In a perfect world, every chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship would go down like it did in 2011. Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards were tied, with the advantage going to Smoke, because he had more wins. Who could argue that? Alas, it’s not a perfect world, and the five-time champion Jimmie Johnson- whom some would liken to Darth Vader- has thundered past Matt Kenseth took the points lead, albeit by a razor thin margin of four, and appears also to have an advantage down the home stretch.
If you’re a Jimmie Johnson fan, you have to like the road ahead. Of the four races that remain, two possess a decided advantage for Johnson, with another pretty close between Five Time and Matty Ice (sorry Matt Ryan. I couldn’t resist- the name fits Kenseth well.) One other track is a toss-up.
Are you tired of people calling Johnson “Five Time?” How about “Mr. Martinsville?” This race coming up weighs heavily in Jimmie’s favor. He’s won enough (eight) grandfather clocks, his house must be a very loud place at the top of the hour! In the last five Martinsville dates, the ’48’ has two victories and an average finish of 5.4. Poor Kenseth doesn’t even make the top 13 for driver rating, though his 15.8 career finishing average at the “Paper Clip” isn’t terrible by any means. If Kenseth isn’t careful, Johnson could darn near put the Chase out of reach for Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick or any other contender with any hope of catching him.
Texas is darn near a draw for the two. Both have two career wins in the Lone Star State, and Kenseth’s average finish is just a tick better (8.5 to 9.1.) The good news for Kenseth deals more in the realm of recent (2013) history, where the 2003 champion has been winning the mile and a half tracks.
The advantage at Phoenix has to go to Johnson, though it’s worth noting that Johnson finished second at PIR earlier this season, while Kenseth was a more than respectable seventh. Career-wise, Johnson has four wins, tow Kenseth’s one, and even when the ’48’ hasn’t won, their finishing average of 6.5 tells you a great deal about how well the Hendrick Motorsports team has fared, even when they don’t grab the trophy.
Homestead-Miami may be the wild card if these two are still running neck and neck. The Florida track is one of only three (Michigan and Watkins Glen are the others) tracks where Johnson hasn’t won. still, it should be noted that usually by the time this race comes along, he hasn’t had to race all that hard, because either he could play the NASCAR equivalent of the “prevent defense” or he was clearly out of the running. Kenseth has a win at the track, but nothing in his history there necessarily suggests a huge advantage either.
Kenseth fans can take consolation in that he is writing a new history in his inaugural season with Joe Gibbs Racing, after over a decade with Jack Roush. He’s winning races and running better than he ever has; so who’s to say his hopes are finished? Kenseth has another chance to re-write history Sunday, and if he does, 2013 will prove to be a battle like none other Johnson has had before. What we do know is this: both of these drivers are like two hormonal teenagers chasing the prom queen. One is very aware of what the other is doing, both are mentally strong, and one will be poised to zip past the other should one slip. At the moment, Johnson has a slight lead and a firm knowledge what’s ahead. It will be fun to watch this play out.