Maybe it’s his Southern California roots, but something about racing in the desert suits five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. The driver of the No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet grew up racing motorcycles in and around his hometown of El Cajon, Calif. He migrated to the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group (MTEG) Stadium Racing Series in the early 1990s, and eventually graduated to buggies and trucks racing on off-road stadium layouts and desert racing series, including the Short Course Off-Road Drivers Association Series (SODA).
Since 2005, when Phoenix was added to the 10-race Chase schedule, Johnson has finished first or second four times (2006-2009) with a seventh-place finish in 2005 and 14th place in last year’s battle. In this season’s March race, he finished fourth on what was a newly configured surface. He expects nothing less this time around.
With just two races left to decide NASCAR’s 2012 champion, Johnson and the No. 48 team have shown they aren’t just powerhouses at Phoenix as they are riding a two-race win streak – both wins coming from the pole – that allowed them to regain and retain the points lead the last two weekends at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. As good as his stats are at Phoenix, Johnson knows stats don’t win the race. But it certainly couldn’t hurt to be riding a hot streak into town.