Jimmie Johnson: 6 Things He Must Do to Win His Sixth Straight NASCAR Sprint Cup
Jimmie Johnson has been on a remarkable run over the past five seasons, winning an unprecedented five consecutive NASCAR Cup championships.
Before his record-breaking streak, only Cale Yarborough had won even three consecutive championships. Can Johnson double Yarborough's mark and make is six straight in 2011?
In order to do so, Johnson will need to overcome a 16-point deficit in the final nine races of the year. He was in position for a top-four finish at Chicagoland before running out of fuel with a lap to go, eventually coasting home in tenth.
A sixth consecutive title would move Johnson within one championship of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, who each won the Cup title seven times. Here are the six things Johnson will need to do to make it happen.
Win Multiple Races
If Jimmie Johnson can win a couple of races (or more) down the stretch, I think he'll win the championship.
If he doesn't win another race, I don't think he wins the title.
It's not that he absolutely needs the extra points for winning to take the title. In fact, Johnson would have won the last five titles even if you take away the difference between winning and second place for all the Chase races he's won. And it's conceivable that a championship could be won be a steady stream of top-five's and top-10s.
But Johnson needs to do more than that—he needs to win. The most significant advantage of Johnson winning a couple of races would be the intimidation factor, the "here we go again, five-time is taking over the Chase" mentality that strikes fear into the heart of his opponents.
Sure, the points from a couple of race wins sure would be nice. But intimidation is the X-factor that could demoralize his opponents and propel the No. 48 team to another championship.
One thing no Chase driver can afford is enemies on the track.
Unfortunately, Johnson has one in 2004 champion Kurt Busch. The two have tangled on multiple occasions in the past, most recently at both Pocono and Richmond in August.
Both drivers have said they've moved beyond the conflict and that it won't be an issue during the Chase. That's all well and good, but will that resolve hold steady in the heat of battle on the track?
I don't know, but Johnson had better hope so if he wants to add another trophy to his championship collection.
Talladega nearly derailed Johnson's title run before it even got underway.
In 2006, Johnson was running at the front near the end of the race when then-teammate Brian Vickers hit the No. 48 from behind, crashing him and leading to a 24th-place finish. Despite that result, Johnson reeled in leader Matt Kenseth and won the title on the strength of five consecutive top-two finishes after that race.
Any driver will acknowledge that Talladega is the true wild card in the Chase. Avoiding trouble is more important than gunning for the win...at least until the final laps.
If Johnson is to win a sixth straight title, he'll need to avoid the typical carnage of a Talladega wreck-fest.
Of course, Johnson does have two Talladega wins, including in April earlier this season, but a win would be an unexpected bonus.
This one is mainly out of Johnson's hands, but it could be the biggest obstacle he faces in his quest for another Cup title.
Down the stretch run last season, crew chief Chad Knaus swapped pit crews with Jeff Gordon's team in an attempt to improve performance after several awful pit stops hampered Johnson's efforts on the race track.
This year, the No. 48 pit crew has been under intense pressure, as no crew member's job is safe and any slip-up could lead to demotion and replacement. Can the team members step up to the plate and handle the additional pressures of the Chase?
The answer to that question could go a long way toward deciding whether or not Johnson comes out on top after the season finale.
Stay Focused on the Task at Hand
This shouldn't be an issue for Johnson. After all, he knows what it takes to win a title and family issues haven't been a problem in the past.
He's been married throughout his title run and he won a fifth consecutive title last season after he and his wife had their first child, Genevieve Marie Johnson.
But even still, a one-year-old daughter can be a handful at times and Johnson will need his utmost concentration to be on the racetrack with the title on the line over the next nine races.
This is one of the strongest Chase fields ever, with just one of the 12 drivers (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) winless on the year.
The eventual winner is going to need more than to simply run well—he'll need a few breaks to fall his way.
A near-miss here, a timely caution there or perhaps a crash or mechanical problem for a rival title contender.
Or in Johnson's case, a golden horseshoe stuck you-know-where.
Johnson has had some close calls during his five-year reign as NASCAR's champion, but eventually his luck is bound to run out and his remarkable stretch of dominance will come to an end.
Will Johnson's title run go on for at least another year? Only time will tell.