Where have we seen this movie before: Jimmie Johnson wins the Daytona 500 and then goes on to win the championship the same season?
Johnson's first Daytona 500 win in 2006 began an amazing run that saw him go on to win 35 races (of the 61 he's earned in his career) and a record five consecutive Sprint Cup championships from 2006 through 2010.
Could Sunday's second Daytona 500 win for Johnson be the start of some strange kind of deja vu?
I wouldn't be surprised, and I say that for a couple of reasons.
First, Johnson's fiery and competitive spirit. While he just didn't seem the same in 2011, you could see the fire was back in Johnson's eyes last season.
And to wind up so close, yet fail to win, you could almost predict Johnson would come out of the gates in 2013 as a man possessed, bound and determined to earn that sixth Cup championship.
Second, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus not only have a penchant for success, they also have an almost uncanny knack for being the best when it comes to adapting to change within NASCAR.
That is particularly apparent in the way Johnson and Knaus adapted so well to the first version of the Car of Tomorrow back in the latter part of 2007 when the COT was gradually worked in, and 2008, when it was implemented full-time.
Speaking of which, Johnson and Knaus would go on to win 11 races between 2007 and 2008 with the COT.
And given how they started with Sunday's win, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Johnson and Knaus are ready to make lightning strike again.
There's one other edge that is a bit more encompassing that should also be taken into consideration, namely, Johnson's teammates at Hendrick Motorsports: Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne.
Going back to the original incarnation of the COT, Gordon struggled miserably, having significant difficulty adapting to the new car back then.
Ditto for Earnhardt, who struggled when the COT was phased in during 2007, his last season at Dale Earnhardt Inc. before moving to the Hendrick camp in 2008, where he quickly showed aplomb and success driving the new COT.
Kahne's performance adapting to the first generation COT virtually mirrored that of Gordon at the end of 2007 and into 2008, even though Kahne was with Gillett Evernham Motorsports at the time, not having joined Hendrick Motorsports until 2012.
But judging by their initial performances at Daytona—Earnhardt finished runner-up to Johnson, Gordon started from the outside pole before fading to a 20th-place finish and Kahne was involved in an early wreck that relegated him to a 36th-place showing—it's pretty clear that the entire Hendrick group has embraced the Gen-6 car.
And most importantly, you're likely to see a lot more success from the four HMS drivers going forward (via NASCAR.com):
"I think there was a big push to be the team and driver to win this first Gen‑6 race," Johnson said [during Tuesday's national media teleconference]. "We also felt like we were riding a great wave from the conclusion of last year's season. There was just a buzz in the air, a feeling pre-race. We just felt it was going to be a race that was highly viewed. It kind of all played into it."
Johnson has seemingly become almost a man possessed at wanting to win that sixth Cup championship. He knew the streak would one day have to end, but the way he finished sixth in 2011 when the streak was finally snapped left a bad taste in Johnson's mouth.
That's why he came back so determined in 2012. It was the JJ of old, the JJ of the five prior titles. And had it not been for the fiascoes at Phoenix and Homestead, he very likely could have won his sixth title last season.
Johnson is still young at 37. He has spent much of his Cup career thriving on doing something others haven't, most notably the five titles in a row. He broke Cale Yarborough's record of three straight titles (1976-78), and then added two more crowns for good measure.
And while Gordon, who has four championships to his credit, has pretty much given up hope for more than maybe one more title before he retires, Johnson has his sights set on becoming the most notable driver in NASCAR of all time.
But to do that, he still needs to win two more championships to tie the sport's record for most championships by a driver—seven, shared by the two biggest names in NASCAR history, Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt.
Johnson began on that road Sunday and moves on to the second of 36 chapters this weekend at Phoenix. While all situations are different, it sure looks like the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet is still working off the same playbook that got him his first Daytona 500 win as well as the five Cup crowns.
Now it's time for him to pick up where he left off at the end of 2010 (via MRN.com):
"Each year when we were faced with adversity, no matter what it was, we rallied back," said Johnson. "We've had opportunities to lead the points, race for championships, and win a bunch of championships and races along the way. It's a very good trait to have for the '48' team. We're very proud to have it. It's been our saving grace in a lot of situations."
And that ability to rally back will likely be, once again, the inspiration that will keep him going until he wins No. 6 and beyond.
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