Title Contender Preview: Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson

"We're doing everything we can." (Photo: Getty Images)

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It’s an odd sight to see Jimmie Johnson not on top of the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings heading into the last race of the season. In the last four years, Johnson has somewhat cruised into the Ford 400 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with just the need for a by his standards decent finish to lick up the title.
 
But not this year.
 
Johnson is now a chaser in the 2010 quest for the Cup and comes into the last race of the schedule in second place trailing leader Denny Hamlin by fifteen points.
 
It is uncharted territory for the Hendrick Motorsports driver.
 
"I think the biggest concern I've got is that we haven't gone to Homestead to truly race," said crew chief Chad Knaus. "We've never had to be the aggressor there and I think this puts us a little behind the 8-ball."
 
Despite the admission by Knaus this year’s trip to Homestead will be much different from year’s past, the confidence level on the No. 48 team remains sky high.
 
"I think Jimmie, ultimately, is a better race car driver than either of those two are," Knaus said sizing up the two other title contenders in Hamlin and third place Kevin Harvick. "I think week in, week out, Jimmie does a better job as far as passing cars and what-not. I just know what he brings to the table for us."
 
Johnson took advantage of Hamlin’s late race fuel mileage stumble last week in Phoenix to finish fifth and cut the deficit nearly in half. He’ll do what he can to fulfill his crew chief’s belief in Johnson being the best of the championship contending trio behind the wheel.
 
"We’re doing everything we can," Johnson said after his Phoenix run. "We’re trying as hard as we can. We’re going to go home and we’re going to make sure we have the best engines, go through our simulation stuff, make sure our car is as fast as it can be and then race."

Ensuring the car that the team brings to the track this weekend is capable of running upfront and competing for the win and title is paramount.

"I wish we had more speed," Johnson said. "We were looking like we had in years past. Last couple weeks we’ve been good and they’ve been great. We need to get that turned around and be great."
 
Turning around his record at the 1.5-mile Homestead track will have to be done for Johnson to make up the difference and notch his record-setting fifth straight title. Johnson has yet to win at Homestead and in nine starts has an average finish of just over 12th.
 
Knaus isn’t worried about the past body of work which did include a fifth-place finish in last season’s championship-clinching effort.
 
"We were able to sit on the pole last year for the race," Knaus said. "The 11 car won. We finished top five. So I feel like we’ve got a good baseline and a good set of notes to go off of for this year."

With that plan in place, Knaus and Johnson are ready to do battle and the opportunity to go up against the other two worthy competitors in the final race of the season is something they relish.

"So I think we can go down there with a plan and try to execute," Knaus continued. "Those guys are good. You can’t take it away from those 11 guys.

"I love racing with those guys; they’re fun to race against. The guys on the team are really good guys and they’re fun to compete against. So I’m looking forward to going down there and racing with them."


Championship Contenders By the Numbers
2010 Points
6,462
6,447
6,416
2010 Wins
8
6
3
2010 Poles
2
2
0
2010 Top Fives
14
16
15
2010 Top 10s
18
22
25
2010 Laps Led
1,184
1,314
357
2010 Avg. Fin.
12.9
12.5
8.8
HMS Starts
5
9
9
HMS Poles
0
2
0
HMS Top Fives
3
3
4
HMS Top 10s
3
6
7
HMS Laps Led
91
71
116
HMS DNFs
0
1
0
HMS Avg, Fin.
10.6
12.7
8.4

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