Not so fast, Jimmie Johnson

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:02 AM ET

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Just in case reigning four-time champion Jimmie Johnson thinks he’s in charge of the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, Denny Hamlin — who is 41 points back of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team going into Martinsville Speedway — has let it be known that his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota will set the pace on Sunday at the little half-mile oval.

Hamlin, in fact, appeared downright ornery this week at the media’s contention that Johnson’s bid for five consecutive championships is a virtual certainty.

The 29-year-old native of Midlothian, Va. — just upstate from Martinsville — feels he has just as much right to be considered a favourite to win it all as Johnson.

And he said he aims to win on Sunday to start that ball rolling.

“So in my mind, when I go to Martinsville, yeah, it’s an all out win or nothing situation for myself,” Hamlin said in a teleconference call.

He said that his wins in the most recent two races at Martinsville put him in the drivers seat, so to speak, in his battle with Johnson. Hamlin dismissed a suggestion that he might be nervous at the thought of a shoot-out with Johnson for top spot.

“Honestly, I’m not nervous at all” he said. “I would be more nervous if I was (Johnson) going into Martinsville than I would if I was myself because we won the last two races here.”

Hamlin said he has a plan for Sunday and that plan is to take the race to Johnson right from the opening lap. He said that his No. 11 Toyota team is comfortable with the notion that the race is their’s to win.

“We are going out there to be on the offence,” Hamlin said. “(Johnson) is going to try to go out there and win the race as well. But for me, he’s going to have to beat us to do it. I feel like we’re going to be strong. It’s going to take a lot to beat us here.”

What is driving Hamlin — although he is loathe to admit it — is the fact that he doesn’t seem to get the respect that Johnson, or third-place driver Kevin Harvick, get in the Sprint Cup garage.

Although he lauds Johnson’s history-making four-in-a-row-title run, Hamlin is of the opinion he is capable of the same feat.

“A lot of people like to give Jimmie a lot of praise for what he does,” Hamlin said. “He deserves it, he’s a four-time champion. But for myself, we’ve had to overcome starting worse than him, pretty much every week. We’ve had to overcome crashes, things like that. We’ve gotten spun in the Chase race and come back.”

Hamlin said when he looks at the remaining races after Martinsville (Talladega, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead), he sees tracks where he has won more recently than the No. 48 team. He said that those results make him a believer that he should be the favourite to win the Cup this season

“As far as I’m concerned, when we go to Texas, we won there in the spring. We won Homestead last year, and we ran third in Phoenix last year, so I think we’ve got a great shot,” he said.

But what Hamlin relishes more than anything is the fight that is to come over the next month. Just him and Johnson for all the marbles.

“I feel like it is mano a mano, we’ve been in a lot of green and white checkers where we’ve been on the front row together, so it should be interesting.”

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos