Friday, March 8, 2013
Johnson poised for jackpot in Las Vegas?
By Matthew Willis, ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN Stats & Information
Jeff Zelevansky/Nascar via Getty Images
Jimmie Johnson will try to keep his momentum going in a place where he's enjoyed plenty of success.
It’s hard to start a season any better than with a Daytona 500 win, but Jimmie Johnson has kept up the momentum with a second-place finish last week at Phoenix.
Now, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Las Vegas, a track where Johnson has won four times, twice the total of any other driver.
In five of the last eight Sprint Cup Series races at Vegas, Johnson has finished in the top two. If he makes it six of nine this Sunday, Johnson could become just the fifth driver in the modern era (starting in 1972) to start a Cup season with three consecutive top-two finishes.
The last to do it was Johnson himself in 2006, the only driver to pull off the feat in the last 15 seasons. In that season, Johnson went on to win the first of his five consecutive championships. Three of the four drivers to pull off the feat in the modern era went on to win the series title that year.
Las Vegas is one of seven tracks where Johnson is either the outright wins leader or tied for the track record in victories. The Sprint Cup Series has 23 different tracks on its schedule this season.
If Johnson and the 48 team picks up a fifth win at Vegas, it would give Johnson at least five wins on five different tracks. In Cup Series history, there are only eight drivers to have won at least five times on five different tracks. Seven of those eight are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and the eighth, Jeff Gordon, is a lock to be enshrined at the end of his career.
Even if Johnson finishes third, fourth or fifth, he can join some select company. Over the last five Sprint Cup Series seasons, only one driver has started a season with three consecutive top-five finishes: Greg Biffle last season en route to a fifth-place finish in points.
Other Strong Contenders
But Johnson is not alone in that quest. Both defending series champion Brad Keselowski and 10-time defending Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. have also started the season with back-to-back top-five finishes.
He will have a couple big challengers for the win, including Tony Stewart, who has finished second and first in the last two Las Vegas races. In those starts, he’s led 290 laps. No other driver has led more than 70.
Last week’s winner, Carl Edwards, also figures to be a factor. He’s finished sixth or better, with two wins, in four of the last six Las Vegas races. After each of Edwards’ last three Sprint Cup wins, he’s finished in the top two in the next race.