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

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?

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

  1. PipSTA said on 29th December 2008, 16:21

    For the whole, race them against one another, I had an idea about this wayyyyyy before I saw this, honest.

    The idea would be to take 14 drivers, from the following: Formula 1 World Champion, Monaco Grand Prix Winner, IndyCar series Champion, Indy 500 Champion, NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion, Daytona 500 Champion, World Touring Car Champion, Bathurst 1000 Winner, FIA GT GT1 Champion, LeMans Overall Winner, World Rally Champion, Monte Carlo Rally Winner, Moto GP Champion, Isle of Man Senior TT Winner.

    In places where these would be the same person, then go to second in the championship or whatever. And have one representative from the endurance winners. And also take along their teammates.

    Then race tham over a few races, with a varity of machines like each of those, and see who comes out on top. Would be a lot of fun.

  2. pitt layne said on 22nd October 2009, 10:30

    I don’t know why we haven’t had another Mario Andretti. He won in F1, IndyCar, and NASCAR. What’s the big deal? Driving is driving. You have gas, brake, and steering. We do it all the time. We turn left and right in the city streets. Road racing. On the highways we change lanes. Ovals. Why can’t a racing athlete do the same and win in both disciplines? Mansell was the only one to do a F1 championship and IndyCar championship simultaneously. He did win a few oval races along the way. Incidentally, Michael Andretti went to F1 that same year and didn’t do squat. He did get a third place at a track that used to be an oval. Monza.

  3. UFC 114 will have a whole lot of matches, but none at the magnitude of the bout between Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans. This is 1 of the most anticipated match-ups, which will finally acquire location this month.

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