Here we are only 10 races into the 2010 season, and you would have thought the chase was about to begin this weekend.
Make no mistake about it that Jimmie Johnson, who pilots the No. 48 Lowes Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, is looked upon as the driver to beat for the 2010 Sprint Cup Championship.
It didn’t take long for Johnson to proclaim he was the man to beat when he began the season by first winning one of the duels at Daytona International Speedway. However he would only finish 35th for the 500 after having mechanical issues.
The next four races Johnson would rattle off three wins, which also included back-to-back wins at Auto Club Speedway and Las Vegas.
Life was looking really good for the No. 48 team, and for good measure his third victory came at a track that he had never won at before.
With five top-fives, and seven top-10 finishes to go along with his three wins, Johnson has once again put himself a good position to keep the pressure on his fellow competitors.
After Johnson’s victory at Bristol, he made the comment that he was winning the battle of the minds by getting into some of the drivers' heads.
That comment didn’t sit to well with the Johnson detractors, as well as two drivers in particular who took offense to the comment.
"Everybody has been asking me why I haven't been running good. Is it my head? Is it because I'm running a truck team? Is it this, is it that? I'm driving my butt off every single week,” said Kyle Busch after finishing ninth while Johnson was celebrating in victory lane.
Kyle’s older brother Kurt added more fuel to the fire when he proclaimed over the public-address system that he would have preferred losing to "anyone but the 48."
Johnson then added that, “Everybody deals with things differently. But if you go through and read any press remarks or interviews, if someone talks that they're not worried about us, it's already in there—which is great."
It wasn’t long after these comments were posted that it was now time for the fans to get involved, and NASCAR social sites lit up with post after post about Johnson’s so-called arrogance.
One day they call him "vanilla for not speaking a word, and the next day as he speaks they are right there to talk smack about him.
So in essence Johnson is not only in the heads of his fellow drivers, but he could easily add the fans who choose to follow his every step while watching his every move.
They are so caught up in what he will say or do, you could almost see the bait hanging from the string of a silver and blue fishing pole as he travels from race track to track.
Johnson, who finished 10th this past weekend at Richmond after he and Clint Bowyer wrecked while battling for position on the last lap, had the fans once again trying to dissect what is going on with the team.
What was even more puzzling is that these fans who are tracking Johnson week after week are the same ones who look for every excuse in the book whenever he crosses the finish line ahead of their driver.
Lately Johnson has garnered more attention than the reigning most popular driver of the year, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and if a poll was taken today more then half of them wouldn’t be caught dead owning anything that had the No. 48 or Johnson’s name attached to it.
Yet whenever the name NASCAR is mentioned, they are the first to blurt out his name whether it is in a negative or a positive way.
Just this past week NASCAR.com put up a stat sheet that read Kyle Busch is the best driver for the past six races, and of course after his victory this past weekend his fans threw everything they could at Johnson, including the kitchen sink.
All of a sudden they say Johnson is looking over his shoulder in order to keep his eye on Busch after his solo win, and because of the late pit call that Dave Rogers made, the veteran crew chiefs were left scratching their heads in awe because of his decision.
How quickly a person's mindset changes once their driver gets into victory lane.
And now Busch is once again ready to conquer the NASCAR world.
No longer does he have that annoying monkey on his back, and all it took was one win to boost him to third in the point standings, and Busch is once again a championship contender.
In the mean time Johnson and his crew chief Chad Knaus are apparently in deep trouble since they dropped out of the top spot, and have fallen to second in points behind series leader Kevin Harvick.
It doesn’t matter that Johnson still has three wins, which is one more than Denny Hamlin, or that there are still 16 races until the beginning of the chase.
It doesn't matter that Johnson has won championships in the old car, the C.O.T., and a mixture of both the C.O.T. and the older car.
All that matters is Busch beat Johnson, and the 48 team must be defenseless because they couldn’t finish higher than 10th in the last two races.
Why weren’t the other 41 drivers talked about? Why is all the attention centered around the No. 48 team?
Remember once the chase starts the points are all reset, and it no longer matters who is leading the points going into the chase.
Instead what does matter is it only takes a driver to finish within the top-12, and how many victories he picks up during the first 26 weeks.
With 16 races left until the Jimmie Johnson Invitational begins, the only drivers who are vulnerable are the ones who forget to do their homework to prepare themselves for the season-ending test.