When you’ve won five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles – all consecutively – you become the odds-on favorite to win another.
Add to those credentials that Jimmie Johnson tops the standings heading into the regular season’s final seven races. Johnson’s lead ballooned to 56 points on Sunday, a record since the point-per-position system was introduced in 2011.
Yet, Johnson’s domination is deceptive.
Effectively, his lead is zero. Johnson has four victories. So does sixth-ranked Matt Kenseth.
If the standings reset occurred today, Johnson and Kenseth – also a former NASCAR Sprint Cup champion – would enter the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ in a 2,012 point dead heat. Each top-10 Chase qualifier receives a base of 2,000 points after Richmond’s Sept. 7 event with three bonus points added per victory.
Johnson and Kenseth are virtual locks to qualify for the Chase, 175 and 55 points, respectively, ahead of the current 11th-place driver Martin Truex Jr. So, too, are the remainder of the top seven that include Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch.
Only Bowyer and Earnhardt are winless among the group.
From there, it gets interesting; very, very interesting.
Eighth through 11th positions are separated by 24 points. From 10th through 14th, the margin is seven markers. Twentieth place – Paul Menard – is just 36 points out of the top 10.
Sunday’s New Hampshire race again produced “comers” and “goers.”
Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski righted the Penske Racing ship, at least for a week, using a fourth-place finish to vault from 13th to ninth. He is joined in the top 10 by Kahne, who gained two positions.
The losers were former champions Kurt Busch, ninth to 14th and Tony Stewart, 10th to 13th.
They say there are no guarantees in stock car racing.
The 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup regular season certainly is proof of that.