Jimmie Johnson found yet another way to beat the competition Sunday, this time during a bizarre finish at Talladega. As much as this Mark Martin fan hates to say it, Johnson is going to coast to the title unless he has three bad races in a row. And what are the odds Chad Knaus is going to let that happen?

First off, we can officially eliminate Denny Hamlin and Brian Vickers from contention. Anybody who is more than 483 points behind can’t catch Johnson. After next week’s race, anybody 322 points back will be eliminated. Of course, we know we don’t have to wait that long for the official elimination, because our advanced math already tells us only two guys have a chance at catching Johnson, and that chance is really small. Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin have a combined 1.4 percent of beating Johnson.

How could Johnson lose the title? Take a look at the results of three races earlier this year: Richmond (May), Michigan (June) and Atlanta (September). In those races, Johnson finished 36th, 22nd and 36th. Jeff Gordon finished 8th, 2nd and 8th. Mark Martin finished 5th, 1st and 5th. If the next three races have results similar to those three, then Johnson would lose. In that case, Martin would win with 6,564 points, Gordon would be second at 6,520, and Johnson would be third with 6,470.
Obviously this is not a likely scenario – cherry-picking three of Johnson’s worst races and hoping that pattern repeats itself consecutively. This just shows that it’s not likely, but still possible. It’s Johnson’s title to lose.
Consider another example: Martin has 6,064 points. The maximum he can earn from now until the end of the season is 195 times 3, or 585 points. That would leave him with 6,649 points. Johnson has 6,248 points, so he needs another 401 points to beat Martin’s maximum. That’s an average of 134 points per race over the final three races. Tenth place is awarded 134 points, so if Johnson rides around and gets 10th place each week, there is no way he loses the title.
I wonder if Jimmie and Chad will start taking it easy now.
(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 36races@gmail.com.)


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