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Monday, March 12, 2012

Despite early season controversy, stout Jimmie Johnson is on a path to a sixth title

Jimmie Johnson is on a roll.

Despite his team's troubles due to that pesky C-post violation, the #48 team has shown in the two races since Daytona that it is fully back in championship form.

He has racked up two top-4 finishes and could have won either week, and has rocketed up the points so quickly, that it's likely he'll right back in familiar territory -- Chase territory -- in just a few weeks; like Daytona never happened.

This continuing resurgence is not a guarantee of course.
For one, we are going to Bristol, and even with the newer nicer Bristol it is still a treacherous place and anything can happen there.
And hanging over the head of the 48 team is the suspension of Chad Knaus, which will most certainly be upheld by NASCAR despite the Hendrick appeal coming today.

How will the team respond without a leader like Chad on the pit box?

My guess: pretty well. As much as the drivers might not like to admit it, most of the time the winning car is the one that has the best motor, best handling, etc. So if the Hendrick team can continue to provide Jimmie with top-notch vehicles to drive, they could probably have Mickey Mouse on the pit board and Jimmie will do just fine. He might not finish quite as high without Knaus' insights, but he'll still lead laps and be up front.

Bottom line: Jimmie Johnson is still Jimmie Johnson. He's a five time champion, and a decade into his Cup career he continues to perform as well as anyone else in the field on a week-to-week basis. He's a Hall of Fame caliber driver by anyone's measure, and a one-year setback like he had in 2011

And if he keeps up his current pace -- which is very likely -- he is very likely to have a big rebound from his disappointing 2011, and be on the road to a possible 6th title.

Maybe losing the title last year was good for Johnson in a way: It seems to have redefined his hunger to win. The competition better get used to seeing Johnson out front in 2012; as it's going to happen quite often this season.

And if he hoists another crown this year, all this talk of suspensions and fines will be drowned out by the cheers of his team celebrating.

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