Can Johnson and Knaus be Stopped at Four?
Unless you just got back from a mission on the international space station or you have been living with monks in Mongolia you are probably aware that Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus, and the entire Rick Hendrick organization wrote a new chapter in the NASCAR history book at the Miami-Homestead Speedway last night.
For Johnson and Knaus it was, of course, their fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Something no one else has ever done. For Rick Hendrick it was having team cars finish the year in the top three points positions, something else that no other team owner has ever done.
The Chad Knaus led team has taken the NASCAR Chase format and turned into a personal science project. They have, without question, the best equipment in the sport and Rick Hendrick hires the best people available. But it takes more than that. There are lots of other teams out there with good equipment and talented people.
The difference is the way these guys approach the entire season. They never try to lead the points before they have to. They look at the first 26 races as a preliminary to the real race. Just as a long distance runner doesn’t run his fastest right out of the starting blocks, the 48 team doesn’t peak until the last ten races of the year.
Look at the numbers. Over the course of the entire season Johnson’s average finish was 11th. If you count just the first 26 races he has an average finish of 12.7. In the last ten races, during the “Chase”, his finishing average jumps to 6.8. The team won seven races in 2009, four of those coming after the start of the ten race “Chase”.
If you throw out the 38th place finish that resulted from his crash in Texas, Johnson never finished lower than 6th during the “Chase”. That one bad race in Texas was also the only “Chase” race in which Johnson failed to finish on the lead lap. Over the entire season the 48 car completed 98.2% of all the laps.
By comparison, Mark Martin, who was Johnson’s closest competitor finishing second in the points, had an average finish for the season of just under 14th. He had 4 DNF’s to Johnson’s 1, and completed “only” 95.1% of the season’s laps. No one else was close.
It’s well known that Chad Knaus takes an extremely analytical approach to his job. He studies every detail of the sport and leaves absolutely nothing within his control to chance. And even when things occur that are beyond his control, like the early crash in Texas, he has a plan to minimize the damage to the points.
His system works almost to perfection and there is no reason to think that anything will change. Other teams would do well to study what these guys are doing and try to copy it as best they can. But they’d better get started because there’s also no reason to believe that the 48 team can’t do it again.
Is a fifth consecutive championship possible? A sixth? Dare we suggest a seventh?
No one thought it was possible to win four!