This sounds pretty natural, right? "Jimmie Johnson, four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion."
Considering the finish to each of the past three years, it would not take much to tack one more line onto Johnson's resume and one more number onto the simple phrase that describes him.
But I'll say right here it is not going to matter. I'm gambling that this is the year Johnson relinquishes the best seat at the banquet's table.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup is in large part about being hot. He and his team are supremely talented, yes, but they have made so many withdrawals from the luck bank the last few years that they are bound to have to pay in.
Plus, in the six races since Johnson won at the Brickyard, he has managed one top-10 finish. The same stretch last year produced four, including back-to-back wins to end the regular season. So 2010 is someone else's turn.
The Chase involves 12 guys in the Chase, and I name one who will not win. Can't do that. I would never live it down.
So here is how I see the 10-race playoff playing out:
- Six drivers are long shots: Dodge's Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch; Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, limping along in a lackluster year for Roush Fenway Racing; and Ryan Newman and Brian Vickers, who belong but will not win.
- Denny Hamlin is the wild card after a victory at Richmond. If Juan Pablo Montoya can keep up his consistency while others have trouble, he could be the first winless Chase champion. Doubtful.
- That leaves regular-season leader Tony Stewart and three Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Mark Martin, Johnson and Jeff Gordon.
Give me Stewart for a third title, not Johnson for a fourth or Gordon for a fifth. And Martin, a four-time runner-up for the title, ends up there again.