Play Fantasy Use your Fantasy skills to win Cash Prizes. Join or start a league today. Play Now
Blog Entry

Is Johnson just a product of NASCAR's system?

Posted on: November 16, 2008 10:17 pm
 

Jimmie Johnson added his name to the history books with his third consecutive championship, but for many fans, those championships come with an asterisk.

For better or worse, Johnson is a child of the Chase era. The Chase, of course, is derided by many traditionalist NASCAR fans.

I myself wrestle with my feelings for the Chase. I love the idea of the Chase ... in theory. In practice, not so much.

Since the inception of the Chase, we've continued to track the standings under the traditional point system on the site. Check them out for yourself.

In three of the five seasons -- including two of Johnson's three championship seasons -- the driver who won the Chase, would not have won the title under the cumulative standings.

Jeff Gordon would be a six-time Cup series champion if not for the Chase. Last year, Gordon had one of the greatest seasons in the history of NASCAR, finishing outside the top 10 in just six races. It would have amounted to a 353-point victory in the final standings of the traditional point system. He wound up finishing 77 points behind Johnson in the Chase.

Gordon was also a loser in the very first version of the Chase, which was won by Kurt Busch, who would've finished a distant fourth, 247 points Gordon, under the traditional points.

This season, Carl Edwards came up 69 points short of Johnson in the Chase. In the cumulative battle, Edwards was a 16-point winner, and that's in spite of a 100-point penalty.

Which brings me back to my original point. Does the Chase taint Johnson's titles?

Sure it's debatable whether  winning three consecutive titles under the tradtional system like Cale Yarborough is a greater feat than winning three straight under the Chase system (in fact, expect Pete Pistone and I to do just that on Tuesday), but in terms of grading Johnson's greatness, does it/should it matter?

It's not Johnson's fault he's operating under different rules than those of the past.

But in the hear and now, he's running under the same system as everybody else. And he, crew chief Chad Knaus and the rest of the 48 team have flourished and done what they've needed to do to win the titles under the given system.

If you want to knock Johnson's championships, that's your perogative, but there can be no denying his 40 career Cup victories.

And that's in 255 races. A winning percentage of nearly 16%.

His 40 wins already rank him 15th all-time. At his current pace, it stands to reason that in two or three more years he'll crack the top 10 with Rusty Wallace' 55 wins, which ranks eighth, not too far out of reach.

And then it's time to tackle the pantheon of NASCAR's greats, with Dale Earnhardt's 76 victories seventh all-time.

So while traditionalists may try to knock how Johnson has come about his three championships, there should be no question that he's one of the all-time NASCAR greats -- under any system.

Category: Auto Racing
Comments

Since: Aug 30, 2006
Posted on: November 20, 2008 10:17 pm
 

Is Johnson just a product of NASCAR's system?

The comparison of bygone eras to today's Chase makes for good discussion, but its not a valid argument, I believe, because the overall level of competition is much better these days. Look at 1973, when Benny won the championship. How many wins? How many lead lap finishes? It was very common in those days to be lapped and get a top-10 finish. Today? Ask Robby Gordon or Dave Blaney how that's working out..

Bigger point- drivers don't get to choose the system, only race in it, and JJ had the exact same odds as the other drivers in all the three years he won. Last year's run should have ended this argument, but as long as there is a Chase, there will be this discussion. JJ is a damn fine driver, one of the best ever, and until someone, anyone, takes the title from him, he has earned the right to be considered the favorite. He is not a product of the Chase, he owns the Chase.




Since: Oct 10, 2006
Posted on: November 20, 2008 11:45 am
 

Is Johnson just a product of NASCAR's system?

Very rough Chase for Kyle as well as the rest of JGR, it's true.  But I think the guy's still the goods, and he'll be back next year breathing fire.  Jimmie undeniably holds the crown of greatest driver in NASCAR, the one he wrested from his teammate, but if there's anyone around that my money's on to take that crown, it would be the driver of 18.  I bet the kid has three or four championships and 50 - 80 wins in him before all is said and done.  Maybe more. 

I think the two drivers most likely to join the ranks of the immortals and one day be named alongside Petty, Pearson, Earnhardt, Waltrip, Yarborough and Gordon are Jimmie (who's about three years from being there anyway) and Kyle.




Since: Aug 15, 2006
Posted on: November 19, 2008 12:33 pm
 

Is Johnson just a product of NASCAR's system?

Brian, surprise, surprise, I'm going to disagree to a point on the 18 and Kyle.  When Kyle realized he was out of the chase you saw him start to do things, like moving out of the way of the leaders or not pushing the issue with chase drivers, like he did during the regular season.  I know on a couple of occasions that he didn't push Carl Edwards any at all when Carl caught up to him in the Cup races,  Nothing like he did in the Nationwide races all the way through Homestead.

So in this instance I have to agree with Section that Kyle did back off after he realized his chase dreams were over.  You asked what happend to the 18 and why they became so mediocre, my question is what happen to JGR period.  They had a very rough chase.




Since: Aug 14, 2006
Posted on: November 18, 2008 1:01 pm
 

Is Johnson just a product of NASCAR's system?

Hey Section,

I'll to disagree (respectfully of course) with one aspect of your comment. You state

This year, JJ did well enough to make the chase which is what he set out to do the first 26 races, his approach may have been different if it was the old system. Also, under the old system, Kyle Busch would have still been in the hunt even after the three bad races. After that I think the spark went out, and he was just out there running laps, and trying not to mess up the season for people still in the hunt. If we are playing the if game, then you can't rule out Kyle.

I think in year's past when teams (mostly the points leader) felt secure enough that they were going to make the Chase, they might have experimented a bit. I don't think that was the case this year with NASCAR giving the 10-point bonus for winning. Kyle Busch was winning everything in sight, there was no need for the 18 team to start messing with a good thing. And Johnson, in fact, carried a two-race win streak into the Chase. So there was no backing off by the top teams. Edwards, Johnson and Busch combined to win 10 of the 11 races heading into the Chase.

I also tend to doubt Kyle was simply riding after his season went in the tank. I know he can be petulant, but that kid wants to win. His title hopes may have sank after the first three races of the Chase, but there was plenty left to accomplish like adding to his total for NASCAR combined wins in a season.

So why then was the 18 team so average during the Chase? No clue. That's one of the great mysteries of the 2008 season. There was some bad luck (karma some might say) to be certain, but luck doesn't explain the nearly complete 180 from the regular season to the Chase.




Since: Aug 16, 2006
Posted on: November 17, 2008 7:35 pm
 

Is Johnson just a product of NASCAR's system?

If JJ continues to get 6+ wins a year he will be considered one of the greatest drivers of all time. He will never overcome the fact that he won 3 championships under the chase format. In my opinion Cale Yarborough's accomplishment is bigger than JJ's, but to even win 3 years in a row in the chase format is a big accomplishment. 
As far as who would have won under the old point system, it is pretty much impossible to figure out since under a different format drivers would approach the whole season differently. This year, JJ did well enough to make the chase which is what he set out to do the first 26 races, his approach may have been different if it was the old system. Also, under the old system, Kyle Busch would have still been in the hunt even after the three bad races. After that I think the spark went out, and he was just out there running laps, and trying not to mess up the season for people still in the hunt. If we are playing the if game, then you can't rule out Kyle.



Since: Oct 10, 2006
Posted on: November 17, 2008 12:16 pm
 

Is Johnson just a product of NASCAR's system?

An honor to be replied to by one of the resident experts. 

It's true that a more aggressive Johnson might have wrecked.  Of course, there's no way to tell.  It's also true that in the 2000 presidential election, Bush might have beaten Gore anyway had the popular vote system been in effect because he'd have campaigned differently.  Of course, there's no telling there, either. 

But frankly, Brian, if there's anyone in all of Sprint Cup who my money's on to go fast when it counts yet avoid the catastrophe, it's JJ--he's really proven himself a master of it.  Couldn't be said to the same degree about Edwards or Stewart or many of the others who are, on any given lap, just as fast as JJ ever is (and for that matter, Edwards may be faster at his peak, but of course, there's always the danger that he pushes outside the limits of that envelope, as he did at Talladega--again, not a fault that you see with JJ).

As for your larger point, I agree, with qualifications.  The system does seem a bit unfair to the likes of Jeff Gordon, who seems a bit starcrossed by it.  But of course, people drive differently under this system, so even those years this or that driver got jobbed, as many fans will contend, it's qualified by the fact that drivers would have driven quite differently had the old system been in place.  Just hard to say one way or the other.

Nonetheless, Brian, you raise a fair point.




Since: Aug 14, 2006
Posted on: November 17, 2008 10:04 am
 

Is Johnson just a product of NASCAR's system?

mikeyfan and mrw,

I don't disagree with you, almost certainly the 48 team would have run a different race strategy would the points have been tighter. Perhaps you missed my greater point that the 48 team is doing what they need to do under the "given" system.

But I must point out mrw, if you're going to complain about the concept of extrapolating Edwards winning the title based on the actual stats we have at hand, you shouldn't turrn around and assume Johnson would have won the championship regardless. There are no facts to back that up. Maybe a more aggressive Johnson ends up wrecking. Who knows.

Just like the NASCAR point system, the "what if" game has it flaws. The main gist of this blog was to point out that many fans are going to compare the stats under the old system and the Chase and see that Johnson would have only one cumulative-based title.  They're not going to recall that Johnson played in conservatively in the final race. Again, it's not necessarily something I agree with, but it's out there.




Since: Oct 10, 2006
Posted on: November 17, 2008 8:46 am
 

Jimmie Would Have Won Under Pre-Chase System

The flaw with your reasoning is in not putting this statement in context: "In the cumulative battle, Edwards was a 16-point winner..."

You and I and every NASCAR fan in the world (including my boys, the 7 year old, 6 year old and 4 year old) all know that if the race had been run with pre Chase rules in effect, Jimmy would have run differently.  He raced an ultra conservative race and finished where he needed to win the overall championship.  Had he less a cushion, he'd have run differently.  He almost certainly would have won the championship irregardless.  You know that, Brian, and you could have thrown one sentence into the article to that effect that would've made it an intellectually honest take.  In your defense--which I do occasionally come to, in spite of your bias, you do acknowledge the fact that we're witnessing the rise of one of the all-timers here.  I will give you that.




Since: Aug 15, 2006
Posted on: November 16, 2008 10:45 pm
 

Is Johnson just a product of NASCAR's system?

Brian, I agee that JJ has to be considered in the top eschelon of drivers in this sport, past and present, his winning percentage alone, as you pointed out, supports that claim.  However, it may be another 20 years before the fans acknowledge what he really accomplished with his championship.  You state if under the old system Carl would have won by 16 points, but then again you have to say that JJ would have run this race just a little different too. 

The complaint I really have with his championships, is the changes NASCAR made in the points for the chase from the start to today and the tweaks they will probably make in the future to try to make it more exciting coming down to the last race.  And it may be unfortunate but he may have to rely on his total career wins for his place in NASCAR history and not his championships as others fall on. 

I too like the concept of the chase but I do believe it needs more tweaking to keep the interest with the not so hard core fans.  But it is going to be a short winter speculating on what changes can be made to spice up the chase and the regular season. 



The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com