Johnson's top 10 victories in the Chase
October 02, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
This past Sunday saw Jimmie Johnson do once again what he's done so many other times -- win a race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
When it comes to Victory Lane visits in the playoff, no one does it better. Johnson's unprecedented reign of five consecutive championships from 2006 to 2010, and most of his illustrious career, have fallen within the Chase era -- but make no mistake about, his greatness is no quirk of the system. He's dominated so often because he excels at NASCAR at its most fundamental, which is winning races when it matters most.
And goodness, is he good at that. Johnson's win last Sunday at Dover International Speedway marked his 23rd race victory in the Chase, a number that far and away exceeds the total of any other driver. Tony Stewart is a distant second with 11, Carl Edwards has eight, Greg Biffle has seven, Matt Kenseth has six -- two of them this season -- and no one else has more than five to date.
Last weekend's victory bumped Johnson up to second in the championship race, eight points behind Kenseth with seven races remaining in the season. Historically, Johnson is at his best when the leaves start to turn different colors and the standings begin to tighten, as evidenced by 10 race triumphs that stand as Five-Time's biggest ever in the Chase.
10. Dover, 2013: Record breaker
After ending the regular season with the worst four-race stretch of his career, Johnson recorded a statement victory at a track where no one has ever been better. It was a typical effort by the No. 48 team -- clinical and seamless, one where Johnson led 243 laps, outran teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. with the help of a late four-tire stop, and surpassed Bobby Allison and Richard Petty with a record eighth crown at the facility. It didn't win him the title, but after a regular season filled with questions, it reminded everyone of what Johnson is capable of in the Chase.
9. Charlotte, 2005: Fourth straight
It was better remembered as the night tires were gobbled up left and right on a surface that had been recently ground down, an event that featured a record 15 cautions and led NASCAR to mandate tire pressure minimums in the middle of the race. Emerging from all that chaos was Johnson, who led only 13 laps, but beat Kurt Busch in a green-white-checkered finish to claim his fourth straight victory at Charlotte, and knot Stewart for the points lead. Although he didn't win the championship that year, the race offered another sign that his inevitable first title was coming.
8. Dover, 2010: One was enough
Johnson's greatest feat en route to his fifth title wasn't a victory -- it was a stretched fuel run at Phoenix that turned the tables on Denny Hamlin and helped Five-Time earn just that nickname the next week. But after his worst Chase opener ever dropped him into a 92-point hole, Johnson needed some momentum. And he found it once again at the Monster Mile, in a "max points" day that saw him start from the pole and lead 191 laps en route to another dominant effort in the Delaware capital. His lone race win of that Chase was a big one, lifting him back to second in the standings. We all know what happened from there.
7. Atlanta, 2004: Triumph amid tragedy
The darkest day in Hendrick Motorsports history occurred on Oct. 24, 2004, when 10 people -- including Rick Hendrick's son, brother, and two nieces -- were killed when a team plane crashed trying to land in foggy conditions en route to Martinsville. The organization carried on with heavy hearts the next week at Atlanta, where Johnson used a late restart to beat Mark Martin, who had led 227 laps. It was Johnson's third straight victory, which seemed less than important at the time. "I had 10 angels riding along," Johnson said afterward. "… Things happen for a reason."
6. Fontana, 2009: Sorry, teammate
Martin was enjoying an unforeseen late-career renaissance with Hendrick in 2009, when he carried an 18-point lead into the fourth Chase race that year at Auto Club Speedway. But it was another Hendrick driver, Southern California native Johnson, who held the lead at the end of the day. In an event that featured an eight-car pileup near the finish, Johnson led 126 laps and left with a 12-point advantage over his teammate. He wouldn't relinquish it from that point on, winning two more playoff races and running away to a fourth straight title that eclipsed the record he had shared with Cale Yarborough.
5. Kansas, 2008: No banzai for you
It was another typically dominant afternoon from Johnson, one in which he led 124 laps and seemed poised to move atop the Chase. Edwards did all he could to prevent it, including a last-gasp banzai run in which he threw his car past Johnson on the final circuit, shooting by on the low side. But Edwards couldn't hold it, sliding up the track and bouncing off the wall as Johnson shot by to win. "That was cool," Johnson said afterward. So was the fact that the victory gave him a 10-point lead in the Chase standings and an advantage he would maintain the rest of the way.
4. Martinsville, 2006: Keying a comeback
Before Johnson started winning championships, he lost a few. There were despondent moments like 2006 at Talladega, when contact from Brian Vickers dropped Johnson to eighth in the Chase and 156 points (under the previous system) off the lead. No way, right? Wrong. Johnson embarked on one of the greatest comebacks in NASCAR history, with four runner-up finishes sandwiched around a victory at Martinsville where he led 245 laps. That same day series leader Jeff Burton went out with engine trouble, allowing Johnson to make a big move in the standings and setting the stage for his first crown.
3. Texas, 2007: The hat fits
Jeff Gordon built a 300-point advantage over the course of one his best regular seasons ever, but it couldn't stand up to an onslaught of Johnson race victories in the Chase. Few were more pivotal than Texas, when a late four-tire stop helped Johnson muscle past Kenseth and score what was his third consecutive race win at that point. Gordon finished seventh -- good, but not good enough to stop Johnson, who donned a new black cowboy hat and seized the Chase lead by 30 points over his teammate, who faced almost a must-win prospect the next week.
2. Martinsville, 2008: Dropping the hammer
At the height of their run, Johnson and the No. 48 team seemingly had opponents mentally beaten even before they showed up at the race track. That was never more the case than in 2008, when Johnson won five of the season's final 12 events. Few were more impressive than Martinsville, where Johnson crushed the competition in an effort that saw him lead 339 laps and outrun Earnhardt Jr. in a green-white-checkered finish. He left southern Virginia with a commanding 149-point lead, his record-tying third straight championship all but assured.
1. Phoenix, 2007: "It's over"
It was all Gordon could say after an afternoon that perhaps best encapsulated the Johnson legend. Needing to make up ground on his Hendrick teammate to stay in the title race, Gordon could only watch as Johnson led the final 24 laps en route to his 10th victory of the season, still a personal record. In a ruthlessly efficient fashion that came to define the No. 48 team, Johnson capped a run of four wins in a row and all but secured the sport's first back-to-back titles in nearly a decade. The finale at Homestead became what it’s so often been during the Johnson era -- a coronation.