You can call me crazy, that is cool. However, I fully believe that this is the season that Jimmie Johnson if finally knocked of his lofty pedestal. Johnson has won an unprecedented five championship in a row, and is gunning for a sixth. How likely is that to happen. Six years ago, I would have said it is completely and utterly impossible, out of the question.
Now, I’m convinced that it is possible. With that said, while it is possible, I just do not see it happening. There is just something different about him this year, and I cannot seem to put my finger on it. Perhaps it is the fact that is lone win occurred at the Lottery 499 presented by Crapshoot at Talladega back in April. Or could it be that a rival driver, Kurt Busch, has pushed him to the point of retaliation. Maybe it is the fact that for the first time, there are a handful of drivers that are running just as well, if not better than Johnson. In 2006, Johnson’s main threats seemed to be limited to Matt Kenseth, and maybe Kevin Harvick. In 2007, Jeff Gordon was the only driver in the same zip code. In 2008, you had Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, but it was inevitable that their inexperience at the time would hinder them.
In 2009, it was all about Johnson, with his most formidable challenger being teammate Mark Martin. In 2010, Denny Hamlin and Harvick were the guys who had the potential to dethrone Johnson.
In 2011, there are more than just one or two drivers competing at Johnson’s level. Gordon, Edwards, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Harvick, and maybe even Kenseth appear capable of winning the title. The competition at the top seems to have tightened, therefore, I believe we will see a new champion in 2011.
1) Kevin Harvick- I believe a nine point headstart over Johnson could be the difference, as I see the two dueling it out at Homestead for the championship. Harvick could be one of the Chase drivers to dodge the Talladega bullet, as he typically runs near the front. This team is running well again, and even if they are not winning, they are consistent.
2) Jimmie Johnson- He is still going to put a scare into the anti-Johnson crew. He may notch a couple of wins in the Chase, but he will fall short at Homestead.
3) Jeff Gordon- Gordon is scary good right now, and will play a factor for most of the championship run.
4) Kyle Busch- I just have a feeling that Busch will have the one really bad race that sets him back.
5) Matt Kenseth- Kenseth, not Edwards, may be Jack Roush’s best shot at the 2011 Sprint Cup championship.
6) Carl Edwards- I just do not see Edwards winning the championship this season.
7) Brad Keselowski- His superb run in August was fun while it lasted, but he still has a little ways to go before he is championship material at the Sprint Cup level.
8) Ryan Newman- Newman is consistent, and could grab another win once the series returns to New Hampshire. While he is consistent with his finishes, they simply need more speed.
9) Tony Stewart- Stewart is not even the fastest driver within his own team, much less the top 12 championship contenders. Still, he has the capability to reel off a string of multiple wins that could put him in the elite group.
10) Kurt Busch- While his temper remains hot, I believe this team has cooled off a bit since their early summer hot streak.
11) Denny Hamlin- This team is not as fast as they were in 2010, nor are they near as confident.
12) Dale Earnhardt Jr- Sorry Junior Nation, but there are four or five drivers outside of the Chase that could outperform him. Nevertheless, the fact that they were able to hang on to a spot in the Chase despite a recent string of mediocre performances is impressive. The 2012 season will be better for Earnhardt Jr.