Jimmie Johnson is looking for a six-pack.
Not the beer kind. Not the abdominal kind.
The championship kind.
Although Johnson has been the most successful driver in NASCAR’s top series for the past decade, he is in the middle of what qualifies (only for him) as a mini-slump.
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Johnson won five straight Chases for the year-end title from 2006-2010, earning him the nickname “Five-Time.” But he hasn’t won the Chase either of the past two seasons.
The midpoint of this year’s 10-race Chase comes Saturday night at the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Johnson enters the 2013 race No.2 overall, trailing Matt Kenseth by a scant three points.
Johnson has placed his No.48 Chevrolet in the thick of it once again, and he’s got that “nice guy with tremendous confidence in his ability” attitude going once more. Think of Roger Federer or Michael Phelps in their prime – quite likable, and also quite sure no one else can measure up when they are at their best.
“I do feel very good about our chances,” Johnson said.
Johnson dodged what could have been a nasty finish in Kansas last week when his car began to shut down a lap before the race ended. It somehow held together just long enough for Johnson to limp across the finish line in sixth place. He actually gained a few points on Kenseth (who was 11th) on a day where he could easily have lost them.
Kenseth and Johnson have won 12 Sprint Cup races between them this season, which translates to 40 percent of the points races so far. It would be something of a surprise for anyone else to be holding up the trophy at the end of Saturday night, although certainly Kevin Harvick, now in third place, has been hot as well.
I think Johnson will win title No.6 this year. He will have to get through the crapshoot that is Talladega next weekend, and he’s going to have to deal with Kenseth’s extreme consistency over these final six races.
Everyone else, though, must deal with Johnson too. He seems happy and should be. He and his wife Chandra celebrated the birth of their second child, a daughter they named Lydia, in Charlotte on Sept.6.
Johnson used to totally dominate at Charlotte, winning five of six races in one stretch from 2003 to 2005. Since the track was repaved, however, he has not been able to duplicate that level of success.
“It’s a little different than it was five or six years ago when they resurfaced the track,” Johnson said. “So we’re still trying to find that magic where we can separate ourselves each time we come back. But I still feel like we’re in that top 3 or top 5 group, week in and week out. As long as Matt (Kenseth) isn’t winning, then top 3 or top 5 wouldn’t be too bad this weekend.”
Johnson qualified fourth Thursday night at CMS, while Kenseth qualified 20th. Five-Time is off to a good start in a race that has always been essential to his championship chances. And unless he has some really bad luck over the next six weeks, I think Johnson will be picking up that six-pack soon.