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Year in Review: Johnson's bid for sixth championship falls just short

December 14, 2012, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

Despite back-to-back wins at Martinsville and Texas Jimmie Johnson failed to win his sixth Sprint Cup Series title in 2012. (Autostock)

Year in Review: 'Sunshine State' anything but for Johnson in 2012

Florida may be known as the Sunshine State, but for Jimmie Johnson in 2012, it was the dark cloud in what he considered a season with a number of silver linings.

He matched his career-worst finish in the Daytona 500 when he was involved in a Lap 1 accident. He crashed again when the series returned to Daytona in July and wound up 36th. And perhaps most damaging, nearly had the championship within his grasp at Homestead when he left the pits without a lug nut, then suffered a rear gear failure that ended his day -- and any chance of winning title No. 6.

"Sure, I feel disappointed that we didn't get the championship but a large part of my feeling is satisfied about the year."

--JIMMIE JOHNSON

Jimmie Johnson

2012 Statistics
WinsFirst 26Final 10
Top-Fives126
Top-10s177
Poles13
DNFs51
Laps Led1,033711
Avg. Start10.99.7
Avg. Finish11.310.7

But once the initial shock and pain of that day wore off, Johnson realized that he'll remember 2012 as a very good year.

"As a whole, for the entire year, we were very competitive on all types of tracks and really made a good run at the championship," Johnson said. "Sure, I feel disappointed that we didn't get the championship but a large part of my feeling is satisfied about the year."

That may be surprising, particularly with as competitive as Johnson is. But there were definitely more bright spots than dismal ones. Johnson ticked off several during the post-season celebration in Las Vegas.

"The 200th win [for Hendrick Motorsports], the Brickyard, being there in the Chase like we were, especially [during] the Martinsville-Texas timeframe, there was some really cool energy floating around the walls of that No. 48 shop," Johnson said. "There was a lot of cool stuff going on then. It turned out to be far different than what we wanted.

"But I'd say through the Chase, 10 or 20 percent of it didn't work out well for us, but when I look at the whole year, it was two out of 38 races that didn't go all that well. We had a lot of speed and a lot to be proud of this year, so there were a lot of high spots."

Based on the inauspicious start at Daytona, making the Chase -- letting alone being in title contention in the season's final event -- might have been the best comeback Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have ever pulled off.

Not only did Johnson dig himself a hole right off the bat, but it could have been even deeper. Even before the car got on the track, NASCAR determined the C posts didn't fit the templates -- and that resulted in penalties, including being docked 25 points.

The penalties were eventually rescinded on appeal.

"We did get off to a rocky start," Johnson said. "That was a tough point in time. I'm happy things turned out as they did and we were able to keep the points. We were just worried about making the Chase, if you start down in a big hole like that [because] there's no guarantee you'll get it back."

A lot of the credit has to go to Knaus, who continues to be a master at machinery and motivation.

"Chad's intense and he's trying hard to get all that he can," Johnson said. "He's a great leader of our team. There are times when you either have to lean on your guys or times you have to take care of them and make sure everything's fine, so he does a great job of managing that stuff and pushing us to get all that we can."

Even after Brad Keselowski jumped out to a 20-point lead after Johnson struggled and crashed at Phoenix, the five-time champ still believed experience would play a major factor in the title battle. And he was almost proven right when Johnson took the lead with less than 60 laps remaining.

Suddenly, Johnson was in a position very similar to what he had faced -- with great success -- in the past. However, this time, fate didn't smile in his direction.

"Through that five-year stretch, things we had fast cars and got the job done," Johnson said. "We had some breaks go our way and it takes all factors to pull it together. And I did feel that ways were going our way, particularly with the poles and wins we had at Martinsville and Texas. Things just came to an abrupt halt for us.

"... I really felt like going into Homestead, we were going to win the championship and we didn't. As a competitor, you're going to believe until you're eliminated. And we really had a chance. The points were awfully tight and we had those guys on the ropes and unfortunately we weren't able to continue to keep that pressure on them until the checkered fell."

Watch all of Johnson's highlights from 2012 and flip through his year in photos below.