|Johnson (48) and Kenseth are set to clash|
How can a driver who has accumulated a one-race lead in just 11 events not be the consensus pick to win it all?
And how can a driver who ranks no better than third in points have the entire garage area spooked?
Easy, when the drivers in question are Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth.
By the numbers, Johnson has been the class of the 2013 Sprint Cup field to date. He has two wins, six Top-5 and eight Top-10 finishes in his first 11 starts, with an average finish of 6.7. He holds a commanding, 44-point lead in the championship standings, in a series where the maximum amount of points available in a single race is 48.
Johnson is currently a full race ahead of the pack; a veritable Secretariat, galloping far ahead of the field.
Right there in the front of that pack, however, is Kenseth. His three Top-5 and seven Top-10 finishes don’t quite stack up to Johnson’s lofty numbers, but his three victories so far are tops in the Sprint Cup Series. A victory in Saturday night’s Bojangle’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway pushed him to third in the title chase, 59 points behind Johnson.
And while Kenseth’s start to the 2013 campaign has been torrid, it could easily be even hotter. The former series champion led all but 50 laps last weekend at Talladega before getting shuffled back to eighth during a crazed, green/white/checkered flag finish, and a week earlier, he started from the pole and led 140 laps before finishing seventh at Richmond.
Based on their results to date, there is no question that Johnson and Kenseth are on a collision course. Their teams – Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing – are clearly the dominant operations in NASCAR right now, and the drivers and crews are at the top of their respective games.
While Johnson currently enjoys a bit of breathing room at the top of the Sprint Cup Series standings, you can bet he’s not breathing easy.