Chicagoland's Geico 400, the first race of NASCAR's Sprint for the Chase Cup, was an omen. I realized this as Jimmie Johnson was in great position on the final lap and then ran out of gas.
That is going to sum up his 2011 Chase. Johnson will run strong, but in the end he is going to come up just short as his quest for a sixth straight Cup runs out of go juice.
Johnson had a strong car, and was running an excellent race on Monday. He had led 39 laps, and that was more than all but three drivers. Then Johnson ran into the one thing he does not excel at on a racetrack. We can let Johnson explain this himself.
Johnson, as quoted on newsobserver.com:
"From my driving style I've never been all that good with fuel mileage. You've certainly seen me run out at other times.
"Not what we wanted. We certainly had a great race car and it's just too bad. We ran out (of fuel) coming to the white flag.
"We felt in our hearts that we had the right stuff on pit road; on the race track and all of that. It was fun today, running up front and leading some laps.
"Track position really is everything. Once you get to the lead, it is so much easier to save fuel."
The finish, while disappointing, is certainly not going to break Johnson's Cup hopes. He coasted gas-less to a 10th place finish and is eighth in the series standings and just 16 points behind leader Kevin Harvick.
And he has had tremendous success on all of the upcoming tracks.
This is more about the rest of the field. These guys are ready to take down the champ. Tony Stewart, the last man to win a Cup not named Johnson, won on Monday. He has quickly rounded into form, and will make a serious push.
Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon both ended the season on fire, and have strong performances over the last nine races to fall back on. This is going to be a great Chase, and it will result in NASCAR having a new champion.