There cannot be any serious discussion on the topic of the Chase for the Sprint Cup without a mention of the name Jimmie Johnson.
The El Cajon, California native and his team drew the blueprint for how the NASCAR playoff game is to be played when they reeled off five consecutive championships between 2006 and 2010. That said, however, uncharacteristic failures and mistakes served to cost the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 team a sixth title in 2012.
While Johnson's statistics from last season look very much like those of his championship years, it was in the part of the season where he and crew chief Chad Knaus have historically thrived where their title hopes came undone. Five wins combined with 18 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes make for a year that would leave many other drivers feeling envious. The No. 48 also took the green flag from the pole position on four occasions in 2012.
Johnson entered the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway within striking distance of championship leader Brad Keselowski. And at certain points during the race, it looked as if a sixth trophy might be on its way to the Hendrick showroom.
However, uncharacteristic pit road blunders and a mechanical failure in the closing laps assured Penske Racing and Keselowski of their first Sprint Cup.
Rest assured, Johnson will again be a factor and will put up his usual numbers in terms of wins and top finishes. This driver, this crew chief and this team know how to win. But, a chink in their armor was revealed last year. Other teams now realize that the No. 48 isn't infallible.
As this driver told Lee Spencer of FoxSports.com last year, he still has goals to accomplish.
I want to be considered the best driver to ever sit in a stock car, Johnson said. The undisputed way to pull that off is to win eight championships. That’s what I said a few months back and I know that I put that mark way, way out there in front of me and it’s a lofty goal.
I’ve accomplished every goal that I’ve set in front of myself, I’ve knocked down and I’m going to put one way out there and hope I get there.
The future Hall of Famer must win his sixth title before he can get to eight. Needless to say, that will be his goal in 2013. And despite falling short to Keselowski last season, history is still very much on the No. 48 team's side. But will history be enough?
Jimmie Johnson will make the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff in 2013. But, he is not my pick to win the big trophy.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. Follow along with his Chase for the Sprint Cup series by clicking on the driver of your choice Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch.
Throughout the month of January, I will be running a series on the 12 drivers I am predicting to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup during the 2013 NASCAR season. The first eleven articles will be placed in no particular order but the final piece written in the series will be on the driver I am selecting as the favorite to win this year's championship. Half of these pieces will be placed on my own RacingWithRich.com site and half will be placed on BleacherReport.com. Please consider following along on both websites and adding your own thoughts in the "comments" sections below each piece.