It's hard to believe that just three races remain in NASCAR's Chase for the Championship.
Texas, Phoenix and Homestead are the final stops for Sprint Cup teams before someone raises the 2010 trophy over his head in Victory Lane. That someone may once again be Jimmy Johnson.
A betting person would be hard-pressed not to put money down on J.J., gunning for an unprecedented and almost-unbelievable fifth straight championship, and once again leading the field to the checkered flag, with a 14-point lead over Denny Hamlin, and 38-point advantage over Kevin Harvick.
The margin may seem slim, but Johnson has proven that catching him down the home stretch of a Chase is like trying to stop a brakeless train.
The Chase format seems to have been tailor-made for the No. 48 team, which conveniently sports the Lowe's logo, the sponsor that could easily build a new wing on Johnson's home to hold all of his trophies, titles, awards and winnings. However, it's not just the Chase format that helps Johnson win all of those titles. His team has been kept relatively in tact, including Crew Chief Chad Knaus.
Last year, Johnson's fourth consecutive title broke NASCAR's longest championship winning streak, held by the legendary Cale Yarborough since 1978. Now, Johnson is on the verge of breaking his own record and moving even further into his unique class of one.
When Johnson came onto the scene full-time in 2002, it would have been hard to imagine anyone matching the Yarborough dynasty, or even threatening the seven-championship careers of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, except maybe Jeff Gordon. Gordon had just won his fourth career cup title, and seemed to be the next best-bet in threatening the Petty/Earnhardt accomplishment. But that baton seems to have been passed to Gordon's Hendrick teammate.
J.J. started the 2002 season by winning the Daytona 500 pole in just his fourth career Cup appearance; it took only 13 races to capture his first victory. It should have been a sign of things to come. Johnson finished as Cup runner-up in 2003 and 2004, and has done nothing but take home titles ever since.
While some fans, myself included, would like to see someone else win, just for a change, it's pretty hard to dislike Jimmy Johnson. He's a clean driver who seems to respect his fellow competitors, the fans and the media. He is good ambassador for the sport who speaks well and gives back to the community. Johnson and his wife started a national charitable foundation in 2006 to help children, even though their own first child didn't come along until this season. All-in-all, he seems to be a pretty nice person, in addition to being one heck of a driver. And you can't discount his career success: 53 wins and 200 top 10's.
Sometimes the good guys do finish first, over and over again.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Kellie@BedfordCountyChamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.