Friday, November 19, 2010

Did Jimmie Johnson get a free ride to a fifth consecutive championship?

   The last thing I would think either Denny Hamlin or Kevin Harvick would want to do would to give Jimmie Johnson any advantage going into the final race of the Sprint Cup season.

   Qualifying over the last few weeks hasn't really meant much on race day for any of the three drivers still in contention for the title. All three have qualified poorly of late but all three have ended up running in the top-10 during the race.

   But still, with everything on the line, with every point for Johnson another step toward a NASCAR-record fifth consecutive title, why wouldn't Hamlin or Harvick's teams try to at least keep pace with Johnson in qualifying?

   Everyone mentions how Hamlin won the Ford 400 a year ago from starting 38th. Two things come to mind. First, Hamlin was out of the title hunt last year and had nothing to lose. We have no idea if his team would or will make the same choices with more at stake.

   Second, in the past four title runs by Johnson, he has entered the Homestead finale with a big points lead and no reason to race hard or push it. Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, admitted as much this week on a teleconference.

   The bottom line? We don't know how good Johnson can be here because we really have no idea how good he could have been in the past four races.

   So, now Johnson starts way up front (sixth). His competitors will start from the back (Harvick 28th and Hamlin 37th).

   Is it possible any of the three can still win the championship on Sunday? Of course.

   But there is no way I would want to start that process without at least being able to see the rear bumper of Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet.