Five races into the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, and already Hendrick Motorsports’ driver Jimmie Johnson has meandered into his post season ritual.
Johnson, who has won the last four championships by making the chase his own personal playground, is once again leading the point standings.
No other driver has been able to match Johnson’s domination since the chase was first implemented in 2004, where his numbers are beyond comparison with 19 wins in 65 chase starts.
Johnson and the rest of the team have illustrated how the chase should be run, knowing when it’s time to step up and turn their season into overdrive.
"What I keep telling myself is that those 10 races in the Chase is its own world," Johnson said when talking about the chase.
Johnson gave his own rundown of how, "the people act and react differently under pressure, and for the last four years we have done a great job in that environment."
The road to this season’s chase was not any easy one for the No. 48 team, when Johnson found himself struggling at times which also included four DNF’s, and dropping as low as ninth in the standings once the season got underway.
Falling behind in the regular season has never deterred the team from focusing on the last 10 races, and three times in the past four years they have come back to win the championship by proving they have the right formula in place to excel when it really counts.
Johnson began the chase by finishing 25th at Loudon and fell to sixth in the point standings, 92 markers away from chase leader Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin.
Clint Bowyer won the race at Loudon, but was later docked 150 championship points when the team was found to be in violation of Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing).
They also violated rule 12-4 (any determination by NASCAR officials that the race equipment used in the event does not conform to NASCAR rules), and 20-3 (car body location specifications in reference to the certified chassis did not meet NASCAR-approved specifications) of the 2010 Rule Book.
While Hamlin was busy blasting Richard Childress Racing about their penalty, and at the same time letting the rest of NASCAR Nation what was going on by his statements.
"I think that they should just be happy that they're in the Chase at this point, this is something that's been going on for months,” Hamlin said during a press conference before the second chase race at Dover.
Hamlin also added that, “they were warned and they were warned before Richmond (the previous week). Everyone in the garage knows that, and they're the ones who wanted to press the issue and get all they could to make sure they got in the Chase.”
Johnson and the rest of his team were busy getting ready for the 400 miles they would face in their quest to win championship No. 5.
It wasn’t long before Harvick and Hamlin would take the focus away from the four-time champs previous weeks finish 25th place finish, and word would spread that Harvick took matters into his hands by bumping Hamlin during Saturday practice session.
It just happened that Johnson’s garage stall was next to Hamlin and Harvick's, but Johnson and Knaus and the entire 48 team were staying on task in a typical business-like manner.
"Once we got into the garage, I didn't really know anything about it," Knaus said.
"Jimmie and I had been talking for probably a good solid two or three minutes, and hadn't even realized there was any type of altercation in the garage between the two guys.”
Knaus also added that, “quite frankly, we didn't waste a whole lot of time being spectators at that point. We put our heads down, got to work on what we needed to do on our race car.”
Johnson added, "The reason I don't want to think much about it is because I need to worry about my race car and my team. Well, they're occupied with each other, so they're not going to be as strong, and that would be a mistake on my part."
So far Johnson has been able to stretch his lead to 41 points ahead of Hamlin, and 77 ahead of Harvick since the incident.
From the way the chase looks to be playing out, Johnson is already showing signs he is ready to add championship No. 5 to his mantle.
This past Saturday in Charlotte when desperation set in after a spin on lap 35, Johnson quickly went to work when he was able to keep the car off the wall and from hitting another driver.
While the rest of the drivers were left thinking this was their chance to pick-up some much needed ground, it wouldn’t be so as Johnson brought his car home to a very impressive third place finish.
"Tonight is a night that reminds me of the last four years, and what made this team champions. I hope that tonight's performance leads us to a championship," Johnson said after a night when he could have easily lost the points lead.
Johnson also added, “There's obviously a lot of racing left. No telling what's going to happen. But when we look back, I hope we are the champions, and I hope we look back and say that Charlotte was the key point for us in the championship battle. We kept our composure."
The chase is far from over, but after watching how a team could come back from such a diverse situation and still walk away with a top-three finish after keeping their composure.
It sends out a strong message that Johnson and the rest of the team are in a world all their own, and this world only has enough room for themselves.
"I'm glad to be sitting in here in third spot and leading the points. I saw my hard work for the year and dreams of being a five-time champion go away,” Johnson said after the race.
“Maybe we don't win, maybe we don't be in the top five, but I know we can get a good finish out of this if we can keep our composure. And we did."
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