Going into the final race of the season, Jimmie Johnson is happy with how the cards have fallen.
“Definitely in the position I want to be in,” he said. “Defending is the place of control of the points lead. We can control our own destiny.”
Though heading into the final race in the position he wants to be in, he says it comes with a price.
“There’s a lot of pressure on myself and the team to get things done,” he added. “We’ll deal and manage that as the weekend goes on.
“But excited to have this opportunity. Again, we’re in the position that we want to be in, that I’m sure any driver would want to be in.”
Heading into the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Johnson leads Matt Kenseth by 28 points. No matter what Kenseth does, if Johnson finishes 23rd or better, he wins the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship.
For Johnson, it’s a chance to continue to solidify his name in the history books with his sixth championship. Though if Johnson has an off-day, wreck or mechanical issue, it could result in those chances falling short once again, just like last year where he led the points heading into Phoenix and had a tire issue there.
“Last year we lost control at Phoenix, which kind of started the process,” Johnson commented. “We were in position here to win the race, put a lot of pressure on the 2. We made two mistakes. Stuff happens. It is a team sport. That’s one element that I think gets overlooked in our sport a lot. But I feel like last year, I did some of the best driving that I’ve done, and I felt like I was a better teammate than I’d been in years past.
“When the dust settled, the job that I did, being a part of my race team, I had a lot to be proud of. We had a great year. It still hurts. You hate to miss an opportunity because you never know when they’re going to come again. But it was more of a slow burn from Phoenix to Champions Week.”
It could also be just like 2004 where he came so close yet ended up finishing second behind Kurt Busch.
Of the Championships that Johnson has lost, 2004 is the one that has hurt the most. Partly due to the emotions in trying to win the championship for the 10 Hendrick Motorsports members that were lost on the October 24th plane crash. Partly due to coming so close.
“The momentum we had, it seemed was on our side,” Johnson spoke of that lost today. “The 97’s wheels fall off. We were coming from the back. We were in position all day long until the last restart. That one hurt more for a lot of reasons.”
To begin his defense this year, Johnson says it starts on Friday with qualifying. A good qualifying position allows to be ahead of the mess in traffic behind him.
“Qualifying is so important,” Johnson commented. “Here it seems we have a lot of green-flag runs. If you start down on track position, don’t have your car right come race day, don’t make the most of Saturday, you’re going to have a long race, put a lot of pressure on yourself that you don’t want.
“The race does start with qualifying on Friday. The one thing that’s different for me this year is with the new testing policy, we’re able to save a test session. I felt like we had a productive test session. We’re eager to get going and it does start on Friday.”
Johnson will be running the same chassis that he ran at Texas Motor Speedway, where he dominated on the way to winning.
“It just feels better,” Johnson said of the car. “It’s a more comfortable car for me to drive. That alone is what kept this car in rotation and why we’re bringing it back.
“The performance at Texas and Dover the second time certainly helps. But I told Chad after the Michigan race, Let’s put this one on the side and use it as often as possible in the Chase. That had a lot to do with it.”
Johnson was asked what it would feel like to win his sixth championship – but instead diverted the question and stated that right now, he’s remaining focused.
“I’m just focused on getting in the car and doing all that I can on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, minimizing the stakes, all those types of things,” he said. “I’ve really tried hard not to go down that road and think about those things. I think it would be a mistake.
“I’m going to focus on Sunday’s race, do my best job then. What happens after that, we’ll all find out.”
A lot of people have also questioned whether Johnson can, down the road, tie the mark of seven championships set by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. For Johnson, it’s also something that he doesn’t think about.
“Honestly, I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it,” he said. “I had a friend tell me something that sticks in the back of my mind. I try to think a little bit and dream because he told me, Limits begin where the vision ends. There needs to be a vision of some kind.
“But I’m really one that lives in the present, focuses on each week. That’s just the way I’ve been. Just show up at each racetrack each week, 36 or 39 of them, you hope you have a shot at the end.”