Can Jimmie Johnson sustain peak performance for a full season?

NASCAR Wire Service Tuesday, Jun 11 1507

If I were Jimmie Johnson, I'd be worried.


If I were Jimmie Johnson, I'd be concerned that the take-'em-out-behind-the-woodshed sorts of whippings I've been laying on my NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitors can't continue unabated.

If I were Jimmie Johnson, I'd be concerned about peaking too early in the season.

If I were Jimmie Johnson, I'd be concerned that, in dominating the series the way I have been recently, I might not have enough left for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

If I were Jimmie Johnson, I'd be concerned about showing my hand this early in the year and giving my rivals a performance benchmark to equal or exceed.

Of course, I'm not Jimmie Johnson, and my sense is that the five-time champion isn't concerned about much of anything right now.

Johnson's own history should provide a significant comfort level as he and crew chief Chad Knaus execute a season-long game plan designed to produce a sixth Cup championship.

Remember 2007? That's when the Car of Tomorrow, now known as Gen-5, debuted in the Cup series on a part-time basis. Hendrick Motorsports drivers won 18 of 36 points races that year. Johnson accounted for 10 of those victories en route to his second straight Cup title.

In fact, Johnson won four of the first 10 races that year, which gave him a cushion big enough to experiment on setups throughout the summer. At crunch time, he won the two races before the Chase field was set, at Fontana and Richmond, and collected four more victories in the Chase to edge teammate Jeff Gordon for the title.

Sound familiar? This year, the debut of the Gen-6 race car, Johnson has three wins in 14 races. His lead in the standings swelled at Pocono to a staggering 51 points over second-place Carl Edwards -- more than one full race.

That's by design, because Johnson is on a mission. He and wife Chani are expecting their second child in September, and the five-time champ would prefer to clinch a Chase spot before the regular-season finale at Richmond, in case he has to miss a race or give way to a relief driver to witness the birth.

"My selfish motivation for that, if Chani goes into labor early, I don't want to have to worry about Richmond, honestly," Johnson said after the race. "That's what I'm working so hard for. I always work hard anyway, but it sure takes some pressure off if we lock early and don't have to worry about Richmond."

That means Johnson is going to keep the hammer down and try to stretch his points advantage as much as he can over the next 10 weeks or so. Given that he's already 126 points ahead of Greg Biffle in 10th place, the last guaranteed Chase spot, Johnson may well clinch a berth by the time the series gets to Bristol in August.

Biffle's second-place press conference on Sunday sounded more like a concession speech.

"They clearly have the best cars right now in the garage," Biffle said of the No. 48 team. "When you're on a roll, you're on a roll when you've got good stuff."

So, as I said, if I were Jimmie Johnson, I wouldn't have a care in the world right now.

If I were any of the other guys hoping to win a Cup championship this year, I wouldn't be worried either.

I'd be scared to death.