As NASCAR’s driver lineup transitions, Jimmie Johnson is the only active competitor with more than one Cup championship.
Not since 2005 has there been a Cup season where there was only one multi-time champion racing full-time. That year it was Jeff Gordon with his four titles. Six other drivers had one title going into that season and Tony Stewart won the championship for his second crown.
Before the playoff began, some drivers were asked who they thought would be the sport’s next multi-time champion, excluding themselves.
Johnson’s answer was quick.
“I would probably put Harvick first,’’ Johnson said in September. “Just the consistent nature that he and (crew chief) Rodney (Childers) and that No. 4 car has from track to track. If it’s a road course, short track, big track, superspeedway, those guys are just rock solid.
“They have had a challenging year this year switching manufacturers and they are still up there cranking out solid finishes week in and week out. I would start with Kevin and then I would probably put Brad (Keselowski) second.”
Keselowski, not able to select himself, offered a different pick.
“I would say that would be between Joey (Logano) and the two Kyles,’’ he said, referring to Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson. “They’re really talented. They’re very young. They’ve got great rides. You’d be inclined to say that Kyle Busch would probably get there first because he has the best ride of the three, and he already has a championship, but who knows?’’
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who competed in the playoffs for the first time, offered his take:
“If I look really right now I would say Kevin or Kyle (Busch) would be that guy. They’ve already got one championship, and I feel like they’re in position that they could put themselves in that second championship category this year.
“I think Truex has got the speed to do that over the next few years, if they can stay at that level and, really, I think Larson is capable of that as well if they’re able to stay at the level they’re at right now or push that level up a little higher. I think with Kyle and Kevin already having one, I think you’ve got to put those at the top of your list.”
The reason there is only one multi-time champion is because of the recent retirements of Tony Stewart (2016) and Jeff Gordon (2015). They combined to win seven titles. Johnson, Gordon and Stewart combined to win 14 of the last 22 championships (63.4 percent).
The other eight titles won during that stretch were by Terry Labonte (1996), Dale Jarrett (1999), Bobby Labonte (2000), Matt Kenseth (2003), Kurt Busch (2004), Keselowski (2012), Harvick (2014) and Kyle Busch (2015).
So, does having a title make one of those former champs the favorite this weekend?
“The pressure is really on (Truex) and (Kyle Busch),’’ Harvick said after Sunday’s race at Phoenix. “Those guys have dominated the year, and I feel like if they don’t win at this point, they would probably feel like they’ve had a letdown.’’
“That sounds like Harvick,’’ he said. “If I’m the favorite, perfect, I like that. I think it’s a better position to be in. I was the underdog before and I finished fourth, so yeah, bring it on.’’
The average age of the four Cup title contenders 35.8 years old — two years older than last year.
Since the elimination format debuted in 2014, the 2015 field has the oldest average of 37.0. That championship race had Harvick, Truex, Kyle Busch and Gordon.
NO CHEVROLET CUP TITLE, BUT …
Chevrolet has been shut out of the championship round in Cup with the four drivers split evenly between Toyota and Ford.