CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR will announce dramatic changes to its championship format Thursday, looking to add some spice and sizzle in what will amount to a shootout in South Florida in the final race of the season.
Jimmie Johnson is good with that.
You may know him. Six-time Sprint Cup champion, including a run of five consecutive years at one point, and then one more last season. There are more than a handful of conspiracy theorists who suspect NASCAR officials closed their doors in a secret location and concocted a plan to try to knock the crown off Johnson’s head.
Johnson admits the thought bubble popped into his head.
“It’s crossed my mind, not going to lie,” he said during the NASCAR Media Tour, which concludes Thursday with the official announcement of the new rules from NASCAR CEO Brian France.
It will be the fourth revision since the Chase was established in 2004, and the most dramatic — and controversial — of the bunch. The field of drivers in the Chase is expected to increase from 12 to 16, and the 10-race playoff schedule is expected to include several knockout segments, leaving four drivers in contention for a winner-take-all scenario in the final race of the season in Homestead.
It’s a seismic shift in the business model, and one that will play out to mixed reactions. But here’s one constant: Expect Double-J and his No. 48 Lowes Chevy to be tussling for a title come November.
Johnson’s average finish over 12 seasons at Homestead is 2.4. Go ahead and book him for the “Final Four.”
“I really don’t think that NASCAR is picking on me trying to keep me from winning a championship; I really don’t,” Johnson said. “In conversations that I’ve had with Brian and several NASCAR executives, the King is the King for a reason [alluding to Richard Petty].”
“Richard and what he’s accomplished. Dale [Earnhardt] Sr. and what he’s accomplished. NASCAR likes history being made. They like those big money moments. I by no means see this as an attack on the 48. And statistically if you went through each driver and the final 10 races and see who wins the most races and seed the whole field based on that, we’d be No 1.”
Johnson has always been deemed an uninspiring champion by a number of NASCAR fans who aren’t smitten by the fact that he doesn’t follow the traditional wreckin’ and racin’ model. He’s good with all of that, too.
Johnson has no time for any of this nonsense. He’s too busy trying to win championships. He won again last year after a two-year “drought.”
Stewart-Haas Racing may have the new “Dream Team” this coming season, with the addition of Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick to a lineup that already includes Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick, but Johnson is a one-man wrecking crew, tearing up everybody else’s championship aspirations.
“Point blank, he has the fastest car each and every week, so no matter what format you put out there, he’s the favorite,” said Bard Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint Cup champion. “I don’t see any format that doesn’t favor him, unless it’s the slowest guy who wins. But I don’t think they’re going to do that. “
The envelope will be opened with all the answers shortly. But regardless of what everybody thinks, or how much whining echoes in the garage over the changes, there is no going back. France is intent on pushing this thing through to amp up the interest in his sport and drive more fans to the stands and in front of the TV.
“If that’s the bullet that we need then I’m for it,” Johnson said. “We need our grandstands full. We need our viewership numbers to be through the roof. We need out sponsors getting the best return on their investment. I don’t know if this is it. We will find out.”
Here’s the deal: You could have the top four guys riding burros in Homestead wearing Mexican sombreros and festive throw blankets.
Count Jimmie Johnson as the favorite in that sprint to the finish, too.