Let’s face it, for the past four seasons Jimmie Johnson has more or less owned NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. Four straight championships, 29 wins and an astounding 94 top-10 finishes tell the story for Johnson and NASCAR from 2006-2009. But that story is being re-written in 2010.
This season just might be the most competitive NASCAR has ever seen. Considering the following statistics through the first 18 races of 2010:
- 7 different race winners
- 12 different Coors Light Pole winners
- 46 drivers led at least one lap
- 31 drivers have scored at least one top 10
- Average margin of victory of 1.294 seconds
- 11 races with an margin of victory under 1 second
- Average of 12 leaders per race
- Average of 28 lead changes per race
- Average of 43 green flag passes for the lead all along the track (highest through 18 races since the inception of NASCAR Loop Data in 2005)
- Average of 3,613 green flag passes per race (highest through 18 races since the inception of NASCAR Loop Data in 2005)
- 50 percent of the cars finished on the lead lap
- 78 percent of the cars were running at the finish
- All four auto manufacturers – Chevy, Dodge, Ford and Toyota – are in the top 12 and three of four have won at least one race
- Here at Phoenix International Raceway in April, Ryan Newman and crew chief Tony Gibson capitalized on a late caution that extended the SUBWAY Fresh Fit 600™ three laps past its scheduled distance of 375 laps and snatched victory from Jeff Gordon, Johnson, and Kyle Busch with a two-tire call under the final caution.
- The April race at Talladega Superspeedway set two major NASCAR records. There were 88 lead changes among 29 drivers, both of which were all-time highs in the 63-year history of the series.
- After much feedback from competitors and fans, NASCAR re-introduced the rear spoiler to the NASCAR Sprint Cup car this season. The return took place in March at Martinsville Speedway and made its second appearance at PIR in April.
- The implementation of the “multiple attempts at a green-white-checkered finish” rule. This season, NASCAR allowed for three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish (previously, there was only one attempt). Reason being: Fans want to see races end under green flag conditions. Thus far, the rule has proven successful. Seven races have ended with a green-white-checked finish; three of those with multiple attempts at a G-W-C (the Daytona 500 had two, Atlanta had two and Talladega had three). Only one race has finished under caution (Pocono).
- NASCAR loosened the reins on competitors at the start of this season. The “Have At It Boys” edict created fiercer competition, and upped emotion. Over the first half alone we’ve seen a number of heated feuds: Carl Edwards vs. Brad Keselowski; Jeff Gordon vs. Jimmie Johnson; Joey Logano vs. Kevin Harvick; and Denny Hamlin vs. Kyle Busch, to name a few.
With two wins in his last three races and five trips to Gatorade Victory Lane overall, Johnson, crew chief Chad Knauss and the rest of the No. 48 team certainly seem as dangerous as ever. Johnson also continues to improve. Need proof? Road courses were once thought to be a soft spot for the California native, however a win at Sonoma this season resoundingly proved his detractors wrong.
But even as Johnson and the No. 48 team represent a vicious 10,000-pound gorilla looming over the series as other teams work to wrestle away the Sprint Cup, the numbers thus far in 2010 show he’s not the only contender NASCAR’s most coveted season honor. Hamlin also has five wins on his resume this year and Harvick – the Sprint Cup Series points leader for most of 2010 – has three wins. The Busch brothers are both emerging as real contenders, with Kyle maturing to gain a firm grasp of his immense talents and Kurt – the 2004 Sprint Cup champ – leading an improving corps of Penske drivers both on and off the track. And then there’s Jeff Gordon, who – despite a winless race streak that dates back to April 2009 – already has four championships of his own and currently sits in second place for the 2010 season.
What happens next? Find out this weekend as the Sprint Cup Series moves on to Chicagoland. The LifeLock.com 400 runs Saturday night, airing at 4:30 p.m. Arizona Time on TNT.