It’s been a horrific season for Jimmie Johnson thus far.
At the Daytona 500, he lost 25 points and his crew chief Chad Knaus received a six race suspension because of a car set up violation. Then he crashed on the second lap of that race. After race one, he had -25 points. Last week in Phoenix, Johnson ran a better race, finishing fourth. Still, after two races, he has paltry 18 points, which places him 38th. He’s 71 points behind the leader Denny Hamlin.
Is Johnson’s drive for his sixth Sprint Cup all but over?
Don’t count him out just yet. He still has a very good chance of competing for the Cup thanks to the Chase format. Once he qualifies for the Chase, he would be more or less on even footing with the other Chase drivers for the last 10 races.
Before going further, let’s briefly review the Sprint Cup rules. After the first 26 Sprint Cup races, the top 10 points leaders qualify for the Chase. Also, another two racers ranking between 11 and 20 with highest wins qualify. Their points are then set to 2000 plus, for the top 10 drivers only, 3 bonus points for every win. Then for the next 10 races, points are added as usual until the end of the season.
For 2011, any racer with points higher than 731 qualified for the Chase. So for argument sake, let’s say Johnson will need 750 points to qualify for the Chase. Starting from race 1, he would have needed an average of 29 points per race. This translates into an average finish of 15th for the first 26 races. Instead, now he would need 32 points per race or attain an average of 12th finish per race. This is certainly doable for the five time champion. In fact, based on this, the Daytona fiasco doesn’t mitigate his chances of making the Chase by all that much. Jimmie doesn’t have to win many races but instead finish top 12 consistently and avoid crashes (DNF) at all cost.
Another consideration is that the ruling is currently under appeal. If Johnson’s team wins the appeal, then they receive the 25 points back. This would increase the chances of the Chase even further and likely provide emotional boost. The negative side is if they lose the appeal and a new crew chief steps in mid season. This would be a tricky transition in real time.
Whatever the case, the path to getting into the Chase is certainly doable for Jimmie Johnson. From there, anything is possible to the finish.