I have come to the conclusion that unless Jimmie Johnson surpasses Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty in titles, the remainder of his career should be viewed as a failure. The drivers in equipment that can truly challenge him are some of the most mentally fragile in Nascar's history. He has practically the entire field beaten before a wheel is turned. He will be the overwhelming favourite for the 2014 title, and in the years ahead he will be the benchmark by which all other drivers of this generation will be measured against.
The chase tracks for 2014 will be the same as 2013 and he is better than the field at virtually every track in the chase. His only weakness is the luck of the draw at Talladega, and if Restrictor plate racing with the gen 6 car will see a return to 'pack racing' like from 2001 onwards, then Johnson is one of the favourites at 'Dega as well. Remember Daytona was one of his best tracks with the 'old car' up to 2007. He is unspectacular at Homestead, although this can be partly attributed to him racing conservatively to win the championship. This weakness is also hard to exploit as he has the championship wrapped up at this stage usually.
Over the last 5 years since Toyota has joined the sport Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports have become the 2 dominant teams with Roush having pretty much joined the second tier of mid-ranked teams gradually over the last 5 years. I think Gibbs is the only organisation that can consistently challenge Hendrick year in, year out with maybe Penske an outside bet. Gibbs has the equipment, but has a major question mark over his driver line-up. Kyle Busch will never win a championship up against Johnson due to his weak fragile state. The current schedule also works against him as his best tracks Bristol Richmond and Watkins Glen are not in the chase and he has too many weak tracks (Talladega, Kansas, Homestead) to really challenge Johnson. Add in the fact that he can't win a race after the third of September and 9 years of mounting evidence that he is a choker and the fact that Johnson himself does not take Busch as a real threat and you can see him going his whole career without a title. I believe if Hamlin were to find himself in the lead with 2 to go, he would close it out, but he has to get the points lead first and this may never happen again. Hamlin has major question marks hanging over him due to his injuries and his poor results, although he has been a test mule for 3 months. Hamlin is perhaps the only driver on the circuit that can match Johnson on the flat tracks, but he has never been as consistent on the intermediates. Grubb has been a major help in this regard. Hamlin just is not as good as Busch on the different variety of tracks and is one of the worst plate racers in nascar history, (count the number of incidents he causes at Daytona and Talladega).Busch may get a 1 out of 10 in terms of mental toughness and Hamlin gets a generous 2.
Kenseth is not as spectacular as his teammates, but he is a more solid driver and more mature person. We will have to see how the end to 2013 affects him for 2014. The move to Gibbs has benefitted him and the organisation as a whole, and I believe he has played a significant factor in improving Gibbs intermediate program. He has greatly benefitted on the short, flat tracks as well. But if the recent trend is to continue, he will struggle to challenge in 2014 as few teams apart from the 48 are able to mount successive title challenges.
Roush racing is no longer the power that it was in 2005. The organisation has failed to win races on a regular basis since the new COT chassis was introduced in 2007. Take Edwards 9 win season, which now appears to be a fluke and you have just his consistent 2011 season and not much else. Roush is rubbish on the short flat racks, so that is 3 races in the chase that Johnson has Edwards beaten at already and their strength on intermediates is not what it was. Edwards has proven he is not able to challenge on a yearly basis, so Johnson only has to deal with him once every few years. Biffle is not going to win a title.
Harvick has proven to be the most consistent driver this decade, bar Johnson. It will be interesting to see how he does with Hendrick power under the hood.If Rodney Childers is as highly rated as some seem to think then this pair is a real threat. Stewart has been gradually declining for the last 3 years of so and his 2011 title was the final swansong of a great driver. Kurt Busch has as much talent as any driver in nascar today, and he should win races with Hendrick power no matter who he has for a crew chief. Busch and Harvick should challenge Johnson occasionally but Stewart Haas has lacked the constant excellence that Hendrick provides.
Penske racing is interesting, as Keselowski has beaten Johnson straight up. Wolfe seems like the smartest crew chief in the garage and they should challenge the 48 on a yearly basis. There is the potential for a proper rivalry as Knaus and Johnson don't seem to like Keselowski and Wolfe. Keselowski is a very versatile driver who has won on all the track types, so he should not be affected by any schedule changes in the years ahead. I expect them to be the greatest threat to Johnson in 2014 and beyond providing the equipment is up to standard.
No one from within Hendrick motorsports is going to beat Johnson and Knaus as Kahne is just not good enough, Earnhardt does not win races and Gordon is stuck with Alan and is entering his 22nd full season. Also if his team mates have fast equipment then Knaus will find the extra speed. If Johnson is to be defeated it will not come from within.
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