McReynolds on Jimmie Johnson and Cale Yarborough's Record
Larry McReynolds, NASCAR analyst for SPEED, discusses Jimmie Johnson’s day at Atlanta Motor Speedway, his strengths and his chances of matching Cale Yarborough’s championship record. Following are McReynolds' thoughts:
Q: Is everyone else running for second in points right now?
Larry McReynolds: “I don’t expect another team to simply beat Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 out of the title on the race track – not enough to overtake them in points. It will take something befalling the 48 team, like we’ve seen with the other 11 Chase drivers at least once, whether a wreck, an engine failure or a blown tire. Johnson has a full race cushion, a one-race mulligan, in his pocket. The way he’s running, it will be very hard to beat that. It’s almost like you can hear that engraver engraving his name on the trophy. I wouldn’t etch it on there just yet but if he keeps running the way he has and we expect him to, no one will overtake him without some bad luck on his part. If he’s got a 70 or 90-point lead heading into Homestead, I’d say it is over.”
Q: Why is the 48 team so good?
Larry McReynolds: “I don’t want to praise Johnson and the 48 team to death but to not do it is like trying to ignore the elephant in the living room. What they’re doing is unbelievable. They have proven again, just like in last year’s Chase, that they’re trying to lead laps and win races, despite their sizeable points margin. Last year, Johnson raced Matt Kenseth hard at Texas, trying to lead laps and win the race, when second would have been fine. Then, instead of being content with 11th, he passed cars all the way to second and had it been a 503-mile race, he probably would have won.
“That is their mentality and it’s what makes them so good. They don’t points race – they race to win. If you win, the points take care of themselves. I’d say that at Homestead, if they have a 70 to 90-point lead, they’ll be smart. But this weekend at Texas, their goal will to be to sit on the pole and win the race, and that’s what makes them so good.
“You look around and everyone’s pretty close in horsepower and aerodynamics. What’s the difference? The 48 team is just clicking right now. The crew chief and driver are spot-on and if Chad is not flawless in his calls, Jimmie is flawless in his driving. You have to dig pretty darn deep to find any weaknesses in that team.”
Q: Your response to suggestions for a Chase format change given Johnson’s dominance?
Larry McReynolds: “NASCAR could change the Chase format to two teams, 17 teams, invert them backwards or whatever, but when a team is as solid as they are, it doesn’t matter. They’ve had no hiccups in the first seven races in the Chase and it started several races before the Chase. We’ve all love the Chase to come down to final corner of last lap at Homestead but when a team is as spot-on week in and week out as the 48 has been, even the 99 has been too, aside from Talladega and Charlotte, that’s hard to accomplish.”
Q: Did you ever anticipate you would see Cale Yarborough’s record of three consecutive championships matched?
Larry McReynolds: “I really did think we would see someone match Cale Yarborough’s record and I’m honestly a little surprised it hasn’t already been done. In the 1990s, Jeff Gordon looked destined to duplicate it, as did Dale Earnhardt in the ‘80s. I am surprised it hasn’t happened up until now but I might be more surprised that it appears to be happening now given how tight the competition is these days.”
Q: What are your thoughts on the chances of Jimmie Johnson making it four straight championships?
Larry McReynolds: “I’d say Jimmie Johnson’s chances of making it four straight are as good as they are of making it three straight, but his odds of going four or five is probably as good as three. I don’t know where you cut it off. Something is going to make a turn sometime. Either the 48 team will miss it for a period or time or someone else will come along and dominate as Johnson and Chad Knaus have done for three years. We have such an ever-moving sport but the 48 team has done a whale of a job in keeping up with the times and the changes. It’s almost like they don’t panic in the first 26 races but just run solid, accumulate and compile lot of information so when they drop the green flag on the 10 Chase races, Johnson just buckles up and gets after it. That team is so structured and they don’t panic when they’re off a bit, as they appeared to be at the beginning of the season. They just remain on their narrow path and keep chipping away at it.”