Thursday, November 19, 2009

While technically Jimmy Johnson only has to finish 25th or better on Sunday to win his 4th championship, in reality, he probably doesn't have to finish even that high.

Mark Martin is currently 108 points behind Johnson. With Johnson getting 34 points just for starting on Sunday, Martin has to come up with 143 points to win (Johnson wins any tie based on his having more wins than Martin).

So if Martin wins the race and gets the 10 bonus points for leading the most laps, he'd get 195 points on Sunday, giving him 6,579 for the season; Johnson would need the 87 points that goes with 25th place to win the title (if Johnson led any laps, he could finish 26th, if by some chance he led the most laps, he could finish 27th and still win).

But the odds are against Martin pulling a 195 point day. A 3rd place finish for Martin (even with maximum bonus points) would let Johnson finish as low as far back as 32nd (and without needing any bonus points). A 5th place finish for Martin (again with maximum bonus points) would let Johnson finish as far back as 36th (again without needing any bonus laps). Interestingly, the NASCAR point system would take points away faster for Martin finishing lower at the front than it would from Johnson finishing lower at the back (at the front, each position is worth 4 or 5 points, at the back, each position is only worth 3).

And if Martin only pulls off a top 10, leading some laps but not most? He'd end up with 6,523 points, leaving Johnson to come up with 31 points for the championship... which meaning Johnson wins just by starting.

So while the announcers on Sunday are going to do their best to hype the possibility that Martin may pull it out and take the championship away from Johnson, Martin has to come pretty close to winning the race to do so... and that is if Johnson comes in close to last.

Of course... with a handful of cars likely to start and park, if Johnson can stay out of trouble for the first handful of laps, he is probably guaranteed close to 37th place points, leaving Martin needing to finish among the top five.

Given this, since Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have always said their #1 focus is winning the championship, Johnson would improve his odds by dropping back from the pack and running laps by himself until the start and parkers pull off, ensuring him the 37th place finish that is probably enough... at which point he can then jump into the fray and pass the handful of cars he would need to lock things up and without worrying about what might happen in those early dangerous laps.