Future Hall of Famer Johnson enjoys career year
May 28, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
Even Jimmie Johnson is amazed by the statistic.
When he straps into his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet Sunday afternoon at Dover International Speedway he has a chance of becoming the Monster Mile’s all-time winningest driver, eclipsing the seven-win mark he shares with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison.
Pretty heady company for sure, but that’s not even the whole story.
Johnson either holds or is tied for all-time victories at seven race tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule -- the broadest, most accomplished resume of any of his current competitors.
“I had no idea I had that opportunity or that honor taking place,’’ Johnson said Tuesday. “That's mind‑boggling to me. I knew of the Charlotte stuff and I knew that Dover and Martinsville, but I didn't know about the others.
“I'm extremely proud of that. I've worked hard to put myself in this position and so does the team, and we've been able to capitalize on those opportunities and hard work and get stuff done, so I'm really excited about that.’’
"I've worked hard to put myself in this position and so does the team, and we've been able to capitalize."
-- Jimmie Johnson
At the rate the 37-year-old Southern Californian is racking up wins and claiming records, you’d think he could get used to the good and gaudy statistics. Instead, Johnson still seems genuinely humbled and awed by each new historic moment.
And there’s potential for a really, really big historical moment on the horizon: a sixth championship, which is something only seven-time champs Petty and fellow Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt have accomplished.
With the midpoint of the regular season approaching this weekend, Johnson has positioned himself well for a title run. He holds a solid 32-point lead over second-place Carl Edwards -- the closest anyone’s been to him in a month and more impressive considering Johnson’s frustrating 22nd-place finish in Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600.
After the April 27 Richmond race, Johnson held a 43-point edge -- essentially a full race advantage over the field. He’s been atop the standings for all but two of the season’s 12 weeks.
Is this lofty lead truly indicative of how far ahead of the competition Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Team really is?
“We've got a huge points lead and things kind of ‑‑ we've had the wins and there have been tracks that we've been really hot at,’’ Johnson said, quickly adding, “ But I feel like our mile‑and‑a‑half stuff, we've been really a top-five car. Our short track stuff and super speedway stuff, we've been a winning car. With the mile and a half occupying so much of the year and especially the Chase, we have a little bit of room for improvement there. I do feel very good about our cars and don't want to undermine that.
“But the points lead is huge, and I'd love to keep it that way and roll on into Richmond or the races before Richmond with that kind of points lead so we can lock in.’’
Interestingly, not one time during his five championship runs did Johnson lead the standings entering the Richmond race, which sets the 12-driver Chase field for the 10-race playoff run.
But after watching Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski hoist the Sprint Cup the past two years, it’s clear Johnson had a message to bring in 2013. And judging by his effort, he’s leaving very little to chance. He’s not waiting around.
His eight top-10 finishes in the first 12 races is a season best 83 percent and combined with two victories and series best 50 percent clip of top-five showings, Johnson is turning in a career year -- in a career that was already Hall of Fame bound.
He’s won four of the last eight races at Dover -- two of them from the pole -- and has two season sweeps at the track starting with his first Cup start there.
He’s led a whopping 1,763 laps in the last nine Dover races -- for an average of 195 laps a race -- and has led at least one lap in the last 11 consecutive races at the Monster Mile.
And as history beckons this weekend, Johnson offered the understatement of the season.
“I feel good about things.’’
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