Jimmie Johnson wants a "six pack"

DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:36 PM ET

DAYTONA — In the back of Jimmie Johnson’s mind there just has to be the notion that he could very well end up being the greatest stock driver who ever lived.

If it is in there, there is no chance that the 35-year-old, who grew up in a trailer park in El Cajon, Calif., would even hint that such a possibility exists.

There just isn’t that kind of braggart in his make-up.

No matter that he has won five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championships in an era where there is more drivers capable of winning than at any time in the sports’ history.

Only NASCAR icons Richard “The King” Petty and Dale “The Intimidator” Earnhardt have won more championships — seven each.

However, neither Petty or Earnhardt, ever won more than three in succession.

Yet here is Johnson, the favourite to win a sixth consecutive Sprint Cup trophy, and he doesn’t even have decent nickname.

Sure, Mark Martin dubbed him “Superman” after his fourth title win — but that moniker had already been grabbed by the NBA’s Dwight Howard.

Sitting down in front of the gathered NASCAR media at Daytona International Speedway, Johnson talked about the 2011 season and what he has set for his goals and how he sees himself.

Make no mistake, what Johnson is and does will define the upcoming Sprint Cup season.

He modestly says that moving past either Petty or Earnhardt is not a big part of his motivation for 2011.

“If it all ended today, there is no way I would be disappointed,” he said. “It’s been one hell of a ride. I’m so proud of the growth I’ve had as a driver from motocross, off-road trucks, stock cars — there’s a lot of years where I was tearing stuff up and trying to find my way.

“When I went with Hendrick things smoothed out and it’s been one heck of a ride. So if it all ended today I would be very proud of what all has taken place.”

Johnson said that last season’s battle with Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin — that wasn’t settled until the final race at Homestead Miami Speedway — gave him perspective on his accomplishments.

“I guess as the season wore down I recognized that I was very fortunate to be in the tightest points battle that has ever taken place,” Johnson said. “Certainly I was very excited that I came out on top and was able to win it coming from behind.”

More than anything, he said, he was able to see the victory as probably more meaningful, in some ways, than his first four.

“It’s been big. I know it was big,” he said. “I do have a great sense of pride for the fact that we came from behind and no one has ever done that before.”

Near the end of last season some in the Cup garage labelled Johnson’s dominance as bad for NASCAR.

And maybe there was something to it, after all in his reign as champion NASCAR has seen a drop off in attendance and fewer eyeballs on the race broadcasts on Sunday afternoon.

Harvick even came right out and said it.

But as Johnson sets his sights on what he calls his “six pack” he scoffs at suggestions it’s time for somebody else to win a championship.

He has been very clear that he still has the drive and the team behind him to win again and again.

Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus, in fact, have brought in a whole new team of pit-road warriors to make sure the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet maintains its winning edge.

“As far as inside the shop and the guys working on the cars, yes, our over-the-wall crew is going to be much different,” he said.

“We had a series of competitions and tests to see who is the fastest.”

Johnson doesn’t want a repeat of last season where his pit crew cost him victories at several races — particularly at Texas — late in the year.

He also said that it wasn’t a decision made solely by Knaus.

“Chad may have made some decisions but I was there at that test with those guys last week and I haven’t heard the final roster,” he said.

“From that I saw a very, very strong first and second string of guys. That’s our plan, to make sure we have depth and if someone is hurt or having a bad day — we can make changes and not lose anything on pit road.”

Johnson has always been single-minded in his pursuit of his craft — he doesn’t dabble in team ownership or race in other series like many of his contemporaries — and judging from his comments in Daytona, he has set his mind to win again this season.

Only a fool would bet against him.


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