This time last season, Jimmie Johnson had two wins, five top fives and nine top ten finishes. He, of course, would go on to win seven races and become the first NASCAR driver to win four consecutive Cup titles.
Fast forward to 17 races into the 2010 Sprint Cup season. Johnson now has five wins, eight top fives and 11 top ten finishes. If the Chase were to begin today, Johnson would be your points leader over fellow five time winner Denny Hamlin and current points leader Kevin Harvick.
So if he's even better than he was last year... are we in store for the same ending to the Sprint Cup season?
Johnson led just nine laps of this past Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He took the lead from Jeff Burton on lap 288, and after holding off Kurt Busch, the driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet was able to capture his third Loudon victory. It was also the second time Johnson has won back to back races this year.
“We got going on that restart and Kurt knocked me out of the way. I thought 'I don't care if I win this race or not, I don't care if I finish this damn thing, I am running into him and getting back by him one way or another.'”
The win- and the points that come with it- came at an excellent time for Johnson, who has driver Aric Almirola on standby in case his wife Chandra goes into labor during race weekend. She's due next week, when the Sprint Cup Series will be at Chicagoland.
Johnson is now just 105 points behind Harvick with nine races left before the Chase begins.
This past weekend in Loudon marked the firs race for Reed Sorenson in the Red Bull Racing No. 83 Toyota. Sorenson, who took over Brian Vickers' Nationwide Series schedule when he was diagnosed with blood clots, replaced Casey Mears and finished 24th, one lap down. Sorenson was also caught up in a late race incident with former teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, when he spun out the No. 42 on lap 283.
After a rough weekend in Sonoma where he finished 38th, Denny Hamlin finished 14th on Sunday after falling down a lap earlier in the race. He remains fourth in points and is 185 markers behind Harvick. Speaking of the points leader, he came home fifth, his seventh top five of the season.
It was another solid weekend for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. ended the day in eighth, his fifth top ten of the season. Earnhardt, Jr., who has four finishes in 2010 outside the top 20, is now just three points behind 12th in points Carl Edwards.
The Fords of Roush Fenway Racing continued their struggles at Loudon on Sunday. Greg Biffle was the highest finishing driver out of the stable, finishing 16th, with Matt Kenseth right behind in 17h, David Ragan in 20th and Carl Edwards in 25th. However,
Next up the Sprint Cup Series rolls into the Daytona International Speedway for the Coke Zero for a Saturday night showdown, which can be seen on TNT beginning at 7:30 pm ET on July third.
Thanks to Racing Reference, SB Nation and NASCAR.com for the information and quotes in this article.