Johnson Says Don’t Count Him In
It would be easy to say that now that Jimmie Johnson is back where he apparently belongs –leading the NASCAR Sprint Cup points – things will just play out normally through the last seven races of the Chase.
Johnson, hoping to make it five straight championships, stumbled in the opener of the 10-race Chase, finishing 25th and falling to sixth in the standings. But finishes of first and second the last two weeks has given JJ the boost he needed, giving him an eight-point lead over Denny Hamlin and 30 over regular season champ Kevin Harvick.
But even Johnson isn’t foolish enough to believe the rest of the 2010 playoffs will simply be a coronation.
“It’s a great position to be in,’’ Johnson said after the runner-up finish last Sunday at Kansas. “But it’s way too early to think about it, to worry about defending. You have Chase guys running so good each and every week.’’
Johnson wouldn’t be human if he didn’t at least give an occasional thought to what it would be like to be make it five titles in a row. But he is aware that there is an awful lot of work yet to do, beginning this weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., where he has won two in a row and four of the last six races.
“All I can do is worry about my team, what we have to do,’’ Johnson said. “Again, it’s early. I’m not worried about who is leading the championship right now. I know we came in second. Of course, I wanted to be leading. I could care less where the 11 (Hamlin) was today. It’s just not time to worry about that stuff.
“After Talladega (the seventh Chase race, on Oct. 31), teams and drivers can work on a strategy of protecting or taking chances. We have to get deeper into the Chase to be concerned about who the points leader is.’’
And Johnson said the amazing Chase success that his No. 48 team has had doesn’t make things less stressful. It was a nervous Saturday night at Kansas after Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus realized their car was not where they wanted it to be after qualifying and practice.
“We had to go to work and change a lot of the race car around to get it right,’’ Johnson said. “It leads to a sleepless night and a frustrating morning, having anxious moments before the race starts, not knowing how the car is going to drive. With everything that’s on the line, I mean, you can’t just take blind guesses; you’ve got to make a decision.
“In Dover, we had that, made the right decisions. This (past) weekend we did it and made the right decisions. It was because we follow the things that we felt in our hearts and in our guts would make the car better.’’
On the radio, after the Kansas race, Johnson told his crew to “keep your heads down. It’s on.’’
He explained later that meant, “If we keep our blinders, stay focused on the 48 team, we tend to make good decisions.’’
Harvick, who like Hamlin, is trying to win his first Cup championship, said he isn’t concerned over Johnson leading the points at this stage of the Chase.
“I think at this point everybody’s racing for themselves,’’ Harvick said. “Obviously, (Johnson and the 48) have done a good job over the last four years. But it’s our job to do what we’re supposed to do, and that’s what we’re worried about right now.’’
“It would be foolish to think about (winning a fifth championship,’’ Johnson said. “It is way too early to think about those things. Way, way too early.’’
– Mike Harris can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment