The last two weeks have been pretty much all Jimmie Johnson, all the time – and rightfully so. No one has ever won four titles in a row before. But the close of the 2009 season featured strong finishes by a handful of drivers who put the rest of the field on notice that they plan to run up front in 2010.
First off, let's see which drivers were able to score more points in each third of the season. They are highlighted in blue here.
Johnson and Mark Martin both kept getting better as the season progressed. That’s how you contend for a title. We also see Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer from Richard Childress Racing. They ended the year on a positive note and should be Chase contenders in 2010. Also notice Greg Biffle and A.J. Allmendinger, who quietly kept scoring more points as the season progressed. Allmendinger made some great gains in 2009 and might have a David Reutimann-esque "almost-make-the-Chase" type year in 2010.
At the bottom of the pack is John Andretti, who did his job in keeping the No. 34 car above the top-35 line in owner points.
Now let's take a look at some of the different organizations.
Starting off with Hendrick Motorsports, we see that its top three guys kept getting better, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. kept getting worse. I wonder if this trend will continue, or if Earnhardt will be able to join the group as a meaningful competitor.
Next up is Stewart-Hass Racing. It started the year strong, but did not do well during Chase time. Was its great early start just a matter of luck, or can it repeat that again in 2010? Notice it did just as well as RCR in the final 12 races. Is Stewart-Hass more in line with RCR quality or Hendrick quality?
Speaking of Richard Childress Racing, that team did a good job of getting its act together by the end of the year. Look for it to have good momentum going into 2010. It seems the team figured out how to compete again, especially over the last two races.
Taking a look at Joe Gibbs Racing, Denny Hamlin stayed strong all year long and people are now talking about him as a title contender for 2010. Kyle Busch resurrected his season by outscoring many Chase drivers during the closing stretch. And finally, the big gains Joey Logano made during the season should keep continuing into 2010. Joe Gibbs Racing should be stronger next year.
Our last team to consider is the about-to-be-shrunk Roush Fenway Racing. It never really made any strides all year, and its only bright spot was Carl Edwards’ decent run during the middle portion of the season. But remember that Edwards went from nine wins to zero in a year. Not a very good sign. More bad news: Matt Kenseth kept getting worse as the year progressed. Roush did not show any signs of improvement (like Gibbs and Childress) late in this season, so its fortunes don't look so great heading into 2010.
(All Left Turns contributor Dale Watermill is the creator of the Watermill Score and the FLOPPER Award and edits the racing statistics blog 36 Races. E-mail him at email@example.com.)
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