Jimmie Johnson is NASCAR’s #1 again – but how would he fare in Formula 1?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Jimmie Johnson in his Chevrolet Impala NASCAR
Jimmie Johnson in his Chevrolet Impala NASCAR

Jimmie Johnson won the NASCAR title for the third year in a row last week. In the past six years he’s also been runner-up twice, in 2003 and 2004.

He doesn’t fit the NASCAR stereotype of a drawling redneck: Johnson is from California and flies to races in a Gulfstream jet. He’s also clearly one of NASCAR’s top drivers. So how would he compare to a typical F1 driver?

I was disappointed to read a few weeks ago that Johnson’s rival Kyle Busch was no longer going to be testing an F1 car for Toyota, denying us a rare glimpse of a top NASCAR driver in a pukka F1 car. Although we’ve seen several recent F1 drivers try their hands at NASCAR including Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Paclo Montoya, the last time I remember seeing a NASCAR driver try out an F1 car was Jeff Gordon in 2003.

It’s very hard to compare drivers between two of the world’s most popular forms of motor racing, because the two disciplines are different in almost every way.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the ‘F1 is better than NASCAR because…/NASCAR is better than F1 because…” Let’s just accept that the two are almost entirely different and leave it at that.

No modern driver has come close to winning championships in both disciplines. Montoya has won races in both, though only one in NASCAR, and that was at one of the series’ few road courses last year.

Johnson plays the NASCAR game very cannily. If on occasions this year it looked as though Lewis Hamilton had lost site of the importance of being conservative and collecting points, you could not accuse Johnson of the same.

Several years ago NASCAR adopted a new championship system called ‘Chase for the Cup’ with the aim of keeping championship battles open until the last round. Under the current system, with ten races to go the top 12 drivers points are equalised, and the championship decided over the final races.

Last year Johnson ran a consistent season up until the chase, collecting points with regularity. With the chase in sight he won the final two races before it began, then added four more victories in the final ten races. It was a similar story this year: four wins in the first 26 races, three in the final ten. Over the last 72 races, only five DNFs.

In short, he plays the system: Collecting points in the main part of the championship, then dominating the chase. He does it so effectively, NASCAR are considering changing the chase system, much like the FIA tweaked F1’s points after Michael Schumacher’s dominant 2002 season.

Here’s how Johnson’s career stats compare to some of F1’s top drivers:

Driver Races Wins Win rate Pole positions DNFs
Jimmie Johnson 255 40 15.69% 23 25
Fernando Alonso 121 21 17.36% 17 26
Kimi Raikkonen 139 17 12.23% 16 45
Lewis Hamilton 35 9 25.71% 13 2
Felipe Massa 105 11 10.48% 15 21

Statistics can only tell us a fraction of the story – and as I’m no great NASCAR fan this is about as much as I can tell you about Jimmie Johnson. But still I’d love to see an oval-bred, panel-bashing NASCAR racer try out an F1 car.

Do any NASCAR watchers out there have some thoughts on how Johnson could do?

More on NASCAR and F1

Image (C) The Freewheeling Daredevil via Flickr