By HANK KURZ Jr. / The Associated Press
MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Jimmie Johnson has won four consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup titles and is leading the way again midway through the 10-race Chase for the championship.
With five races remaining and just a 41-point advantage over Denny Hamlin heading in today’s race at Martinsville Speedway, Johnson said the race is far from over. Even so, drivers who covet the title can only marvel at the seeming inevitability of his success.
No other driver has won four consecutive championships in NASCAR’s top series, and Cale Yarborough is the only other driver to have won three in a row, from 1976-78.
“It’s just pretty amazing. I guess there are a lot of other words for it, but it’s amazing,” Roush Fenway Racing driver Carl Edwards said. “To be able to constantly perform at that level is the thing that’s pretty spectacular to me. We’ve just got to go beat them.”
Edwards and everyone else has been trying for five years, and while Johnson said he becomes more relaxed each time he runs toward the title, others study how he races.
“Their ability to overcome hurdles during the race is what separates them from everybody else,” said Kurt Busch, who won the championship in 2004 and hasn’t finished better than fourth since. “At the beginning of the Charlotte race last week, he spins out all on his own off of Turn 2, an ill-handling race car. They work on it and end up with a top-five.
“We had the same scenario at Charlotte with a race-winning setup that won the race in May and we limped home to a 30th-place finish. That’s not going to cut it to win championships.
“It’s amazing how they do it. There’s no written way to do it. … Just when you think you’ve got them, they do something out of the world again to put themselves on top.”
Clint Bowyer, asked about a growing sense among fans that Johnson’s fifth title is a foregone conclusion, said that sentiment would make sense based on recent history.
Johnson has won 35 of the 175 races run since 2006, the year of his first championship. He’s won 13 of those during the 10-race playoffs that end each season.