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Jimmie Johnson 2013 year in review

January 02, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Despite brief slump, Johnson never doubted path to a championship

This is the 13th and final installment of a series on 2013 Sprint Cup Series driver recaps that will be featured on NASCAR.com

It was the worst month-long stretch of his NASCAR Cup career, but Jimmie Johnson was undaunted. 

His 40th-place finish at Richmond, the final "regular-season race" of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, was the fourth consecutive finish of 28th or worse for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. Since joining the Cup series full-time in 2002, the California native had never endured a similar run of mediocrity. 

But rather than dwell on what had gone wrong, Johnson chose to focus on other more encouraging areas. 

Call it the power of positive thinking, the belief in himself and those around him.

FULL SERIES COVERAGE

SEASON IN REVIEW

"I'm going to reserve any major concern or overwhelming confidence until after Chicago," Johnson said in the aftermath of Richmond. "I'm going to go in there with confidence I can go out and win because I know that I can. We're going to enter nice and smooth and see how Chicago goes."

"Tough," is how crew chief Chad Knaus described the four-week run, "but the thing is our cars have actually been very fast," he said.

The Chase officially kicked off at Chicago, where Johnson and his No. 48 team overcame a pair of pit-road issues to finish fifth.

Nine weeks later he, Knaus, team owner Rick Hendrick and the rest of the team were basking in the spotlight of a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup title. 

In what has become something of a calling card once NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup gets underway, Johnson reeled off victories -- at Dover and Texas -- and nine top-10 finishes in the 10-race stretch to claim his sixth championship in eight years. 

Of course, it wasn't as simple, or as easy, as that -- thanks in large part to the efforts of rival Matt Kenseth, winner of the year's first two Chase races. 

Johnson didn't take the points lead in the Chase until Talladega, then surprisingly lost it the following week at his go-to track, Martinsville Speedway.

But the Texas victory a week later put Johnson back on top, and finishes of third and ninth in the season's final two races left him 19 points ahead of Kenseth at year's end. 

Others have come to expect his team's surge once the Chase gets underway, but Knaus said it's wrong to think the team simply cranks up the effort once the title is on the line. 

"People think we come into the Chase and ratchet it up," Knaus said. " 'OK, we're going to go; we're going to make stuff happen.'

"I think that's a mistake. That's now how we operate. We try to operate at ten-tenths all year long. When we get into the Chase, it's kind of the norm."

The two Chase wins gave Johnson 66 for his career, eighth on the series' all-time list.

He also won at Daytona (twice), Martinsville and Pocono this past season.

"When I look back on the year, I think about the Gen-6 car, the race to figure out what the car wanted for speed, the hard work from everybody at Hendrick," Johnson said. "The way we’ve been able to connect ... find speed in the car, develop the car, innovate in the garage area with the setups. 

"I give Chad all the credit in the world for honing in on those things, finding speed and building me fast race cars."

As impressive as his season was, Johnson said he felt there were opportunities that slipped past the team. 

"We were in position to win a lot throughout the course of the year," he said. "Unfortunately, we gave a bunch away. I think we could be sitting here with a higher win total. At the end of the day we won the big prize. 

"That helped us through some of those races that got away, focusing on the big (prize), knowing we had speed, making sure we were organized, had our inventory of cars, (and a) test setup ready to roll."

It was, he said, "just a well-executed year top to bottom, especially in these final 10 races. 

"We didn't leave many points on the table (in the Chase). I can look back on a few tracks and think we could have had a few more points, but it really was a strong 10 weeks. 

"Last year we had eight great weeks," but finished third in points.

"Matt had nine (this year)," he said. "You have to have 10 great weeks to be the champion and we got it done this year."

MORE:

READ: Year in Review
driver profiles

READ: A season defined
by a night in Richmond

READ: Top 10 on-track
moves of 2013

WATCH: Handing out the
2013 Loopie Awards