• 43°

NASCAR: Johnson ready to go for sixth straight

By Noah Trister
Associated Press
BROOKLYN, Mich. — The Chase for the Sprint Cup title begins in less than a month, which means it’s time to revisit what has become NASCAR’s annual, season-ending question: Can anyone beat Jimmie Johnson?
The five-time defending champion finished a solid second last weekend at Michigan, and although he’s won only once on the Sprint Cup circuit this year, Johnson is second in the standings just 10 points behind Kyle Busch. Even after being outraced by Busch on Sunday, Johnson sounded confident that he’ll be ready when the Chase begins Sept. 18 at Chicagoland.
“The thing that I’ve been able to pull back on and fall on was my past history,” Johnson said. “I’m very interested to see how this Chase is going to go. I think it’s the hardest one to predict. It’s going to be a close one. I don’t know who to make the favorite. We’ll just have to see how everybody responds to the pressure when it really kicks up.”
Johnson’s run nearly came to an end last year, but he overtook Denny Hamlin in the standings by running second in the season finale. Now it’s Busch who seems to be mounting the strongest challenge to Johnson’s reign.
Yet even he is choosing his words carefully, well aware of the task ahead.
“It’s definitely going to be a lot edgier through the Chase,” Busch said. “Certainly there’s going to be times throughout the Chase where you’ve got to play it right and you have to play it smart, be smooth and cool about it. For us, the biggest thing is to try to concentrate on what we’ve been doing all year.”
Busch was the regular-season points leader in 2008, but a bolt broke on his sway bar in the first race of the Chase, then a blown engine the following weekend ended his hopes for the championship. Busch’s fall from contention to also-ran status was stunningly swift — and underscores how remarkably consistent Johnson has been.
Johnson may have only one win this year, but last weekend was the sixth top-three showing for the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team, and he’s finished out of the top 20 only three times. His day was far from perfect Sunday — an early mistake on pit road dropped him way behind the leaders — but he raced back into contention and even took the lead before Busch passed him with about a dozen laps remaining.
Outlasting the experienced Johnson over the long haul looks like a daunting task for any driver.
“The Chase does something to everyone, the pressure that’s put on the drivers, watching your life’s work come to a head over a 10-race period of time,” Johnson said. “As the races click off, it comes down to two or three races left, it does weird things to people, outside the car, on the pit box, things happen. We’ve seen that.”
Johnson’s dominance of NASCAR’s top level has become so ingrained, it’s not just the other drivers who have to answer for it. Immediately after Busch’s victory last weekend, Dave Rogers, his crew chief, was asked how he can beat Chad Knaus, Johnson’s crew chief.
“That’s a good question,” Rogers said. “We’re going to control what we can control. I can’t control what Chad does. I can’t control what Jimmie does.”
Busch isn’t the only top driver hoping to dethrone Johnson. Kevin Harvick has three Sprint Cup wins this season, and Carl Edwards has 10 top-five finishes.
Then there’s Brad Keselowski, who is in 12th place but gaining ground fast after three straight top-three showings. Keselowski looks likely to make the Chase as a wild card, but as well as he’s racing right now, he understands what it will take to keep Johnson from another Cup title.
“I’m sure a lot of people in the garage would say his last championship was the most impressive,” Keselowski said. “To beat Jimmie, you’re going to have to have a fast racecar and outexecute him. I think he’s proven that just having a fast racecar isn’t going to beat him.”
There are three races remaining before the Chase begins, but for Johnson and the other drivers at the top of the standings, Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond feel more like tuneups before the real fun starts.
“You are going to be tested in all areas. We all have weaknesses and we all have strengths,” Johnson said. “In order to win a championship in today’s world, you’ve got to be rock solid. We will all learn in time who that guy is this year. We’ve been it the last five. Doesn’t mean this year is our year. We’ve got to go out and earn it.”

Comments

Comments closed.

News

Defendant convicted in attempted murder case on the run after fleeing from trial

Business

Downtown Gateway Building to be renamed for late Paul Fisher

Coronavirus

Rowan County COVID-19 data for April 15

Local

Rep. Warren’s bill would prohibit parking in electric vehicle charging stations

Local

Historic Preservation Commission approves Integro Technologies expansion, Paint the Pavement project

Education

Faith Academy, RSS will negotiate over what goes, stays in elementary school

Crime

Teacher killed in Alamance County shootout with Mexican drug cartel

Coronavirus

Bill would give more tax breaks on COVID-19 loans

Nation/World

No response as divers knock on capsized ship’s hull

Local

Quotes of the week

Crime

Blotter: Man found on church property with litany of drugs

Crime

Man charged in connection to 2019 overdose death

Business

‘It’s our big time’: Salisbury Farmers Market reopens Saturday

Education

Schools capital funding still frozen as RSS sends local budget to county

Business

Shields, Cheerwine Festival receive N.C. Main Street Awards

Kannapolis

Duke University launches kidney disease study in Kannapolis for people of African descent

Education

Horizons Unlimited will hold in-person summer camps

Education

Education briefs: Catawba planning for more in-person activities, free summer school tuition

Coronavirus

County’s full COVID-19 vaccinations top 22,600

High School

High school golf: With Merrell, Mustangs back on top

Local

Spencer investigating rat problem on South Iredell Street

News

Livingstone, Mission House Church to host national ‘Black Voters Matter’ listening session

Education

Shoutouts

Business

Groundbreaking on Pennant Square signals next phase in downtown Kannapolis revitalization