After Talladega Race, Jimmie Johnson's NASCAR Championship Hopes Are Over

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 14: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's/Chevy 100th Anniversay Chevrolet, stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 14, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)

After Talladega, there's no doubt in our minds: Jimmie Johnson's reign as NASCAR champ is coming to an end.

Jimmie Johnson's five-year reign as NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion will come to an end in less than a month.

That doesn't seem like a particularly bold statement for a driver who is 50 points behind the leaders with only four races remaining in the 2011 season.

But because it's Johnson, who always seems to triumph no matter what the circumstances, it feels like there's always a chance he could come back.

Not this time. Not after a 26th-place result at Talladega gave him his third sub-par finish of the Chase.

Johnson could win the next four races (which is not out of the question) and still come up far short of a title. Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth could have two hiccups over the next few races and Johnson might not be able to catch them even then.

Too many points, too many drivers in front of him in the standings, too few races. Johnson's amazing, awesome, historic, unprecedented run of championships will end on Nov. 20.

Typing those words, though, seems difficult. I insisted Johnson was not in trouble after the first two Chase races and even after his Charlotte crash, I was hesitant to say he was "done" with five races still to run.

After all, there's never been a Chase when Johnson was out of the running before Homestead. Surely, he'd make a comeback once again.

But then came Talladega. For the second straight restrictor-plate race, Johnson and drafting partner Dale Earnhardt Jr. hung in the back for too long and were unable to get back up through the field when it counted the most.

Thus, a mid-20s finish for both – and no one to blame but themselves for the strategy gone wrong.

It's beyond strange to see Johnson have multiple poor results in the Chase. If his championship run was going to end, you'd have thought he'd go down with guns blazing and maybe come up short in the final laps at Homestead.

Instead, he's on pace to be quietly eliminated before then.

How has this happened? And how rare is this?

The numbers tell us this has been Johnson's worst Chase – not just of his championship run, but of his career. Take a look:

Year Finishes below 15th Avg. Finish Pts. Finish
2004 2 10.2 2
2005 3 11.8 5
2006 2 10.8 1
2007 0 5.0 1
2008 0 5.7 1
2009 1 6.8 1
2010 1 6.2 1
2011 3 15.2 Currently 7th

There's no doubt Johnson can (and probably will) improve his average finish for the remainder of the Chase, since he's won races at three of the final four tracks.

And since he's always finished inside of the top five in points, he'll probably find a way to do that, too.

But to win the championship? It's simply not going to happen.

According to Speed's Bob Dillner, the largest Chase deficit overcome with four races to go was Johnson's rally from 53 points down in 2007. That was under the old system, of course.

Plug in Johnson's current 50-point deficit into a formula distributed by NASCAR, and he's the equivalent of 208 points behind Edwards under the old system.

If you want to argue and say Johnson is still in it because anything can happen, that's fine. Johnson fans can hold onto hope until Homestead – that's what fans do.

But most of us can look at the numbers and see his task is now too difficult for anyone to overcome. Even for perhaps the greatest driver ever.

Jimmie Johnson will still be there when NASCAR crowns its champion, of course. It's just that instead of getting the trophy, he'll be congratulating someone else.

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