NASCAR: Johnson still thinking Chase title

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 30, 2011

Associated Press
DOVER, Del. ó Go ahead. Count out Jimmie Johnson.
After all, he’s had an atypical-Johnson season.
His wins have dried up, his spot in the Sprint Cup standings is worthy of a double-take, and a run of dominance that staked his claim as one of NASCAR’s all-time great champions has vanished.
The V stands for vulnerable more than victories this season when it comes to the No. 48.
No championship run lasts forever, and one year it will be Johnson’s time to surrender his five-year run atop the Cup standings.
Just don’t be so sure it’ll be this season.
Tony Stewart has stolen the spotlight and grabbed the points lead with wins in the first two Chase races. Brad Keselowski has gone from wild-card to championship contender. Kevin Harvick is always a threat.
Johnson is still in the mix for six straight championships and can start to make a serious move in the standings at one his favorite tracks, Dover International Speedway. He’s tamed the Monster Mile like few other drivers in the sport ever have. He has six career victories on the concrete track and won the race here last September. Johnson has a sparkling 9.6 average finish in 19 career Cup starts at Dover.
The rush to finally anoint a new champ might stall if Johnson can capture another checkered flag on Sunday.
“I don’t think we’re looking for the walk-off home run by any means right now,” Johnson said. “It’s just finishing where we should.”
Johnson hasn’t finished where he expected to place in the first two Chase races, one reason why he’s lurking in 10th place and 29 points behind Stewart. That gap is far from insurmountable ó even with the revamped system ó for a driver like Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team.
Johnson spent Friday taking questions about “sense of urgency” and “pressure,” terms and feelings he hasn’t had experienced much of this early in the Chase since he won his first championship in 2006.
“Pressure is everywhere,” he said. “These final 10 races, take that whole pressure scale and multiply it by some crazy number. Pressure is everywhere for every team.”
The reality is, there’s less pressure on Johnson to win than on any of the other 11 Chase drivers.
He has his championships and his place in history. Johnson will always be a threat to contend at Hendrick, and he and doesn’t have to worry about a now-or-never attitude to win a title before his career is over. He’s not Mark Martin in the 2009 Chase.
Like if the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Lakers lose, it’s OK. They’ll be back.
Johnson’s legacy won’t be affected one bit if he fails to win the championship this season.
That doesn’t mean he won’t work like a mad man to hang onto his crown for another year.
“We’re doing all we can, I promise you,” Johnson said. “Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports is giving us all that they have. My No. 48 team is committed and focused on doing the best job they can, and I am as well.”