Jimmie in position for one more

Published 9:43 pm Friday, October 1, 2010

Don’t look now, but Jimmie Johnson is positioning himself to win an unprecedented and unbelievable fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

Johnson won his sixth race of the 2010 season last Sunday at Dover and, in the process, jumped four positions to second in the standings, 35 points behind leader Denny Hamlin.

The standings remain tight after the first two races of the chase with only 83 points separating Hamlin, the leader, and Jeff Gordon in eighth. But, like the great Yogi Berra once said, “This is like déjà vu all over again.”

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No one has even remotely approached Johnson’s success the last 10 races of the season. There are eight races left in the season. Of those eight tracks, Johnson has won 24 career races at seven of those tracks. Only Homestead has not seen Johnson celebrate in Victory Lane.

To put into perspective how impressive those 24 wins are relative to the rest of the current top-five in points, Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick have a combined 17 career wins at the next eight tracks.

Of course, most anything can happen the rest of the season and while some are saying that there is no clear-cut favorite to win this year’s championship, Johnson is moving down the same path as the last four years. I’m not ready to crown him the champ just yet, but I think this championship is his to lose.

Last Wednesday, Richard Childress and Clint Bowyer had the opportunity to explain to NASCAR’s Appeal Panel why the 150-point penalty and hefty fine given to Bowyer should be reduced or overturned. While not a big surprise, the appeal was denied and the stated penalties will stand.

Pulling out all stops to get the championship-ending penalty for Bowyer reversed, Childress even brought an accident reconstruction expert to the appeal hearing. The expert witness provided “scientific evidence” that the sixty-thousandths of the inch variance was caused by the wrecker pushing Bowyer’s car to Victory Lane after the win at New Hampshire. It didn’t work.

Childress, acting like a man with something to prove, pledged to take the appeal to the next, and final, level. Retired General Motors executive John Middlebrook is NASCAR’s Chief Appellate Officer, formerly known as the NASCAR commissioner.

Middlebrook will hear Childress’ argument next week. If, and that is a big if, Middlebrook’s ruling is different than the appeal panel, get ready for landslide calls for change in NASCAR’s penalty process, a process that many in the sport say is flawed.

Kansas Speedway is next on the schedule, the first of three consecutive races on 1 1/2-mile tracks, Sunday afternoon. Tony Stewart is the defending champion of this race and Smoke desperately needs a great finish to improve his championship standings and move up from his current 10th place position in the points.

A chaser will win the race, but it will not be Stewart. My pick to win Sunday at Kansas is Jeff Gordon.