Race Weekend Central

It’s April, But Everyone’s Asking: Is Jimmie Johnson Running Away With It?

Exiting Kansas, one thing is for sure: Jimmie Johnson is going to be a force to be reckoned with in 2013.

Oh yeah. Jimmie’s got this one in the bag.

Not that he isn’t usually a factor. His five straight Sprint Cup titles, from 2006-‘10 aside, Johnson has finished in the top five in points during a full season in the series every year but one, when he managed only sixth in 2011.

He was in the fight to the end with Brad Keselowski last season, but the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet was edged out after finishes of 32nd and 36th to end the year. For 2013, Johnson appears to be taking no prisoners in his quest for a sixth championship. Of course, once one makes the Chase, the field is equaled a bit, so even if he accumulates a, say, 100-point lead over second, much of that vanishes after race 26.

Seems like there’s always a lot of discontent around NASCAR when Jimmie Johnson is merely winning, let alone leading the points. If that continues to be the case, it could be a long year for much of stock car racing’s faithful (or not-so-faithful). Only five tracks remain on the schedule at which Johnson hasn’t won at least once (Homestead, Kentucky, Michigan, Chicagoland, Watkins Glen) and all five circuits have still been fairly kind to the California native. Hey, Kyle Busch finally got the monkey off his back with a Cup win at Texas. This trend could favor Johnson as well.

And why not? Hendrick Motorsports has been nothing but dominant in 2013. Johnson now leads the standings by 37 points, having taken the lead from one of his teammates, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Entering Richmond, three of the top five spots in the standings are occupied by Hendrick drivers, with Kasey Kahne tallying a distant second and Junior fifth. Combined, the team has accrued three wins, 12 top 5s and 18 top 10s through eight races. Jeff Gordon’s the odd man out at this point with a top-5 finish, two top 10s and a 15th-place ranking in the standings, but that could easily change.

If you’re hoping for a non-Hendrick championship run, signs so far indicate Brad Keselowski’s going to be your best bet. That sucks, because NASCAR apparently has it out for him and his team, after all.

So, you know, good luck with that.

Also of interest:

– Matt Kenseth won from the pole at Kansas. Cool, right? What’s even cooler is that he’s the third straight driver to do it in the Sprint Cup Series, following Kyle Busch at Texas and Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville. So what does that mean going forward for pole sitters in the series? Potentially good things. At Richmond in particular, we could see some good showings from Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin, old favorites who are among the all-time leaders at the track in pole positions. Keep an eye on them, if this trend happens to continue.

– Matt Crafton won his third race ever in the Camping World Truck Series, just two starts shy of his 300th start. Three wins. 300 starts. That’s a lot of starts in between wins (and preceding the first one, for that matter). From his first to his second victory, the ThorSport driver had to wait 74 races. This time, it only took him 39. His career recalls that of Rick Crawford, who has won five times in 336 starts, though Crawford didn’t exactly spread out his victories as much as Crafton has, with four of his wins coming four years in a row from 2003 to ’06.

– Since finishing ninth in the season-opening Daytona 500 for the first top-10 finish of his career, Michael McDowell has finished no higher than 42nd, always starting and parking shortly after race’s beginning. McDowell’s one of those select few guys for whom you can’t really do much statistical analyses because this trend is pretty much par for the course in the last few years of his career.

– Say what you will about Juan Pablo Montoya’s 2013 season so far (and there’s really not a whole lot of nice things to say), but he’s one of a handful of drivers who have been running at the finish of each race this season. Conversely, aside from the start-and-park guys, Travis Kvapil has only finished five of the first eight races, with engine failures ending his days at Vegas, Bristol and, most recently, Kansas.

– Kyle Busch needs to bounce back from a disappointing Kansas, where he crashed out on lap 102 and finished 38th. Where better than Richmond? In the last ten races at the track, Busch has won four times with an average finish of fifth.

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