News & Media

Cup Preview: Johnson's past CMS success is bad news for field

October 13, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service,

History provides little relief for those needing 'Five-Time' to stumble on Saturday

The search for a stress fracture in Jimmie Johnson's campaign to win a sixth consecutive Cup Series championship has yielded very little for those hoping to end the No. 48 team's reign.

And all indications seem to be that the only thing the search will reveal at Charlotte Motor Speedway is that following Saturday's Bank of America 500, those chasing Johnson will have one less race to get him.

"I definitely feel that our groove is here, and it's been slowly building."


Johnson's numbers and circumstances all point to bad news for the other 2011 hopefuls, and the five-time champ seems to know it.

"I'm excited," Johnson said this week. "I feel that we're where we need to be."

Johnson does not enter this weekend's fifth race of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup on top of the point standings. He's not even second.

But he is doing some serious lurking.

Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team started the Chase off with a 10th-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway and then had an off day at New Hampshire and finished 18th.

But those who hoped that finish -- and a snippy radio conversation between Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus during the race in Loudon -- represented the beginning of the end of the 48 team's run, it appears they were merely being teased.

At Dover in Week 3 of the Chase, Johnson led 157 laps and finished second. Last Sunday at Kansas Speedway, Johnson led 197 laps and won the race. And while he left Kansas third in points, he left just four points behind leader Carl Edwards, three points behind second-place Kevin Harvick and zero points behind anybody when it comes to confidence.

"I definitely feel that our groove is here, and it's been slowly building," Johnson said.

"We had some good momentum in the three or four races coming into the start of the Chase. Chicago was a great race for us. And then I'm speaking also for the pit crew, as well, not only on track but on pit road, as well. We've been slowly building in these last two weeks. It's hard to argue with a second and a first and all the laps that we led, what type of performances we've been having."

History provides little relief for those hoping Johnson will stumble at Charlotte this Saturday. He has six victories in 20 starts at CMS and he has an average finishing position of 10.8?by far the best among all Chase drivers.

Johnson has been particularly tough in Chase races at Charlotte -- his average finish in seven playoff races is fourth.

"I think we're going to be a threat [at Charlotte]," Johnson said. "When I look back to Chicago, Kentucky, and Kansas obviously, our 1.5-mile stuff has been coming along pretty good over the last two or three months. So I feel good about it."

Johnson does admit, however, that the repave job the Charlotte track underwent five years ago has lessened his confidence there.

"Charlotte, with that asphalt that's down," Johnson said, "it is its own environment and it's really tough to get your car right from the start of the race to the end of the race. So I feel like directionally we're going the right way; but until I get on the track this week and understand where the grip level is and what our issues are, it's hard to build too much confidence. But it's been that way all year."

That tiny bit of doubt could be the crack that Johnson's detractors have been looking for.

Then again, some thought the same thing about a 10-second radio communication at New Hampshire.