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Through the Field: Speak Softly & Carry a Big Stick

by Elliot Hicks

The announcement that Alex Bowman will move to the No. 48 car in 2021 was another step toward realizing that Jimmie Johnson really only has five more races as a full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver.

His career spanning two decades in the sport will go down as being one of the best ever. Johnson has won 83 Cup races and is one of just three seven-time champions in the sport’s history, along with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

Jimmie Johnson is one of three drivers to win seven NASCAR Cup Series Championships.

History has looked very favorably at the careers of those two since they have not been active for quite some time, and it may take that time away from Johnson’s career to realize he truly was in the same echelon as those two and more than likely was even better.

His stretch of dominance from 2006 to 2010, winning all five of those championships and 35 races in those seasons, is unlike any other in series history. Up until the last few years, you could pencil him in for at least a couple of wins every season. For quite some time, I think a large portion of the non-Johnson fans were just tired of seeing him win, and that lack of respect, looking back on it, was pretty insane.

I was definitely one of those fans as an adolescent that wanted to see almost anyone but the No. 48 car win after a while, but as time went on, it became easier to pull for “7-Time,” and I was actually happy to see him win title number seven in 2016.

Another thing that separates Petty and Earnhardt from Johnson is that, in the public eye, he doesn’t have the outlandish personality that the other two had. There were no giant cowboy hats or intimidating moves to be seen from Johnson, and that normal-guy-from-California personality oftentimes meant he wasn’t the big storyline in NASCAR. Obviously, his successes were well-covered but other than winning, he really never did much to put the attention on him.

And, when you think about it, that’s a pretty good way to live your life.

In this day and age, it can be extremely tempting to try to get all the attention you can put on yourself. Social media giants like TikTok (who, believe it or not, is sponsoring a car in the Xfinity series the rest of this season) promote that very philosophy.

But, as Teddy Roosevelt said, to speak softly and carry a big stick (or a hell of a lot of driving skills) isn’t a bad way to go about it either, and when history looks back on the career of Jimmie Johnson, it will surely appreciate that mentality.

He still has five more chances to get to victory lane like Denny Hamlin did at Talladega last week. As I predicted, Hamlin was able to grab the win and deny the other playoff drivers the golden ticket of advancement.

Surprisingly, the battle at the cutline is more spread out than it was going into Talladega, with 21 points separating Joey Logano from Kyle Busch heading into the Charlotte road course race, more commonly known as the Roval. With the fates of 10 drivers still uncertain, the Roval will surely once again bring chaos.

Ones to Watch

Chase Elliott:  The No. 9 car has to be the favorite on Sunday. Chase Elliott won this race last year, won at the Daytona road course a couple of months ago, and doesn’t have to race cautiously thanks to his penalty from Talladega being reversed shortly after the race. The Roval is Elliott’s best track left on the schedule and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he wins.

Kyle Busch:  I’ve seen too much success from Kyle Busch over his career to think that he will fall out of the playoffs without a fight. I wouldn’t call him a road course specialist mostly because he’s proven he’s good everywhere. 21 points behind is a relatively big margin, but it won’t be hard to point his way in, especially if another playoff driver runs into trouble. Luck will return to the No. 18 soon, and I don’t think we can rule that out happening in 2020.

Clint Bowyer:  The newest member of the FOX Sports TV booth isn’t hanging up the helmet just yet. With the pressure off, Clint Bowyer can go all-in on going for the win and advancing toward the championship. At 38 points behind the cutline, a win is all-but-necessary for the No. 14 team, and Bowyer has been surprisingly strong at road courses lately, including a sixth-place finish at the Daytona road course.

Alex Bowman:  If you haven’t figured out which driver I follow the most by now, I’d be surprised. But Alex Bowman has deserved many of his writeups throughout the 2020 playoffs and would likely earn the most improved driver award from before the playoffs to during them if such a thing existed. The No. 88 team has consistently run well and has fought back from the mistakes where they haven’t, finishing 14th at Talladega with the entire front end of the car in tatters.

In the two seasons the Cup Series has run at the Roval, Bowman’s average finish of 3.0 is the best in the series. He may send off his time in the 88 with one more win before heading to the 48.

This Week’s Pick

Chase Elliott:  I’m calling for another victory for the odd’s favorite this weekend.

Sleeper Picks

Alex Bowman, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer & Ryan Blaney:  To be honest, the Roval is crazy enough and still enough of an unknown that there truely isn’t a wrong pick heading into the race.

Thanks for reading. For more fantasy NASCAR and life advice, follow me on Twitter, @EHicks39, or check out more of my work at Elliot-Hicks.com.

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