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Conspiracy theorists like to hypothesize that the reason Jimmie Johnson has won five straight championships is because the races that comprise the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup are his best tracks. But those theorists forget – or just don’t bother to look at – the statistics because Johnson’s worst track on the circuit sits squarely in the middle of NASCAR’s 10-race playoff.
Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway is Johnson’s worst track for driver rating – a combination of on-track statistics. Of a possible 150 points, Johnson averages 83.1 in driver rating at Talladega. It’s still 10th-best among active competitors but worst compared to the remaining tracks for the five-time champ. Talladega is also Johnson’s third-worst in average finish (17.1), slightly better than only Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway at 17.5, and Richmond (Va.) International Raceway at 17.3. He has only six top-five finishes in 23 starts at Talladega, although two of those finishes were wins in April 2011 and 2006.
This year, only four points separate Johnson from Chase leader Matt Kenseth, making every position on the track and accompanying point in the standings a premium. But anything can happen at Talladega and usually does. As Johnson states, “You just hope that Lady Luck is on your side and that you make it through.”
So while the conspiracists can theorize all they want, statistics don’t lie – Talladega could prove to be a Chase buster for Johnson, and for any of the other 12 Chasers, for that matter. So what does Johnson have to say about it? His comments:
Your thoughts about racing at Talladega this weekend?
“Honestly, I’ll be anxious to get out of there (laughs). I’m just ready for it to happen, and go on and race from there. But last year, I don’t think we finished a restrictor-plate race, and this year we’ve had two wins, and I think the other was in the top-five. So, I hope this trend of top-five finishes stays alive in Talladega. That’s what we’re going to need. After Talladega, at that point, you can really race individuals. I think, up until Talladega, you’re still racing the field and anything can happen and anybody has a chance. But, leaving Talladega, you can really narrow in on who is left and what that spread is in points.”
How white-knuckle of an event is Talladega? What is the level of tension, knowing your championship could go up in smoke at any moment?
“Yeah, it’s tough. With this rules package, riding is not the thing to do. You’ll never get back to the front. So, you’ve just got to go race and cross your fingers and go for it. You just hope that Lady Luck is on your side and that you make it through. The guys we’re racing with right now in the championship historically go and race there. They don’t ride. Even if that opportunity was there, it would have forced our hand to race. So, we’re just going to show up and race. I’ve been able to finish all three (restrictor-plate races) so far this year, and I think all three in the top-five. Hopefully, we can keep this streak alive.”