Johnson is still king of the road

by Monte Dutton

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Jimmie Johnson has a familiar face. He has turned the Chase for the Sprint Cup into what seems to be a perpetual case of “déjà vu all over again.”

By finishing second in the final race of the season, the Ford 400 at Homestead- Miami Speedway, Johnson managed to win the championship for a record fifth year in a row. No one else has won four straight.

In fairness, the outcome came down to the final race, and Johnson began it in second place, 15 points behind the ill-fated Denny Hamlin, whose Toyota finished a disappointing 14th . Johnson won the championship by 39 points over Hamlin and 41 over Kevin Harvick, who finished third in the final race, won by the fourth-place finisher in points, Carl Edwards.

Though hardly objective, crew chief Chad Knaus knows Johnson best.

“If you really sat back and looked at what this guy [Johnson] can do with a race car, you would be pretty impressed,” said Knaus. “He’s been in some pretty precarious situations and driven through them. He’s put his nose in places that other people would not do and pulled it off.

“As a friend and as a teammate, I want to make sure that he gets what he deserves.”

Johnson, from El Cajon, Calif., is uncomfortable tooting his own horn.

“Each year that I’ve been in the sport, I’ve become more comfortable with my role,” he said. “The way I was raised in racing, I had to earn the right to say things, and I had to earn the right to have confidence and to act a certain way.

“I’ve accomplished so much more than I ever thought I would.”

Hendrick Motorsports earned its 10 th championship, equaling Petty Enterprises, which won seven with Richard Petty and three with his father, Lee. Hendrick has won five titles with Johnson, four with Jeff Gordon and one with Terry Labonte.

“I know how fortunate I am to have guys like Jimmie Johnson and Chad [Knaus],” said Hendrick. “I wouldn’t want to race against them, and I’ve been very fortunate through my career to have guys like Jeff Gordon and all of the great drivers that have been through our place.

“I always had hoped I could win a race, and then a championship, and survive through the sport and, you know, have sponsors and show up and be competitive…. We are very appreciative, and I still can’t believe that we have won five in a row or that we have gotten to 10.”

Monte Dutton has covered motorsports for The Gaston (NC) Gazette since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog NASCAR This Week ( features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail Monte at ‘© 2010 King Features Syndicate

Jimmie Johnson celebrates his fifth consecutive Sprint Cup championship with wife Chandra and daughter Genevieve. (Getty Images photo)