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Jimmie In No Mood To Have Record Roll Ended

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 15 2011

Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus are entering their time of the season. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

For 26 races each season Jimmie Johnson does what he has to do to qualify for and get ready for NASCAR’s big finale, the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Heading into Sunday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway, the opener of the 10-race, 12-driver Chase, Johnson is ready to begin the quest for an unprecedented sixth straight Cup title –just as unprecedented as No. 4 and No. 5.

Johnson remains the only driver to qualify for every Chase since the formula debuted in 2004, and his results in the stock car playoffs are pretty incredible. He has finished worse than second in the points only once since the Chase began – a fifth-place performance in 2005.

Overall, in 70 Chase races, Johnson has 21 wins, including at least one in each of those seven seasons.

There is, of course, the occasional stinker, like last year when he began the Chase with a 25th-place finish at New Hampshire. But it doesn’t seem to matter. Somehow, some way, Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the No. 48 Chevrolet team find a way to win.

After that unhappy start in Loudon last September, Johnson won the next race and reeled off nine straight top-10 finishes on his way to the latest crown.

Jimmie Johnson wants to remain No. 1. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

He does appear a bit more vulnerable than usual this year, heading into the playoffs sixth in the standings – nine points behind co-leaders Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch – and with only one win in 2011. It’s the first time since winning three times in the pre-Chase seasons of 2002 and 2003 that Johnson has gotten to the 27th race of the season with fewer than four victories.

Still, Johnson seemed to be gearing up nicely for the Chase when six top-10 finishes in seven races, including a pair of runner-up finishes, before an early-race incident with nemesis Kurt Busch relegated him to a 31st-place finish last Saturday night at Richmond.

Besides making the usually stoic Johnson angry, the Richmond race appeared to slow his momentum heading into the playoffs. But, if Johnson is worried, he isn’t showing it.

“Momentum doesn’t hurt going into the Chase, but, we’ve been without momentum (and) we’ve had momentum,’’ Johnson noted. “Another way to look at it is we’ve had momentum working against us and momentum working for us and we’ve been able to win either way.

“I’ve said all along, these final 10 races, it’s its own world. When everything reracks and the point spread is so small between first and 12th, it changes things and it’s a whole new season. It’s a clean sheet of paper and off you go.”

As much as many fans would love to see a different driver – any driver – knock Johnson off his throne, nobody knows how to perform on NASCAR’s big stage better than the man known as five-time.

“I think I was more intense in the early (Chase) years because any driver has a lot of thoughts and you’re trying to analyze all these situations,’’ Johnson explained. “Before you win a race, you wonder how you are going to handle those situations and you are trying to mentally prepare for a variety of situations. Once you win a race, you’re like ‘Oh, ok, this is how I do it; this is how I deal with pressure; this is how I hold someone off; this is how I find a way by someone; adjustments you need to make late in a race.’

“You start building some confidence in your own decision-making process. You get into the championship format and it’s the same thing. So, over time, I’ve built a lot of confidence, in truthfully the way I think and the things that I focus on and I feel like I have a better road map on where to focus. I don’t waste a lot of extra time worrying about other areas.

“You know, I’m not the smartest guy and I don’t have a ton of brain power,’’ Johnson added in self-deprecating manner. “It’s allowed me to kind of sit back and relax and have fun.”

The fun continues for Johnson this week at Chicagoland, and that could make it pretty miserable for the rest of the contenders.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 15 2011
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