Before the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship starts Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., there’s the not-so-small matter of who starts the Chase as the leader, something Johnson hopes to do. By scoring his fourth win of the season last Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Denny Hamlin broke what was a four-way tie with Johnson, Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski, who each have three wins this season. If the Chase was to begin this weekend, Hamlin would be the leader by virtue of his four wins – the key factor in how drivers are seeded once they are locked in. To get that top spot, Johnson will need to win at Richmond and Hamlin would need to finish third or worse as the top seed would then be based on each driver’s next-best finish this season.
The task may be difficult as the list of drivers hoping to secure the final spots in the Chase is somewhat lengthy. Johnson struggled earlier in his career at the .75-mile Richmond oval but has recently posted better finishes. He swept the 2007 races and won again in September 2008. He was involved in several on-track incidents during the race last September, and will need to keep the fenders on his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet if he is hoping for a different outcome this year.
So while Johnson can take pride in the fact that he is the only driver to have clinched a spot in the Chase every year since its inception in 2004, there is still more on the line as he attempts to enter the Chase as the top seed for the first time since 2007 and the second time in its nine-year history.
· JIMMIE JOHNSON, Driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports:
What makes Richmond unique? “Just how racy it is. The shape of the track, the banking, size, good side-by-side racing – it is a very racy track.”
You have clinched a spot in the Chase. How important is it to you to go into the race with a spot secured? “Well, the goal is to go in secure. That is my goal every year. We sit down and write out our goals and that is at the top of the list every time. First step in the whole thing is to make sure we are locked in by Richmond. I’ve watched friends deal with very stressful evenings there and I really don’t want to be a part of that.”
Richmond, Bristol, Talladega and Daytona are your worst tracks as far as driver rating. Is it something about those tracks? “It took me a long time to sort out Richmond, just like at Bristol. Talladega, when you go plate racing, you’ve got to rule in other factors. We’ve all seen this year, with my plate results, that they just haven’t been all that good to me (laughs).”
Source: Jimmie Johnson media