Jimmie Johnson brimming with confidence
By DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency
|Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson will start Sunday's AAA Texas 500 in first place. (REUTERS)
FORT WORTH, TX - Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson will start Sunday's AAA Texas 500 in first place, both on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval and on the leaderboard in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
It is the kind of statement that the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team likes to make at this time if year: We are here to win another championship.
And it isn't bragging, as they say, if it is true.
This is a guy who, except for last season's hiccup, has won five championships in a row.
No one in NASCAR history — not Richard Petty, not Dale Earnhardt, not Jeff Gordon — has been able to do make their mark on the sport the way Johnson has.
With his pole position-winning lap in qualifying, Johnson just put another shot across the bows of his competitors.
The thing is, Johnson knows it too.
"I look over the last couple of weeks and what our team was able to accomplish at Kansas with a damaged race car and then what we did last week (winning at Martinsville), is quite a statement in that we're serious about this championship and we're doing the right things to go out there and try to win this thing," he said.
He is going into these final three races -- Sunday at Texas, next week at Phoenix and the finale Nov. 18 at Homestead -- with a head of steam.
It is a pattern that Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have perfected.
"As you get closer to the end of the year, (the races) feel like they mean a little bit more," he said after his pole winning run. "But, it's just another pole. Not saying that in a negative way, but the benefits that come with it are the same that you would have at any other track.
"We have 500 long, gruelling miles on Sunday. So the larger battle is definitely on Sunday here at the track. Hopefully all of these battles that we are winning right now will total up to winning the war at the end of the year."
Johnson said the late-season spurt gives him and everybody on the No. 48 Chevrolet team a boost, a feeling that the championship is somehow inevitable.
"It's funny, because when you run really well, you build confidence in your own head, and around your team about how things went," he said. "Getting poles are pretty special, and we got a good one (at Texas), and in a timely point in the season."
Johnson, however, is not building his pole performance into a guarantee that it will lead directly to a sixth championship.
He just sees it as a step in that direction -- one in conjunction with what else he has done to get to the top -- even if it is just a two-point bulge over second-place Brad Keselowski..
"Honestly it's really been the same thing throughout the Chase, and that's to go out and get as many points as possible," Johnson said. "I'm in the mindset of sitting on the pole and winning the race. I think that's what you have to do with as tight as the points have been and with how strong the competitors have been on the race track."
He said the razor-thin gap between him and Keselowski still gives some hope to the other three or four Chase drivers who are still in championship contention.
Denny Hamlin, for instance, was third in the points until his No. 11 Toyota suffered electrical problems at Martinsville and ended his title hopes.
"Denny's troubles have put a gap for Brad and I over third spot," Johnson said. "And I guess in some respects, you can look at a two-guy breakaway right now, but I'm not putting too much stock in that.
"A mid-pack finish for myself and Brad will bring everybody back into it and that's not too big of a margin in my eyes. So, I'm still very focused in getting as many points as possible and trying to win the races."
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton put an end to Red Bull's Formula 1 qualifying poles on Saturday at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
F-1 points leader Sebastian Vettel could only manage a third place on the grid behind Red Bull teammate Mark Webber. Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, will start seventh on Sunday. ... In an effort to spice up the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Texas Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith, only half jokingly, suggested on Saturday the trucks have a hog tied on the back during the race. ... Speaking of trucks Johnny Sauter passed Parker Kligerman with 10 laps left to win the Winstar World Casino 350 on Friday night at TMS.