Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson had a bit of a rocky start this season after a hefty penalty and early race wreck in the season opener at Daytona, but with NASCAR’s decision to rescind the No. 48 team’s penalty and the consecutive top-10 finishes that followed his initial misfortune, Johnson is back in the hunt for a sixth title.
Johnson now is situated 10th in the points standings and is chasing down a bundle of drivers that the 2012 season has awakened from a slumber. Drivers Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. have developed some early momentum, all with four top-10 finishes and having led a race at some point already this season.
While Biffle, Earnhardt Jr. and Truex Jr. have not enjoyed the immense success of Johnson, their motivation is fueled by an absence in Victory Lane of at least two years. Biffle, the current points leader, last visited Victory Lane during the 2010 season when he recorded his 16th career win. Earnhardt Jr. earned his last victory in 2008 – his first season with Hendrick Motorsports – while Truex Jr. has the longest winless streak of the trio dating back to 2007 when his lone Sprint Cup victory came in his second full-time Sprint Cup season.
Johnson also has to consider his competition in Tony Stewart, who already has two wins this season and is riding his success with a cool and confident persona. Stewart broke Johnson’s streak of consecutive championships last season, earning his third Sprint Cup title and first driving for his own team – Stewart-Haas Racing.
But can these drivers’ fierce desire overpower Johnson’s championship-winning swagger? Led by a crew chief that has become known as one of the greatest in the sport’s history in Chad Knaus, there’s no doubt the No. 48 team has a winning combination that will be tough to derail. The team has already been victorious in its appeal of the penalty that resulted from violations NASCAR found on the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet in Daytona. Now Johnson is ready to get down to business in chasing a sixth Sprint Cup championship, a venture he’s dubbed as “#6pack” on Twitter.
“The thing that motivates me is the fire hasn't gone out in me to compete, and as long as that fire is burning, who I am as a person, I'm going to give 100 percent,” Johnson said. “I know when I do a good job, what my responsibilities are. That's the thing that keeps motivating me and that's what I'm reflecting on from last year is at times we did a good job, and when we put up 100 percent we got the results that we wanted.
“But other times, things just didn't work out as they should and weren't handled correctly from my side and the way I went about things. So that's my motivation for this coming season is to not make those mistakes and to do the best job that I can and be the best member of this 48 team that I can be.”
Johnson heads to Fort Worth next week for the Samsung Mobile 500 – the seventh stop on the 36-event NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit. The race will mark Johnson’s 18th start at Texas Motor Speedway and the El Cajon, Calif., native looks to earn his second win at the 1.5-mile track. In his previous 17 starts, he has 12 top-10 finishes, including seven among the top five, and his lone victory came in the 2007 fall event.
Tickets for the Samsung Mobile 500 are available by calling (817) 215-8500 or visiting www.texasmotorspeedway.com.