Jimmie Johnson may be sporting a new, rougher look this season, but one thing is still the same: He expects to win the Sprint Cup Championship.
Johnson has dominated the Cup Series the past three seasons. Say what you want about the No. 48 Lowe's team, but when it counts (and by that I obviously mean the Chase), this team gets it done.
Last season, it appeared Johnson and Crew Chief Chad Knaus appeared that they had fallen behind the curve a little. Drivers such as Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch were tearing the series up with wins, while Johnson was slowly fading out of the spotlight.
Then came the 2008 Chase, and everything changed. In the 10-race playoff, Johnson won three times and averaged a finish of 5.7.
Edwards, on the other hand, won three of the last four races and averaged a finish of eighth. The downfall for him came at Charlotte and Talladega where he finished 33rd and 29th, respectively.
With the season now less than a month away, everyone is making their predictions on who will take home the '09 championship. Many appear to be favored towards Edwards, whose late season surge nearly de-throned the (then) two-time defending champ.
Johnson, however, is a bit surprised that people still aren't giving him the credit he and the No. 48 team deserve.
“I heard that at [last weekend's NASCAR Preseason Thunder] Daytona that they ranked him as the favorite to win and I'm like, 'Uh, really?" Johnson said during Wednesday’s activities on the Sprint Media Tour hosted by Lowe’s Motor Speedway. “I just won three of these things. I can't believe I wouldn't be." (SceneDaily.com)
Johnson knows that Edwards will be a threat to win the championship, but he also knows how dominant his team has been when the Chase rolls around.
"There's a lot of racing between now and then,” the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet said. “At the start of the season last year it was easy to forget about us and I think at the end of last year it was easy to forget about the 18 car [of Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch] and we know he's going to be strong."
"So I guess my point to that is racing's a weird deal and it can change in a short period of time. I would expect the 99 [of Edwards] to be one of the favorites, but you never know what's going to happen to a team—runs or slumps. I truthfully see a lot of good cars next year. I saw the 16 [of Roush Fenway’s Greg Biffle] and the 17 [ of Roush Fenway’s Matt Kenseth] showing some strength..."
“So I think on paper you can go through the top five and rank them for the first quarter of the season and think those would be the favorites, but there's some other guys that are going to be right there nipping on our heels.” (SceneDaily.com)
Only time will tell this season who will be crowned the new (or old) champion of 2009, but Johnson does feel a bit slighted that he and the No. 48 team aren't the early favorites.
"It got my attention when I heard it,” he said. “I'm like, 'Really?' But I guess I'm used to that in a lot of ways. You know, I'll just go out and let my actions on the track speak for themselves." (SceneDaily.com)
Johnson had a point, his actions on the track (and particularly in the Chase) do speak for themselves, and the past three years they have said loud and clearly: Sprint Cup Champion.
This article also appears on my sports blog: Sports101.