Full Steam Ahead!
Jimmie Johnson and Team Lowe’s rarely find themselves in uncharted territory, but this weekend marks the beginning of just that…sort of.
Since the Chase was restructured to its current elimination style format in 2014, the six-time champs have yet to advance further than the second round of the Chase, thanks to mechanical gremlins. But, the No. 48 team are, as noted, six-time champions. So being in the title hunt in November isn’t exactly a dive into the unknown for Johnson and crew.
As a matter of fact, this is their favorite time of year. Nearly one third of the team’s 78 wins, 25 to be exact, have come in the Chase. If you want to talk Chase statistics, the alliteration ‘Jimmie Johnson’ is going to have your tongue all twisted. JJ leads just about every statistical category in the Chase races: races as Chase competitor (115), wins (25 – more than double second place), top 5’s (60), top 10’s (81), top 20’s (98), laps led (5886), average finish (9.48), and poles (13). The only major category he doesn’t lead is points earned as a Chaser – but he sits second in that category.
The aforementioned 25 wins as a Chase competitor don’t include two wins from the past two seasons after Jimmie had been eliminated from the Chase – so his total win count in Chase races is 27. Nearly half of those, 13 wins, have come at the next three tracks which make up the Round of 8. All told he has 18 wins total at Martinsville, Texas, and Phoenix. Here’s a breakdown of each track:
Johnson will be the second best driver at Martinsville this weekend, as teammate Jeff Gordon makes his final scheduled start filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. A ninth win would tie Johnson with Gordon for the most among active drivers.
If Johnson can lead 254 laps, he will eclipse 3,000 laps led at the “Paperclip.” He accomplished this feat earlier this year at Dover when he became just the seventh driver in NASCAR history to lead 3,000 laps at a single track. If he can double down this weekend at Martinsville, he will be just the fifth driver to do it multiple times (along with Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Rusty Wallace, and Darrell Waltrip).
Last fall, we gave Jimmie the nickname “The Lowe’s Ranger” for his Lone Star State success. Jimmie leads every major statistical category at Texas except for poles and average start, which he more than makes up for at the finish of the race. Teammate Chase Elliott has a better average finish due to his fifth place finish in his only start there this spring.
Johnson can make more history at Texas. If he can win his fifth straight Texas Fall race, he will become only the second driver in history to win an event five times in a row: “The King” Richard Petty won five in a row at Richmond in the early seventies, and six in a row at North Wilkesboro at the same time. Twelve times a driver has won four in a row.
While all four of Johnson's wins came before the track was repaved in 2011, he still finds himself the second best driver in the desert behind Kevin Harvick, who owns Phoenix like Johnson owns Dover. If Jimmie still needs to race his way into the final round in “The Valley of the Sun,” it would be unwise to bet against he and his trusty No. 48.
There are no certainties, especially in racing. We learned that the hard way last fall in Dover when a fifty cent part knocked Jimmie and Team Lowe’s out of the title fight at their best track. The No. 48 running well these next three races is a safe bet based on the numbers. If we were racing the record book, we’d already be locked in the final round. But the hunt for #se7en isn’t nearly that easy. So here we come Round of 8! Let’s go racing and see who comes out the other side…