It’s an all-too-familiar position for Jimmie Johnson, but one he relishes.
With this season’s Sprint Cup Series championship winding down, Johnson is leading the standings.
He led a race-high 47 laps and finished 13th in Sunday’s Camping World 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Coupled with Matt Kenseth’s 20th-place finish, Johnson holds a four-point advantage over Kenseth.
Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are tied for third, 26 points behind Johnson.
“We had a great race car and led a lot of the race. At the end there, (Jamie McMurray) decided to run the top and took the bulk of cars with him,” said Johnson, who is looking for his sixth series title.
“The middle lane that I was in quickly became the bottom lane and then quickly didn’t exist. I dropped like a rock for a while … and fortunately missed the big pile-up on the backstretch.”
Johnson said he and his team kept a close eye on his nearest competitors as the last lap unfolded, including the accident involving Austin Dillon and Casey Mears.
“A 13th isn’t the best finish, but with what we are trying to do and win a championship, we beat the competition today and that is good,” Johnson said.
At least one ESPN commentator was quick to spell out the ramifications of Johnson’s move to the top of the points race.
“It’s bad news for the rest of the world when Jimmie Johnson leaves Talladega with the points lead,” said analyst and former driver Ricky Craven.
“It’s without question Jimmie Johnson’s championship to lose.”
Johnson certainly is not willing to bank on anything yet, but he does believe the final four races – at Martinsville, Va.; Texas; Phoenix and Homestead, Fla., are good tracks for him and his No.48 Hendrick Motorsports team.
“I feel that the races now are up to the competitors to go earn it. You don’t have this luck issue that can take place at (restrictor-)plate tracks,” he said.
“We just go racing from here and that is the thing I am most excited for. Great race tracks, great race cars and it’s going to be a dogfight to the end.”