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NASCAR Season Preview: Jimmie Johnson

Photo credit: Ned Leone

#48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports

Born: September 17, 1975

Home: El Cajon, California

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: With two wins, 14 top fives, and 21 top 10s, Johnson made the Chase for the Sprint Cup easily, leading the points going into the final regular-season race at Richmond, and finished a respectable sixth in series points.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: Those results would be a bit more respectable, or at least a bit less disappointing, if Johnson wasn’t coming off of five consecutive Sprint Cups. But a so-so run at Loudon dropped him to 10th in points, and a crash at Charlotte effectively ended his chances at a championship six-pack. Well, you can’t win them all.

SEASON OUTLOOK: It’s hard to get on top, harder to stay on top, and hardest to get back on top after being surpassed by others. Johnson has done the first two; this year, he and team leader Chad Knaus will attempt to do the third and win their sixth title in seven years. Those championships got harder and harder as the epic run went on, and now that the rest of the field knows that Johnson isn’t bulletproof in the final few months of the season anymore, they aren’t bound to get any easier.

But to suggest that Johnson and Knaus are having serious trouble, as some have suggested in the past year or so, is ridiculous, and any move short of plummeting to 20th in points would be an overreaction. The truth remains that these guys have a better season together during an off year than most teams can ever hope to have when everything is clicking. And now that they’re looking to knock somebody else off the top again, as they were in the first four seasons of Johnson’s career, they’re looking forward to another year of everything coming together. Then again, if they don’t, nobody will ever begrudge this team for it – their legacy will remain intact for decades to come.

– Chris Leone

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