You know the story by now: Jimmie Johnson is on the march for his fifth straight Sprint Cup title. While many fans (and, apparently, quite a few drivers) have thrown their hands in the air and given up, we're taking a slightly more scientific approach. As we near the inevitable (or not), we're watching to see where Johnson was at this point in the season during each of his previous four championship runs. Is there reason to hope, or reason to despair? Guess what: there's both!
2010: Only two drivers, Denny Hamlin (41 points back) and Kevin Harvick (77 points back) are within 100 points of Johnson's lead. But Hamlin and Harvick have to consider Charlotte at least a minor victory by not letting Johnson get more than a few points up on them.
2009: Johnson was rolling here; the only guy within 100 points was Mark Martin, and Ol' No. 5 was 90 points back. This year was fast becoming a victory lap, not a race, by this point.
2008: Another strong five-race performance by Johnson had him 69 points up on Jeff Burton and 86 points up on Greg Biffle. Of note: Johnson's strongest challenger that year, Carl Edwards, had yet to make his run.
2006: Jeff Burton was running the show here, with Matt Kenseth 45 points back and Kevin Harvick 89 points back. Johnson was in 7th place, 146 points back. And we all know what was coming soon.
So there you have it. In the years when Johnson has held the lead, this Chase is closer than any other. And in years when Johnson didn't hold the lead, it's obvious that someone can make a charge from deep in the field. Will they? Can they? Have your say on the odds of No. 48 capturing No. 5.