With four straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles, the Jimmie Johnson era is upon us. While that feat is unprecedented, Johnson is not the only current driver who is a four-time champ. Johnson’s car owner, teammate and friend Jeff Gordon also has four titles and next year, no doubt, the Gordon and Johnson Drive for Five will be upon us. All of which begs the question – at least, in my head – whose four titles are the most impressive, Gordon’s or Johnson’s?
Gordon earned his four championships in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001. Racing under a different point system and with a different style of car, Gordon’s stats outshine Johnson’s four-year run.
Johnson was able to score his titles using consistency and a lack of DNFs, while Gordon benefited from pure domination. In their four title years, Gordon scored 36 wins to Johnson’s 29. Gordon led the series in wins each championship season, while Johnson did it twice, in 2007 and 2009.
The two went head-to-head for the title in 2007 with Gordon taking the advantage during the opening weeks of the Chase. Then Johnson won four in a row over the last five races to earn his second series title.
Excelling during the Chase has put the No. 48 team on a different level than the competition. Johnson has made the ten-race playoff for the last six years and successfully won the title the last four. He is also far ahead of the competition when it comes to Chase wins. Over the last six years Johnson has 18 wins in the final ten events, twice as many as Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards – both of whom have six.
Without the Chase, Gordon is the man to beat. Had the Chase format not been implemented in 2004, Gordon would not be a four-time champion; he would be one away from Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt’s record with six titles. In 2004, Gordon finished third in the Chase, but he would have won the title under the old system by 47 points. Gordon also would won the championship in 2007 over Johnson by a staggering 353 points; instead he lost by 77.
Looking at the stats it appears Johnson’s championship runs the last four years have not been as dominant as one might think. The Chase has tightened the competition, but Johnson and his team – led by crew chief Chad Knaus – have been able to hit their stride when it mattered. As dominant as Johnson, Knaus and company are, they never have dominated the way Gordon did in 1998 when he scored 13 wins, 26 top-5s, 28 top-10s, seven poles and an average finish of 5.7.
While some might see this as the Jimmie Johnson era, it is clear the Chase has helped propel his team to the top of the sport. Johnson’s seasons were never dominant until the final ten events, but given the system, that is what it takes to win.
So whose four titles were more impressive? The stats point to Gordon, but there is no arguing with Johnson’s performance over the last four years. Neither of these drivers shows any signs of slowing and they should be championship contenders for years to come. Bring on the Drive for Five.