Welcome to From the Marbles' 2014 season previews. Here's how we think the Chase will shake out in this first year of 16 drivers and eliminations. Will we be right? Unlikely, but it's fun to think about our soothsaying possibilities until the green flag waves for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 23.
Driver: Jimmie Johnson
2013 Finish: 1st
2013 Highlight: We're allowed to choose something other than the championship, right? It's too cliche. We'll go with the Daytona 500, as Johnson ended up bookending the season with trophy raises.
The win was further proof of the utter goofiness that restrictor plate racing can entail. Remember Johnson's plate 2012? He crashed out of the Daytona 500 early in the race, blew an engine at Talladega in the spring, and crashed again at Daytona in July. His best finish was 17th in the Talladega fall race.
In 2013, he won at Daytona again in July and was fifth and 13th at Talladega.
2013 Lowlight: The stretch from Michigan to Richmond was brutal, but Johnson had been so good through the first 22 races that he didn't lose the points lead until the reset after Richmond. And while some people thought the swoon was a sign of things to come for Johnson, it was simply the No. 48 team excreting the bad finishes from its system.
Why is Johnson here? Because he's the defending champion. And face it, if you have one race and can only pick one team and driver to put all of your savings on, you're taking Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. Any discussion about "Jimmie-proofing" the Chase is absurd. Sure, the final winner-take-all race format lends itself to randomness, but it doesn't make the No. 48's bid any less formidable.
How could Johnson not be here? Can you think of a plausible scenario that sees Johnson attempting every race in 2014 and missing the Chase? Neither can we. He's never finished below 6th in his Sprint Cup career. You think that's going to happen now?
Best Winter Olympic event: Given Johnson's diverse motorsports background, he'd be a contender in the new Slopestyle event that debuted this year.
Worst Winter Olympic event: Would there be anything he would be bad at? Yeah, we've said figure skating for a lot of other drivers, but if Johnson was a bad skater, Knaus would simply engineer a pair of infallible skates for him.
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