reality is that kind of scenario doesn't happen every year. Some years, a guy is just dominant, and barring extremely bad luck (accidents, part failures, bad pit stops, etc.) that person is going to be your champion.
Prior to the Pocono race, I had maintained that no driver has been dominant so far in 2013. But after Pocono, I have to revise that to say that Jimmie is putting on a clinic, and it's one of those situations where the Cup series is currently Jimmie Johnson's world -- and the other drivers are just living in it and fighting for the scraps that Jimmie leaves behind.
If he can pull off another Cup title, that would put him at 6, one behind Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty. Then the endless debate can be renewed as to how he compares to them, or if the Chase setup and different eras make Jimmie something less than those two legends. If he can reach or even pass seven titles , the debate will get even more intense.
I recognize that very few baseball fans want the Yankees to win the World Series, most NBA fans are rooting for the Spurs over the Miami Haat, and most NASCAR fans don't want Jimmie Johnson to keep rattling off titles nonchalantly like he's just picking up the mail.
But that doesn't mean those things won't happen.
Because right now, Jimmie Johnson and the 48 team are just better than everyone else.
Matt Myftiu lives in Michigan, has been a walking encyclopedia of NASCAR since immersing himself in the sport over 15 years ago, and has worked as a journalist for two decades. His blog on the sport, NASCAR: Beyond the Track, has been published by The Oakland Press for the past 5 years. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu.
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