It’s beginning to sound like the same old song and dance, except this time around it came with a different twist. Southern California which is known for its hot, humid, and smoggy summer days that can easily peak out at over 100 degrees.
But instead, gone was the sweltering heat that plagued the last two fall races, and in its place was a cool, damp, and overcast balmy day of racing.
Now with the weather being the biggest twist, the results were still the same as Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson, once again showed the NASCAR world why he is the man to beat for the championship.
Along with his 16th chase victory and 45th overall, Johnson also took over the points lead from his teammate Mark Martin who dropped to second after a fourth place finish.
“I mean, we love where we're at. We love the fact that we're in the points lead.”
Johnson led the most laps with 126 while winning his third consecutive fall race, and at the same time also becoming the only driver to win four races at this two mile oval surpassing teammate Jeff Gordon, and Matt Kenseth who have three victories of their own.
“The last three years have been really special. Right now we're in a great position, but it's way too early to start thinking about other things.”
It wasn’t so much the amount of laps that he led this time around, but it was the fact that he just flat outran the rest of his the rest of the field once the sun began to shine on him.
“I think the track came to us some when the sun came out. Our car, really, I know Chad was making adjustments, but usually the sun comes out, and the car wants to slow down and not handle as well. With the adjustments we were making the car kept getting better and better.”
Johnson is once again making it hard for any team to gain points, especially now that he has those two wins under his belt and the next few races are at tracks that he runs really well at.
“I think it really boils down to the fact that the tracks in the Chase are my strongest tracks. If you look at Martinsville, you look at all of them. Lowe's Motor Speedway, this track, you go through them and they are tracks that we win at.”
Montoya, on the other hand who is new to the chase, is getting a dose of what the other drivers have felt who have participated in the chase in years past.
Frustration is probably an understatement for Montoya who has four top five finishes, and still hasn’t realized that for every point he loses to Johnson, that is one extra hat he gains.
“It's incredible. We have four or five in a row and I've been losing points to the leader.” Montoya is not the only driver that is feeling the intensity level that Johnson and company have brought into the chase.
Jeff Gordon who has four championships of his own, as well as owning part of Johnson’s team is once again feeling the pressure of reaching that elusive fifth championship that got away from him in 2007.
Gordon who had a 430 point lead over Johnson the week before the chase was to begin, only to see it wiped away once the chase started while at the same time putting his protégé in the top spot.
Gordon would not go down without a fight, and he picked up back to back wins at Talladega and Texas that put him right back in the lead.
But once again it was Johnson who would not be denied his second championship, when he put together a very impressive string of four wins-in-a-row to eventually win the championship.
Gordon, who knows first hand all the hard work and dedication it takes to win the big one, had nothing but praise for his HMS teammate.
“Yeah, they have something magical about the final ten races. You know, these ten tracks really suit them. They do an incredible job. What else can you say?"
Gordon added that, “They're the best out there. They've won the last three championships. They're going to be hard to beat for this one. Really, unless they make a mistake, I don't see how they lose it,”
The team to beat and the best out there are a few simple words that have become common place, whenever a discussion comes up about the No. 48 team.
Just how far they will go is nowhere found in their vocabulary, but instead the words when, and how soon better fit the position that they have put themselves in.
Four races into the chase, and it’s almost time for the other teams to worry more about who will finish second, because if they keep this up it will be over a lot sooner than later.
“If we are in the hunt come Homestead, come Phoenix, it's going to be the thoughts, the emotions, all of that is going to be so heavy on all of our shoulders that it's going to be a tough grind.”
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