INDIANAPOLIS—As if winning a record-tying fourth Brickyard 400 wasn't enough of a kick in the pants to his 42 other competitors, Jimmie Johnson saved the best—or worst, depending upon your perspective—for after Sunday's race.
With nearly a five-second margin of victory and having led 99 of the race's 160 laps, Johnson was so dominating that his finish gave the impression he's ready to go for a sixth Sprint Cup championship.
"I am," Johnson said without hesitation. "I wish the Chase would start right now. I feel this team is ready, I'm ready. I learned a lot last year from my mistakes last year, I think the team has as well, and I believe I'm stronger and better today than I've ever been in my career and I'm looking forward to this Chase."
Alright, that's it, it's official: Johnson is back in a big way. And if Sunday's performance was what we can expect in the remaining 16 races on the schedule—including the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs—we might as well concede him that sixth championship now.
That's right, let's not waste time. Let's just get it over with and let everyone go on vacation early.
Oh, by the way, should I mention that every other time Johnson has won the Brickyard 400—2006, 2008 and 2009—he went on to win a Cup championship. Then again, he also has turned bad performances in the Brickyard 400—39th in 2007 and 22nd in 2010—into Cup titles in those seasons, as well.
Will history repeat itself? Nothing is ever for certain, but it sure is starting to look that way.
"I feel from a performance standpoint that we're as strong as we've ever been," Johnson said. "These are amazing race cars and I feel really good about the Chase. I'm ready for it to start."
That's great, just what the other drivers want to hear.
While not quite ready to admit that championship No. 6 for Johnson is inevitable less than four months from now, several of his competitors were nothing short of shocked and awed by his performance:
Kyle Busch (runner-up): "You talk about guys being in their own zip code. Johnson was in his own country today…We just couldn't keep up with him…(As for Johnson in the Chase) The rest of the field has a whole lot of work to do, I can tell you that."
Greg Biffle (finished third): "It didn't matter if you were in front of (Johnson) or not, he was going to pass you in about four or five laps anyway. His car was just really, really good."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the championship potentially coming down to a battle between himself and Johnson: "We would actually rather us two to fight for the championship at the end knowing one of us is going to get it for (Hendrick Motorsports). If I could line that up right now, I would. That's how I'd have it."
Jeff Gordon (finished fifth): "I don't think we could have passed (Johnson). Those guys were definitely the class of the field today and had the track position. They're a strong team. They deserve that win today. They did everything."
Johnson, on the other hand, wasn't completely surprised at his performance or the race outcome. He had a hunch when he woke up that Sunday's race would turn out special. And indeed it did.
"Today's performance was awesome, especially on a stage like we had here at the Brickyard," Johnson said. "It would have been exciting for the fans to have a side-by-side finish, but as a racer, you just wear them out all day long and win by a large margin, that's what I want to do as a racer and we did that today."
Johnson's performance was not only awesome, it was also one for the record books, as he joined Gordon as only the second Cup driver to win four Brickyard 400s, and the sixth driver to win four or more times at the fabled Indianapolis Motor Speedway—joining four-time Indianapolis 500 winners A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears, as well as five-time U.S. Grand Prix Formula 1 winner Michael Schumacher.
Johnson wasn't the only one to dominate Sunday's race; so too did Hendrick Motorsports as a whole. Teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth (and also took over the points lead in the Sprint Cup standings for the first time since 2004), while Gordon finished fifth—giving Hendrick Motorsports three top-five finishers.
Kasey Kahne, the fourth Hendrick Motorsports driver that many considered a pre-race favorite to win, wound up 12th.
"I really felt like today was going to be the day," Johnson said. "We went out there prepared to do 400 and it was just a matter of not messing up. There were a lot of opportunities to crash the car, multiple pit stops, pit strategy. There was a lot going on and myself, the team, everybody executed well and we got the job done."
The win was Johnson's third this season and 58th of his Cup career.
"To come here and win is a huge honor," Johnson said. "And to win four—four wins! I'm at a loss for words. It was a total team effort. We put it on them today. It was nice."
So if fans and drivers start hearing the theme from Jaws in the back of their minds more and more in the coming weeks, it won't be a coincidence. Like Mac the Knife, look out, old Jimmie's back.
And most definitely in a big, big way.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.