While Denny Hamlin ended his 2013 season on a high note with a much needed victory, Jimmie Johnson won his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Only one behind the all-time record of seven championships set by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, Johnson struggles for the respect from the fans and media.
Is it because of the Chase format which has now existed for a decade?
Is it because his rise to the top came out of nowhere?
Is it because of who he drives for, who his teammates are and where he comes from?
Perhaps it's a mix of all of the above.
While the system has been different for the last decade, it's not like Johnson wrote the rulebook into his favor. NASCAR made the change and Johnson and the #48 crew have capitalized on it. I don't think any of us can say that the reset of points with ten races to go hasn't helped Johnson with a few of his championships. But that has been the case for nearly every Chase.
2004: Kurt Busch went from 293 back after Richmond to 30 back.
2007: Jeff Gordon had a 312-point lead over Tony Stewart after Richmond. When all was reset, Johnson was leading the points by twenty over Gordon while Clint Bowyer was 670 points back in ninth after Richmond and was able to finish third in the final point standings.
2008: Kyle Busch led by 207 points over Carl Edwards after Richmond. Jimmie Johnson was 302 points back. After the reset, Edwards was 30 back and Johnson 40 back. In the end, Johnson was champion, Busch finished tenth while Greg Biffle went from eighth, 598 points back after Richmond to third in the final standings.
2009: Tony Stewart led by 179 points over Jeff Gordon, 272 over Johnson. Mark Martin was fifth, 515 back. When the points were reset, Martin led Johnson and Stewart by 10 points.
2010: Kevin Harvick led Kyle Busch by 228 points with Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart rounding out the top five. Johnson was in sixth, 306 back and Denny Hamlin was ninth. 381 back. When the points were reset, Hamlin led, Johnson was ten back, Harvick was third, Kyle Busch fourth while Stewart fell to seventh and Gordon ninth.
2011: With the new points system, Tony Stewart was 102 points back after Richmond. Kyle Busch led Johnson by three but after the reset Harvick and Kyle Busch were tied with Johnson tied for fifth, nine back and Stewart tied for ninth, twelve back. In the end, Stewart and Carl Edwards ended tied for the title.
2012: Greg Biffle led Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by twelve points after Richmond but the reset Denny Hamlin went from eighth, 64 back to the lead, three up on Johnson, Brad Keselowksi and Stewart. Keselowksi ended up champion, 39 ahead of Bowyer and 40 ahead of Johnson.
The Chase hasn't just benefited Jimmie Johnson. It has benefited a plethora of drivers but Johnson has taken charge and capitalized the most.
As I said earlier today, NASCAR needs to make changes. A decade in and the Chase has produced ten years of championship coming down to the final race but not a better product on track. The product in the final races is manufactured. There is nothing naturally about the final race of the NASCAR season. It was manipulated back in September.
With all that said, Johnson's accomplishments are still a remarkable feat. Six titles in eight years will likely never be seen again in NASCAR. He has been able to dominant the system despite it's existence to curtail dominance. We might not agree with the system but it what is in place. I am sure there are drivers on the grid who disagree with the system but that can't stop them from competing and trying to win a title.
I feel bad for Jimmie Johnson because he has to deal with critics saying his titles are not equal to those pre-2004 because NASCAR decided to change the system, something out of his control. Johnson's success unfortunately will not be appreciated for sometime.