Jimmie Johnson: 5 Ways He Can Get Back into Championship-Contending Form in 2012

Ben Montedonico@@NASCARBRBenContributor IIIMarch 8, 2012

Jimmie Johnson: 5 Ways He Can Get Back into Championship-Contending Form in 2012

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    Jimmie Johnson's run at the 2012 Sprint Cup title got off to a rough start.

    In the season-opening Daytona 500, Johnson suffered a Lap 2 accident, which resulted in a 42nd-place finish. To make matters worse, he was penalized 25 points after his car failed initial inspection for the 500, and he will lose crew chief Chad Knaus for six races after the team's appeals process is over.

    However, things seem to be looking up for Johnson. The five-time Sprint Cup champ finished fourth in last week's race at Phoenix with a car that was competitive enough to run for the win.

    But despite the great run, Johnson still finds himself mired in 37th in the standings. With 24 races remaining until the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins, Johnson has an uphill climb in front of him in order to get back into title contention.

    There are five ways that Five-Time can tackle that mountain. Here they are.

1. Johnson's Penalty Gets Overturned and He Gets to Keep Chad Knaus

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    For starters, there's always the easy way.

    Should Johnson and company manage to win their appeal of the Daytona penalty, two things would work in the No. 48 team's favor.

    First, Johnson would get his 25 points back, moving him from 37th all the way up into a three-way tie with Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose for 20th.

    I'm no expert on math, but it seems to me that Johnson would be just a bit closer to the Chase cutoff if he was in 20th than he would be if he was in 37th.

    Second, and perhaps most important, Johnson would not lose his crew chief Chad Knaus for six races. Johnson and Knaus have a better driver-crew chief rapport than almost any other duo in the garage area, and they've been together longer than any other tandem.

    Six races apart from each other may not kill them, but they are certainly better off together.

2. Johnson Develops a Good Rapport with Lance Mcgrew

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    Then there's the hard way.

    Assuming Johnson's penalty is upheld—and all indications are it will be—Johnson will be getting a new crew chief for six races while Chad Knaus takes a little mini-vacation.

    In all likelihood, that crew chief will be Lance McGrew.

    McGrew is a veteran of the Hendrick Motorsports stable. In the past two years, he has called the shots for Johnson's teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin, so he and Johnson are no strangers to one another.

    Should McGrew begin calling the shots for Johnson next week at Bristol, it is crucial that the two of them develop a good rapport early so that the No. 48 team does not lose any more ground on the front-runners in the standings.

3. Johnson Has a Good Run at Las Vegas

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    Momentum is key in NASCAR.

    Should Sunday's race at Las Vegas be Chad Knaus' last atop Johnson's pit box for six weeks, a good run for the No. 48 team could go a long way.

    Johnson has a solid history in Sin City, with four wins to his credit in his last six Vegas starts.

    A fifth victory on Sunday is well within the realm of possibility.

    If Johnson can put together another solid outing—if not a win—on Sunday, it would catapult Johnson well up through the standings and into a position where he can try to maintain ground, and not have to gain any, while his interim crew chief is in place.

    A good run at Las Vegas could certainly ease a lot of pressure for the No. 48 team.

4. Johnson Simply Maintains Consistency

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    If you're in it, you can win it.

    That is the famous saying when it comes to playoffs in other sports. Any team with any record can win the championship if they simply make the playoffs.

    It is no different in NASCAR.

    It is easy to say at this point that Johnson needs to go for broke, as he sits mired deep in the standings, but that could not be farther from the truth.

    Making the Chase is not difficult for a team of the No. 48's caliber.

    All Johnson has to do is maintain some sort of consistency over the next 24 races. Wins would be nice, sure. But if Johnson can run well on a consistent basis and score top fives and top 10s in the majority of the races before the Chase, he will be in the Chase.

    And if he's in it, Johnson can win it.

5. Johnson Earns a Chase Wild Card Berth

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    Jimmie Johnson does not even have to be one of NASCAR's 10 best drivers to have a shot at the championship.

    Under NASCAR's current points system, the 10 best drivers in the standings after 26 races, as well as the two drivers 11-20th in the standings with the most wins, make the Chase.

    Which means that even if Johnson is unable to maintain the consistency needed to make the top 10, he can still earn one of the two wild-card slots.

    Let's face it: Johnson is going to win races this year. It may be only be two, or three or four, but whatever that number is, you'd be hard-pressed to find that it won't be high enough for him to make the Chase.

    And again, if he's in it, he can win it.