CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jimmie Johnson doesn’t feel he’s to blame for stock car’s declining attendance in recent years, and he doesn’t see proposed changes to the points system as NASCAR trying to prevent him from winning a seventh Sprint Cup title.
A seventh title would tie the driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the all-time record held by Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt, certain bigger fan favorites than Johnson has been.
“I don’t see myself as the reason things have declined in our sport and that viewership is down,” said Johnson at the 32nd annual NASCAR Sprint Media Tour. “I don’t feel like NASCAR is picking on me and trying to keep me from winning a championship. The King is the King for a reason, and then Dale Sr. and what he accomplished, NASCAR likes those big moments. By no means, I don’t think this is an attack on the 48 team.”
Even with the changes, Johnson believes his team would have to be favored to win the championship. He has 66 race wins over the past dozen years, matching the total of Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon combined.
While he won’t disagree that NASCAR might like to see a driver more popular with the fans win the championship, he doesn’t see the organization with any motives other than trying to create more interest at the end of the season.
“Statistically if you look at who wins the most races and we seeded the field on that, we would be No. 1,” Johnson said. “NASCAR probably cares who wins the championship, but I don’t think they lay awake at night thinking about how they can keep the 48 from winning.”
The changes, reported by many outlets but yet to be officially confirmed, have 16 drivers instead of 12 qualifying for the “Chase for the Championship.” They would be eliminated from the playoffs at certain points like the NFL or NBA playoffs. It’s not an idea which Johnson finds that radical, especially when NASCAR’s playoffs have to compete with the NFL, the nation’s most popular sports league, for viewership from September through November.
“In my opinion, something big needed to happen,” Johnson said. “Many shared the same opinion and here it is. If it’s the right bullet, only time will tell. I commend NASCAR for looking at something different.
“It’s hard to argue the NFL model isn’t successful. That thing is working pretty awesome. We’ll just have to see how it plays out.”
Johnson, 37, explained he doesn’t see what it takes to win a championship in the proposed system much different than winning the championship under the Chase format. In fact, there is a bonus placed on winning, which Johnson also sees as a key to winning the Chase.
In fact, he won two races and didn’t have a finish worse than 13th to win this past year’s championship.
“You change the odds by 16 drivers being in, but you have to win,” he said. “You’ve got to win races and you’ve got to win a lot. That’s how we’ve won our championships. The most change in my opinion is one race, four cars.”
He is alluding to what would likely amount to a championship race, much in the same vein as a Super Bowl or BCS Championship game in football, with the exception that four cars instead of two teams would be involved. It would be held at the season-ending race at Homestead, a track which Johnson has never won at.
His average finish is 15th place in 13 races on the South Florida track. He’s quick to point out that some of those times, he’s just needed a top-20 finish under the Chase format to wrap up the championship.
“Homestead has been a good track for us,” he said. “We’ve run well when we’ve needed to. Other times, we’ve just needed to go down there and protect. With that in mind, it could be a bad track for one of the four drivers. But, that’s something you’re just going to have to figure out as a team.”